On the sales floor, she soon would 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."

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

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."

"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."

Eventually, she transferred to EDMC's career-placement department, where the same deceit wore a different outfit.

Bittel 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 also was 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 to maintain a program's standings by accreditors. 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 persuading people to sign affidavits saying they were employed in their field. She witnessed cases in which 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 degree in graphic design.

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

EDMC hardly is 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. All were found to be deceptive.


In the age of austerity, you'd think Congress would be eager to root out waste, especially after allowing mortgage fraud to decimate the economy. But money talks loud enough to make just about 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. Senator 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. They subsequently were barred from paying salespeople based on enrollment.

It would take just a decade for Washington to eviscerate such protections. In 2002, President George W. Bush created a series of loopholes and announced that violators no longer would 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, 6 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 who include former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) and no fewer 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. Senator 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," Durbin 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."

Congress' shrillest voices on waste refuse to even look at the industry. Despite sitting on the Senate committee examining for-profit fraud, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) has expressed no curiosity about this money pit. Nor have fellow committee members Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) or deficit hawk Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). Not one responded to repeated interview requests for this story.

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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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