Gag Me With a College

     I see a lot of sleazeballs in my job as editor for Courthouse News – excuse me, alleged sleazeballs. But of all the sleazes I see – excuse me, alleged sleazes – few are as sleazy as the so-called “for profit colleges” that – according to more than 100 lawsuits against them, and to the General Accountability Office – lie to students to get them to enroll, then vacuum up their federally funded student loans and hang the students out to dry.
     Two of these for-profit chain colleges – Corinthian Colleges and the Apollo Group, which runs the giant, nationwide University of Phoenix – have been sued a total of 109 times since 2007, according to my latest count. A dozen of the cases are class actions, and one case bears as a plaintiff the state of California.
     A recent GAO report found that all 15 of the for-profit colleges that Congress investigated “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to GAO’s undercover applicants.”
     According to the lawsuits I have read, and to the GAO, these chain colleges lie about their accreditation, they lie about the transferability of credits, they lie about their professors, they lie about their job placement programs, they lie about the cost of tuition, they lie about the job placement records and salaries of their graduates, they lie about tuition refunds, they cancel classes without notice, they cancel classes and refuse to refund tuition, and they pressure students to take out more money in student loans than necessary – so the colleges can suck up that money themselves, then leave the students, or the taxpayers, on the hook for it when students realize they have been conned into paying thousands of dollars for half an education – or for no education at all.
     Now these colleges have launched a nationwide ad campaign, with multiple full-page ads in The New York Times, claiming that Congress and “Mr. President” are hurting the youth of America by trying to regulate the colleges’ sleazy tactics – excuse me, allegedly sleazy tactics.
     A full-page ad in The New York Times costs from $120,000 to $180,000, according to industry publications. Each ad could repay a dozen students the thousands of dollars these trade schools have – allegedly – bilked them for.
     The colleges’ tactics are bad enough. Their full-page ads are absolutely nauseating.
     I have such an ad before me. It is nine paragraphs long. Its purpose is to stop Congress’ effort to regulate profit-making colleges. I will not identify the college that paid for this ad because, so far as I can tell, it is not one of the major offenders. The worst offenders, according to the dozens of lawsuits I have read, are the Corinthian and Apollo chains.
     The ad begins, “Dear Mr. President.” It includes statements such as, “Those regulations would effectively deny prospective students the right to attend the school of their choice and, in many instances, to obtain the education they need and want.”
     It claims that “the impact of the proposed regulations would be particularly harsh on the large number of low-income and underserved student populations … Denying these students educational opportunities is not in anyone’s interest.”
     Missing from this ad, and from all the chain colleges’ ads, are any comments about what “those regulations” actually say.
     The chain colleges don’t know, because the regulations haven’t been written yet. What “those regulations” might do – what the chain colleges are afraid of – is that they might dry up their gravy train.
     Missing from the ads are any references to the long laundry list of sleazy tactics of which the chain colleges have been accused.
     Missing from the ads is any reference to how many federal dollars the chain colleges get from taxpayers each year.
     I’ll tell you how much tax money they get – $24 billion in the 2008-09 school year, according to the GAO report.
     Yet the chain colleges would have us believe that the government should not regulate what they do with this money – tax money – our money.
     Also missing from their ads is an estimate of how many thousands of students the chain colleges have snookered for tuition, how many billions of dollars in federally backed student loans the colleges have Hoovered up over the decades, and what plans, if any, the colleges have to make the students, and the taxpayers, whole.
     Not everyone can, or should, go to Harvard. There’s surely a need to train medical technicians – though medical tech “programs” are among the most frequently abused – and most expensive – offerings from the chain colleges, if you believe the class actions filed against them. And I do believe them.
     But you don’t have to believe me. Click on the link to the GAO report in the third paragraph of this column. Read it. It’s only 30 pages long.
     Then tell me which you think is more repellent: the allegations about how the chain colleges suck up billions of dollars in federally backed student loans while delivering questionable services, or the million-dollar, whiny ad campaign, absolutely devoid of facts, that the chain colleges are running to try duck responsibility for what they have done.

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