For-profit colleges swindle students

Education comes second to institutional income at a steep price

Worse, subprime degrees from places like ITT and Full Sail are typically held in such low regard that it's difficult for grads to find jobs that pay enough to cover their loans. Nearly one in four for-profit students default on their loans within three years of leaving school, more than double the rate of public school students.

But there's nothing like advertising to paper over your shortcomings. So for-profits carpet-bomb the airwaves to make earning a degree seem as easy as downloading an app. Who hasn't seen those late-night TV ads for "college in your PJs," or the Education Connection commercial featuring that rapping, dancing waitress? These ads drive viewers to websites that generate leads for schools' sales staffs, prompting an unending stream of solicitations. And when those leads are exhausted, schools buy lists from companies like QuinStreet, which made its name providing leads to subprime mortgage brokers.

Last month, QuinStreet reached a settlement with attorneys general from 20 states, who'd accused it of fraud for operating The website was made to look as if it was run by the government to help veterans, but was actually just a lead generator for for-profit colleges.

Barmak Nassirian, former official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers: "Over-advertise, oversell, overcharge, and under-deliver. They found a system where the pitch goes to one guy and the bill to someone else."
courtesy of Barmak Nassirian
Barmak Nassirian, former official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers: "Over-advertise, oversell, overcharge, and under-deliver. They found a system where the pitch goes to one guy and the bill to someone else."
Rick Kriseman, a Florida State representative, represented Mary in her suit against Argosy University: "When the school did not have those [internship] slots, they found reasons to either dismiss the students or to make it so uncomfortable for them that they left on their own accord."
courtesy of Rick Kriseman
Rick Kriseman, a Florida State representative, represented Mary in her suit against Argosy University: "When the school did not have those [internship] slots, they found reasons to either dismiss the students or to make it so uncomfortable for them that they left on their own accord."

"The thing that made those lists valuable was the foreknowledge that these were people in dire straits, who were in over their heads and financially desperate, and therefore much more susceptible to a pitch out of the blue," says Nassirian.

The idea is to prey on people's hopes and desires, offering that yellow brick road to the American dream: an education and a better job. Workers are trained to identify emotional weaknesses and exploit them. That's undoubtedly what made Suzanne Lawrence an attractive hire at EDMC. She had a Master's in psychology when she went to work for Argosy's online division in Pittsburgh.

"It was really funny because they used a lot of the same skills I was trained to use in grad school as therapeutic skills — like empathy and reflective listening — on the sales floor," Lawrence says. "It was evil and slimy. Your big job was to create trust, make them think you were their friend. The main goal in your first conversation was to find something they called 'the confirmed need,' which was the hot button you were going to push if that person tried to back out on you. Like, 'My dad wasn't really proud of me,' and that's what you write down. You keep that on your file so when you call them and they say, 'I don't want to go,' you say, 'What about your dad? Don't you care about what he thinks anymore?'"

Lawrence worked with more than 2,000 others in a sea of cubicles and an auto-dialer making 500 calls a day. The leads were generally so stale that most calls were no answers, hang-ups, or people screaming, "Stop fucking calling me!" Dry erase scoreboards kept track of everyone's application numbers, horse-race style. Those who sold were loved. Those who didn't were berated, cajoled, and threatened, says Lawrence. Managers monitored calls and circled the cubicle bays encouraging workers to "always be closing."

The harsh, boiler-room atmosphere prompted her to make references to Glengarry Glen Ross. No one got it. They were too preoccupied with keeping their jobs.

The pressure prompted all sorts of illicit shenanigans, including falsifying documents, says Lawrence. Salespeople were coached to evade questions about cost, and repeat the lie that "99 percent of our students don't pay anything out-of-pocket to go to school."

She was even instructed to sell online courses to people who didn't own computers. "Tell them to go to the library," her managers would say.

Military Disservice

Iraqi war veteran Chris Pantzke was discharged from the Army in 2006 after his convoy was hit by an IED. He suffered from Traumatic Brain Injury, along with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The injuries left the former sergeant moody and anxious in closed spaces. Being in a classroom was out of the question.

But a saleswoman for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, also owned by EDMC, convinced him that her school's online photography program was perfect for his situation.

He immediately struggled, getting migraines from staring at his computer. "There would be several days I'd get up at roughly 8 a.m. and wouldn't go to bed until 4 a.m.," Pantzke says. "That's how bad it was because I was falling so far behind." He punched a hole in the wall next to his laptop and "dishes took flight."

In one online class, the teacher didn't have internet access for more than a third of the course. Only after pestering three different advisors was Pantzke finally put in touch with the school's Disability Services Office. But despite the recruiters' original promise of specialized help, the Art Institute balked at his request for additional tutoring.

Then Pantzke appeared on PBS's Frontline for a story about for-profit colleges. Shortly before the piece aired, a vice president contacted Pantzke, asking him to sign a release saying "that I was doing fine and things were going great."

He refused, but soon noticed a miraculous lift in his academic fortunes. Despite turning in one slapdash assignment he knew wasn't any good, he received an A. "Once I started making waves, I started passing my classes with As and Bs," he says. "I don't know if my grades were true, and it made me doubt my photography ability."

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This article has to be the worst piece of one-sided journalism I've read in a long time! 

Having attended Argosy I feel I can speak to the education I received.  It would appear the author specfically found stuents who are disgruntled with their educational experience no matter the thousands of others who are quite happy with the education they have received. 

The people speaking out here can say anything they like about their experience... including lie... because it makes for more emotional reading!  It gets you riled up and feeling anti-for-profit school!

The schools, of course, cannot defend themselves because, by law, they cannot disclose any student information.  So for-profit schools make nice easy target for bored jouranalists looking to bump up the drama factor for their news rag.  For all anyone knows, these students could have been lazy, never studied, spent their financial aid on a new stereo, big screen tv, bought a new wardrobe... whatever.  But, the school is still guilty. Not the students! 


It's funny how accountability always falls on someone else and not you.  Same old story... "It's not MY fault!  It's THEM!  I'm innocent!"  We'll never get the real story... half the remarks made here about these school are halve truths as well!


You get from an education what you put into it.  You don't have to put effort into anything in life and still pass.... DUH! I know a good chunck of people at the U of M right now who pass their classes by going to homework sites to have their papers done for them... but of course it's a non-profit school so the education is much better!  

If you want something genuine out of any education... you put effort into it!  Don't blame the school... it falls to the student!


Every instructor I've ever had at Argosy was extemely intelligent, well versed, and taught with dedication and passion. The work required was on par with other institutions I've attended as well.  Having graduated from a Big Ten school I can say the education I recieved at Argosy was just as valuable and even more flexible in many ways. I never felt under challenged or that my grade was just "given" to me.  I never felt like I was being pressured into getting more financial aid than I needed.  I never felt pressured to enroll at Argosy either.  Everyone was very genuine and accommodating.   It's easy to report on something you know little to nothing about and make it look like it's crap for the sake of publicity.  (Like a bully picking on a kid they know can't fight back!)


Even the comments below are from people who have absolutely ZERO knowledge of the schools or the industry.  They read this article and immediately assigned blame and passed judgement without ever having met someone who attended, talked to the shool or a student enrolled. 

It's funny how non-profit schools follow the exact same proceedures for student financial aid, students acquire the same if not more amount of debt, but now are somehow immune to this criticism.  Is it because there are investors on one end that makes student debt that much different?


For-profit schools are not bad like this author what's everyone to believe and the education they provide is just as good, if not better than many non-profit schools!


This article is just depressing!

Truth_Teller_1 topcommenter

Having graduated from two top Universities (Lehigh and Penn State) with degrees in Engineering and Computer Science, I fell qualified to judge these ‘for profit’ schools.


Having direct experience with (and interviewing many of their graduates), I can say that many of the graduates are not college material, and they didn’t receive a ‘real education’.


There’s something about ‘going to school’, getting immersed in the subject.   Yes, there are parties and good times, but there is an environment to being in school.  You get something more in your head than a collection of facts.


The one thing that’s been proven here:  College is not meant to be a vo-tech.


For profit schools exist for four reasons: 


#1.  The mistaken reason that everyone should go to college.


#2.  Because of #1 our government is going to give anyone who has a pulse – a student loan.  A loan that cannot be discharged by bankruptcy.  A loan that will live with them probably till they’re 40 or 50 or death.


#3.  The student loans became the lifeblood of For Profit schools.


#4.  The economy is so bad that people are willing to try anything – including getting $25,000 to $40,000 in debt for a $12/hr job.   When you realize the job market is saturated, and these jobs don’t pay a liveable wage – well “your gonna carry that weight for a long time “(the Beatles).


We used to call these schools: “high school with ash trays” or “clown college of comic book knowledge”.  But hell, you can’t even smoke anymore.


Get a culinary arts degree?  How about TSA?   Criminal Justice (security guard), Medical Coding, Veterinary assistant?  


Twenty years ago all of these jobs were for HS graduates, now you’re going to get a ‘degree’.   But read that degree carefully:  Most if not all of those credits are non-transferrable, the school prints those degrees in the same way our government now prints money.


It's obvious the commercials are aimed at 'trailer trash' or 'ghetto' folks, whom they will help apply for a student loan.


These scammers need to be PUT OUT OF BUSINESS.


Education from Penn State, huh?  Are you a child molestor too?  I mean... I'm applying the same logic you are in your points.  Your non-profit education seems to have really prepared you to comment on something you don't understand.


and every single student they've ripped off need to be paid back WITH interest.


 @mikehext Not only should these schools be put out of business, but those who created and perpetuated this fraud knowingly should be put behind bars. There's a reason we have jails.