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Government Finds Fraud and Deception in Marketing of For-Profit Colleges

The Government accounting office has just released their report “Undercover Testing Finds Colleges Encouraged Fraud and Engaged in Deceptive and Questionable Marketing Practices.”

The report found:

Undercover tests at 15 for-profit colleges found that 4 colleges encouraged fraudulent practices and that all 15 made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to GAO’s undercover applicants. Four undercover applicants were encouraged by college personnel to falsify their financial aid forms to qualify for federal aid—for example, one admissions representative told an applicant to fraudulently remove $250,000 in savings. Other college representatives exaggerated undercover applicants’ potential salary after graduation and failed to provide clear information about the college’s program duration, costs, or graduation rate despite federal regulations requiring them to do so. For example, staff commonly told GAO’s applicants they would attend classes for 12 months a year, but stated the annual cost of attendance for 9 months of classes, misleading applicants about the total cost of tuition. Admissions staff used other deceptive practices, such as pressuring applicants to sign a contract for enrollment before allowing them to speak to a financial advisor about program cost and financing options. However, in some instances, undercover applicants were provided accurate and helpful information by college personnel, such as not to borrow more money than necessary.

In addition, GAO’s four fictitious prospective students received numerous, repetitive calls from for-profit colleges attempting to recruit the students when they registered with Web sites designed to link for-profit colleges with prospective students. Once registered, GAO’s prospective students began receiving calls within 5 minutes. One fictitious prospective student received more than 180 phone calls in a month. Calls were received at all hours of the day, as late as 11 p.m.

According to the GAO, the marketing of expensive for-profit college enrollment is brutal as well.

From the GAO report:

Some Web sites that claim to match students with colleges are in reality lead generators used by many for-profit colleges to market to prospective students. Though such Web sites may be useful for students searching for schools in some cases, our undercover tests involving four fictitious prospective students led to a flood of calls—about five a day. Four of our prospective students filled out forms on two Web sites, which ask questions about students’ interests, match them to for-profit colleges with relevant programs, and provide the students’ information to the appropriate college or the college’s outsourced calling center for follow-up about enrollment. Two fictitious prospective students expressed interest in a culinary arts certificate, one on Web site A and one on Web site B. Two other prospective students expressed interest in a bachelor’s in business administration degree, one on each Web site.

Within minutes of filling out forms, three prospective students received numerous phone calls from colleges. One fictitious prospective student received a phone call about enrollment within 5 minutes of registering and another 5 phone calls within the hour. Another prospective student received 2 phone calls separated only by seconds within the first 5 minutes of registering and another 3 phone calls within the hour. Within a month of using the Web sites, one student interested in business management received 182 phone calls and another student also interested in business management received 179 phone calls. The two students interested in culinary arts programs received fewer calls—one student received only a handful, while the other received 72. In total, the four students received 436 phone calls in the first 30 days after using the Web sites. Of these, only six calls—all from the same college—came from a public college.

If you would like to read the full GAO report, GAO For-Profit College Marketing.


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Steve Rhode
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
  • Ihatesalliemae

    I was the target of such a scheme. The financial aid office asked me to borrow money from anyone I could. The school fraudulently made promises of job security & a high paying career. This, however, is not the case, as the average income in my field, according to the bureau of labor statistics, is about $36,000 per year. Certainly not enough to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans in a timely manner. I feel as if I’ll never get to have a family, home or even a secure future while the student loan industry profits off of me and scams me.

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