In one of Steve Rhode’s latest articles he reveals the recent report from the United States Government Accountability Office’s (GOA), “Undercover Testing Finds Colleges Encouraged Fraud and Engaged in Deceptive and Questionable Marketing Practices”.
Because of the billions of dollars in federal grants and loans utilized by students attending for-profit colleges, you asked us to (1) conduct undercover testing to determine if for-profit college representatives engaged in fraudulent, deceptive, or otherwise questionable marketing practices, and (2) compare the cost of attending for-profit colleges tested with the cost of attending nonprofit colleges in the same geographic region.
In this report the GOA explained how they had investigators pose “as prospective students applied for admissions at 15 for-profit colleges in 6 states and Washington, D.C.. The colleges were selected based on several factors, including those that the Department of Education reported received 89 percent or more of their revenue from federal student aid.” Since enrollment in these schools has increased about 493% over the past several years and “colleges received $105 billion in Title IV funding for the 2008-2009 school year—of which approximately 23 percent or $24 billion went to for-profit colleges” it became suspicious to the GOA as to just how these for-profit schools were going about increasing their enrollment and financial aid numerics.
The research found that many colleges would use deceptive practices to try and get students to enroll in classes without fully explaining financial aid, payments and even asking some to fraudulently apply. Some admission staff would use the tactic of “pressuring applicants to sign a contract for enrollment before allowing them to speak to a financial advisor about program cost and financing options”.
It should be noted though that some schools were open and honest and provided accurate and helpful information, “such as not to borrow more money than necessary”.
Many admissions staff would tell prospective students that they would be making, sometimes, 581% over their estimated salary after graduation, leading them to think that they could then afford these pricey loans to pay back. However, the reality of the situation would most likely result in the student making the salary 581% lower than what the admissions staff quoted and being stuck with pricey loans out of their payment range.
The cost of these programs were compared to other nonprofit universities and in one instance, “a student interested in a massage therapy certificate costing $14,000 at a for-profit college was told that the program was a good value. However the same certificate from a local community college cost $520”.
This Almost Happened To Me
A few years back I almost fell into the for-profit college statistic pool, myself.
I had relocated and started to apply for jobs in the area. Whilst applying using websites like Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com they had the clever idea to have on every other link, page, advertisement, submission or search box you click have an application for more information from your choice of online, many for-profit, colleges.
I continuously saw banners and links to various online schools claiming to be the easiest way to further your education and work full time. Many stating “Earn More Money with a College Degree”. After applying here and there on these websites with the constant pop up of online schools advertisements, this route became appealing to me.
I sent in a “Tell Us About Yourself” form to the University of Phoenix to get more information and to see if this path was right for me. It sounded ideal. My work schedule at this time was not set in stone and I was uncertain when I would have time off for classes, let alone if I could get the same time off each week for classes.
I wanted to know more.
I had submitted my form late on the night of September 2nd. By the 3rd I had received a call from an Enrollment Counselor, Eric. Eric was a nice man and seemed genuinely interested in my personal situation and goals in life. I’d say we spoke on the phone for what felt like a good 30 – 40 minutes going over my options in life and what I wanted to gain out of life.
I remember during the conversation feeling like this was the right step and I was excited to find an enrollment counselor with such a specific and personal interest in my life and goals. Previously, in college, my advisors had been stand-off-ish and did not sit down with me and discuss personal goals. They told me “you can take this, this and that” and I did just so.
Eric set up an appointment for me to meet with him the very next day. I was then sent an Appointment Confirmation e-mail and was told to bring anyone helping me make the decision to enroll in school and anyone interested in completing their degree.
The e-mail listed my financing options as financial aid students, corporate reimbursement and transcripts (how my transcripts will pay for college, I’m still at a loss?).
Also included were two specific questions that needed to be answered prior to the meeting and in response to the e-mail as a verification for the appointment.
- What questions or concerns do you have about getting started with your degree?
- What is the one leading factor, do you feel, that may keep you from completing your degree?
Looking back now and with the light that has been shed on these schools I can only imagine the reason for wanting these questions answered prior to the meeting was so that, like a predator to prey, they could feed on your weaknesses and persuade you that way. After all, these questions are not necessarily the most positive questions and your answers will most likely show your hesitations towards the program. Something they now know ahead of time and can work on.
It’s almost like a Zebra approaching a Lion and advertising it’s broken left leg. It should be no shock to Yipes, our friendly Fruit Stripe mascot, when he’s laying on his left side pinned down by Mufasa. Too bad the flavor only lasts for 10 seconds but hey, you’ve got a free temporary tattoo! My point, and I do have one, is if you’re going to expose your weaknesses to someone who wants you to enter into an agreement with them do not be surprised if they prey on that very weakness.
I’d assume my answers were typical to the average adult wanting to further their education whilst working full time. My concerns were the flexibility of courses and the cost of tuition. My one factor keeping me from completing my degrees was simply listed as myself. I felt I made too many excuses why I shouldn’t or couldn’t go back to school and work full time. Realistically, I can see many prospectives listing cost of tuition as their leading factor.
The following day, at the meeting, I was told that this was the quickest way to complete my degree and still work, that the success rate of graduation may seem low (at the time 46%) but that was only because even first time students were calculated into the mix, and that I could apply for financial aid and start classes in as little as a month. It all depended on how much I wanted to improve my life.
I was given a student login so I could apply and the deadline to do so of September 15th (just 11 days away). Continuously I was asked to sign the financial aid papers to start the process but I refused to do so before speaking with my family to see if I could get any financial help from them. I was told it didn’t matter if they funded it or not I should just apply to get the process started in case they didn’t I could still start and that if they did fund it and I received the loan I didn’t have to use it and it wouldn’t hurt me. I felt he was being pushy and forceful for me to sign these papers hence, I got wary, uncertain of what I would be signing, and decided to take a step back. I can see many others, others even less certain than I was in their path in life, being sweet talked into an agreement like this they’re not entirely sure of or understand the consequences of.
After discussing my options with my family they said that they would help me with funding as along as I looked at other colleges in the area, other than online schools. When I e-mailed Eric about this he said “Remember to look at the total time it will take you to get done, if a school will only help you get started, but not plan to graduate then you may be setting yourself up for what I call “collecting credits” which is much more expensive then “getting a degree.” :)”
He was right about the time it would take to graduate but ultimately I needed to look at the time it would take to pay off these loans! After looking around at other schools I realized that it may be take me longer to graduate while working full time but I was going to be able to pay off student loans, should I need to take them out, a heck of a lot quicker because my courses would not be as expensive.
Eric would call often and over the course of the next 20 days I diligently avoided his calls. Late September I e-mailed him back and told him that I had hit a financial road bump. There had been a family emergency and all my money was going to that and I had little to offer the University.
I never heard from him again.
So much for his personal and genuine interest in my situation.
Over the years the thought of going to school online would entice me and I would enquire for more information and would even give my e-mail address to co-workers that attended these schools to submit so they would get credit for a referral but in the end I went a local college. The cost of tuition is only a fraction compared to what I would have been paying and while I have classes twice a week I can be certain of two things : my weeks will be jammed packed with school and work but in the end I will be able to pay my loans off, if I apply for any, quicker than I would have with a for-profit university.
For me, the less debt I have the happier I am.
Funny how that works.
If you feel you are in a similar situation and want to further your education be sure to look around and compare all of your options before signing anything! As always, Stay educated. Stay strong. Seek help.