For-profit colleges swindle students

Education comes second to institutional income at a steep price

Worse, the classes themselves had less content than a political soundbite. "When I saw what they were passing off as college, I was appalled and mortified," Bittel says. "I'm a fabulous salesman if I believe in my product. But I was blown out of the water. I couldn't sell it anymore."

On the sales floor, she would soon go from golden child to problem student. Managers threatened to fire her. She protested that she'd excelled at EDMC's other barometers, like leadership, calls made, and conversations engaged. None of that mattered, they told her.

"Those are just put in there because the law says we're not allowed to pay you directly," she recalls her boss saying. "We don't look at those. Those don't really matter. The only thing that matters is how many bodies you bring in."

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."

Bittel wasn't the only worker feeling the pressure. A man she carpooled with would cry on the way home.

"If you weren't unscrupulous, you struggled," she says. "Half the people I worked with, their previous job was in the mortgage industry. They targeted people in that industry.... They were the ones that did the best because they were so unscrupulous."

She eventually transferred to EDMC's career placement department, where the same deceit wore a different outfit.

She was supposed to help Art Institute grads find jobs. But the school was churning out students with abysmal portfolios — if they had one at all.

She was also supposed to generate stats on how many of them found employment in their fields. The numbers were used to not only sell future students, but by accreditors in maintaining a program's standing. So EDMC, she says, was prepared to rig these stats by any means necessary.

Bittel's boss liked to say that "every student is place-able. It's all a matter of technique." This "technique," she says, involved convincing people to sign affidavits saying they were employed in their field. She witnessed cases where someone with a degree in video game design was counted as working in his field because he sold video games at Toys "R" Us. She was told to convince a Starbucks clerk that making the menu sign each day was using her graphics design degree.

Once, Bittel saw a co-worker lying on a form about a graduate's salary. The same employee showed her how to doctor emails so that students' replies favored the Art Institute. Both times she reported the scams to her boss. But instead of being fired, the co-worker soon received EDMC's North Star Award for exceptional performance.

EDMC is hardly alone in its transgressions. Two years ago, the feds conducted a sting on for-profit colleges, with investigators masquerading as prospective students. They tested the sales practices of 15 schools. Four encouraged outright fraud. They were all found to be deceptive.

Congress sees no evil

In the age of austerity, you'd think Congress would be anxious to root out waste, especially after allowing mortgage fraud to decimate the economy. But money talks loud enough to make any congressman hard-of-hearing. So despite a 20-year history of fraud and failure, for-profit colleges appear as bulletproof as ever.

Washington's been aware of the racket since U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Georgia) held high-profile hearings in 1992, demonstrating how for-profits were recruiting students from welfare offices, housing projects, and homeless shelters — anything to get bodies through the door. The schools were subsequently barred by from paying salespeople based on enrollment.

It would take just a decade for Washington to eviscerate these protections. In 2002, President George W. Bush created a series of loopholes and announced that violators would no longer be punished.

Then Bush and Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio) opened the door even wider, working to repeal a rule that required schools to educate at least 50 percent of their students on-campus. It gave birth to an online gold rush, with for-profits flooding the internet. Last year, six million students enrolled.

The industry had discovered the value of paying protection money to Congress. It spent $16 million on lobbying last year alone, buying a dream team of former officials that include former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) and no less than 14 former congressmen.

"I didn't know when I got into the issue of for-profit schools that it was the best way for me to have a reunion with every member of Congress as they parade through the door, all representing these schools," says U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who's held hearings investigating for-profits. "There is so much money on the table they can afford to hire everybody."

Needless to say, Durbin hasn't gotten far with his probe. He's found some support among fellow Democrats, but not a single Republican bothered to attend his hearings.

"I don't want to hear their sermons from the mount about wasting federal money when they won't even take a look at these obscenely subsidized for-profit schools," he says. "If they were talking about food stamps, they would cut people off in a second for this level of fraud. This is a wasteful expenditure of hard-earned consumer dollars to some of the wealthiest people in America, and that has to come to an end."

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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.