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? There's the one touting "college in your PJs," as well as the Education Connection commercial featuring a 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 www.gibill.com. The website was made to look as if it was run by the government to help veterans but actually was just a lead generator for for-profit colleges.

"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.

According to Suzannne Lawrence, who worked as a recruiter at Argosy University's online division, the pressure to recruit students prompted all sorts of illicit actions, including falsifying documents.
Courtesy of Suzanne Lawrence
According to Suzannne Lawrence, who worked as a recruiter at Argosy University's online division, the pressure to recruit students prompted all sorts of illicit actions, including falsifying documents.
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."

The idea is to prey on people's hopes and desires, offering a yellow brick road to the American dream: an education and a better job. Workers are trained to identify emotional weaknesses and exploit them. That undoubtedly is 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 in a sea of cubicles with more than 2,000 other recruiters and an auto-dialer making 500 calls a day. The leads generally were so stale that most calls led to no answer, 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 even was instructed to sell online courses to people who didn't own computers. "Tell them to go to the library," her managers would say.


Iraq War veteran Chris Pantzke was discharged from the Army in 2006 after his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. He suffered from traumatic brain injury, along with post-traumatic stress disorder. 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 advisers was he 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' Frontline for a story about for-profit colleges. Shortly before the Frontline 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."

His tenure at the Art Institute came to an end 18 months after starting when he was hurt in a serious car accident. Unable to type for six months, Pantzke decided he'd instead study photography on his own. In just 18 months at the Art Institute, he'd run up $26,000 in debt and burned through an additional $65,000 of his G.I. Bill benefits — with almost nothing to show for it.

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20 comments
fairymagic13
fairymagic13

http://doonesbury.slate.com/strip

 

YOU HAVE GOT TO CHECK THIS STRIP OUT - RIGHT ON POINT - Chris Parker - please follow up with this - Phoenix University is doing the same damn thing here.  Check out the Religious Colleges too - let's stop this bullshit!!!!

 

ChrisLong
ChrisLong

This week's story in the New Times, "Education Only a Con Man Could Love" by Chris Parker appears to have been lifted from the PBS Frontline program "Education, Inc." Just a few names are and schools are changed here and there, but I actually thought I was reading a ripoff of Frontline, probably was.

 

Makes all the same points in the same order, even has an identical story of a PhD candidate from a for-profit school with only the name changed. I guess Chris Parker was feeling a bit lazy and should have credited PBS and Frontline, because the two stories have damning parallels, points and overall direction.

 

Hey George Harrison was sued for less over My Sweet Lord -- and lost ! For shame NT !!!

Chrislongski
Chrislongski

Frontline even had an identical scenario for the PhD in psych, but the names are different

Chrislongski
Chrislongski

The whole thrust of the story if lifted from the Frontline special, "Education, Inc." Parker changed the vignettes and names, that's about it.  This was Frontline's idea, not Parker's.... Maybe he thought no one would notice...

bob_lablaw96
bob_lablaw96

Is this the same school that the Shurrff claims to have attended?  He has paid for his school loans with taxpayer dollars, and we still have a POS for a Shurf!

marcy
marcy

Someone under 18 years old cannot sign a contract and the kid's debt isn't enforceable.

 

Other than that, yes there are a lot of people who prey on the naive.  

ConcernedCitizenAZ
ConcernedCitizenAZ topcommenter

Where's the oversight? Where's the accountability? Ooops forgot -- the private for-profit corporations don't have to answer to the people / taxpayers. They are "private" and not government.

bill.shine
bill.shine

Somebody else built it, and you went in and stole all the money!

thaitea10
thaitea10

When touting the importance of higher education to kids, we must warn them about these types of schools...

PlausibleDenial
PlausibleDenial

SRP & WIU are running this same scam.  Pass or fail?  All U.S. Treasurery Money.  The paper tiger is serving up graduate degrees.  I do give them credit for at least holding some class room or group participation.  However, its mostly smoke & mirrors.  How many SRP people in upper management come out of the WIU programs?  The program is just selling false security.

fairymagic13
fairymagic13

The same people who crashed the Savings and Loan industry and the Housing Industry are at it again.  These people are crooks and should be locked up.  Why are our elected representatives protecting these charlatans!  It's disgusting - Republicans SUCK!!!!

ptcgaz
ptcgaz

 @marcy I was thinking the same thing. if he was in 8th grade wouldn't his parents or gaurdians have to do that?

ConcernedCitizenAZ
ConcernedCitizenAZ topcommenter

 @fairymagic13 All eat out of the same trough. Do you really expect any of them to stop their gravy train. They sure are rushing around to pass laws to protect themselves (immunity) while taking more rights away from the people.

 
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