Corinthian Colleges — the operator of for-profit school chains Everest University, WyoTech, and Heald Colleges — is selling off or shutting down campuses as it faces lawsuits and investigations from multiple state and federal agencies. The allegations involve bogus job-placement stats, grade manipulation, and misleading marketing. We recently spoke to several current and former CCI teachers and admissions staffers who confirmed these bad practices and explained that it was all done in pursuit of billions of dollars in federal aid from taxpayers.
As one current CCI staffer puts it, “We work for the biggest scam company in the world.”
Like the Corinthian students we recently spoke to, the teachers and employees at CCI schools, despite dedicating themselves to helping students, will live in the failed company’s shadow for years to come.
Recruiting: Too Fast, Too Little InformationImage courtesy of afagen
For-profit schools (like the ones operated by Corinthian) pepper the airwaves with ads — even casual viewers of daytime or late-night TV are familiar with Everest’s “I did it. You can do it too” spots. These ads get prospective students on the hook. To reel them the rest of the way in — along with upwards of $40,000 a year in student loan money — these schools rely on flesh-and-blood “recruiters” who are effectively just salespeople for the schools.
Some folks involved in admissions at CCI schools tell Consumerist that students are rushed through the process and promised an educational experience that the school may not be able to deliver.
Representatives for Heald, Everest, and Wyotech can constantly be found at high schools and military bases singing the praises of CCI. Even now, with the schools’ futures still uncertain, recruiters are peddling their institutions to anyone who will listen.
“Our vets were usually recruited while they were still enlisted, and our high school students were still in high school,” a former Heald admissions employee tells Consumerist. “The field representatives met with the students at home with their families.”
After piquing the interest of prospective students and carefully crafting a relationship, there was a rush to complete the admissions process — something that generally ended with a wealth of misinformation and distorted facts, the former employees allege.
“Most rushed through the paperwork and did not read it,” she tells Consumerist. “They just signed and initialed.”
Included in the paperwork were fact sheets containing graduation and placement rates that employees were required to show students, but even those forms were mostly glossed over, says the insider.
Orientation: You’re Just A NumberImage courtesy of frankieleon
Rushing students through the application and loan process might not be a problem if those students then receive an education that is worth the huge tuition bills. But CCI employees tell Consumerist that the company viewed students as a gateway to federal aid dollars; once they were enrolled, they received little to no support from those who had recruited them.
“Admissions was discouraged from maintaining relationships with students because they needed to work on recruiting new students.”
The former Heald admissions employee says she tried to spend time with the students she enrolled, but it was frowned upon by superiors.
“Admissions was discouraged from maintaining relationships with students because they needed to work on recruiting new students,” she says. “Admissions was required to make at least 100 calls a day.”
She hypothesizes that the pressure put on employees to constantly bring in new students was one reason so many students that didn’t belong at the college ended up being enrolled.
“Everything is about numbers and needing more, regardless of the kind of candidates admissions was putting in class,” she says.
Corinthian 101: Attendance Is OptionalImage courtesy of Kenny Lannert
For-profit colleges have a higher dropout rate than non-profit schools, as new students are often ill-prepared to keep up with the work. For-profit schools also rely far more on federal aid than other colleges, meaning every student who drops out is red ink in a school’s ledger book. When a school has investors demanding a return on their money, it may be tempted to accept students who do not possess the necessary skills — and then do whatever it takes to keep them enrolled and taking out more loans.
A current employee at one CCI school estimates that “about 50% to 75% of our recruited students can barely write at the sixth-grade level.”
One former Everest online teacher recalls crying after realizing the reading levels of some of her students.
And while missed classes are a problem at most schools, CCI employees say the absentee rate was frighteningly high.
“Here at admissions we are required to call students every week because most sign up for a course and don’t participate,” a current employee reveals, adding that actual attendance didn’t ultimately matter because the loan checks were already being cashed.
The only time attendance mattered was when it came to retaining student for future terms, explains the staffer.
“We get the subsidy,” he says of the school. “They are left with a loan, and that’s how it works.”
“We get the subsidy. They are left with a loan, and that’s how it works.”
Another former online instructor says she found the absence rate was high, not because students thought the class was difficult, but because they didn’t understand the teaching environment of an online education.
“The enrollment rep failed to explain to them about the online environment,” she says. “Many thought the platform would be similar to chatting online, with multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank tests.”
In fact, some of her online students were so unprepared they didn’t even have a computer.
“A few were told by their enrollment reps that they didn’t need a PC right away,” she says.
And those who did have a computer often had poor technological skills, meaning she spent a good chunk of classroom time instructing students on basic computer applications.
The former WyoTech admissions employee recalls some of the most disturbing experiences she witnessed occurred in the classrooms.
“The director of education would have students sign blank appeal forms so each time they missed class after their max, the program chair could turn in the appeal to keep from dropping students,” she says.
She alleges that students were also asked to back-date forms in order to stay enrolled and keep the for-profit tuition cycle moving.
Corinthian 102: Passing At Any CostImage courtesy of Dustin Michelson
Attendance is only one important part of the college experience. The other, more crucial, issue is whether or not students are learning. Teachers are supposed to do the best they can to share their knowledge; if a student can’t keep up or chooses to put in a failing effort, they should be graded accordingly.
But, according to some CCI teachers, the company’s priority was on students receiving passing grades — regardless of effort in the classroom — so they could remain enrolled at the school.
“We are forced to keep revising courses to make them so easy it’s almost impossible to fail,” an insider currently working at a CCI campus tells Consumerist. “Some assignments require a student to write one paragraph and they get points for a full paper; an elementary school would require more. Yet many of the recruited students can’t even write well enough to submit this paper.”
The former Everest online instructor says she was surprised by the number of ill-prepared students in her classroom, something that likely resulted in large numbers of failing grades.
“On the first day of class, I’d have 28 to 30 students on my roster for each class I taught,” she says. “By the end of the twelve-week term, there was an average of 12 to 19 students remaining. Of the remaining students it was very common to have half of them, or more, fail the class.”
But another teacher says that after handing out failing marks to nearly half of her students in the first year, she was told by administrators to go “above and beyond” in her efforts to keep students enrolled.
“The real aim was to get students to do part of an assignment in order to count them as still enrolled, thus keeping the funds rolling to the college.”
Her understanding of that instruction is that it meant extending deadlines for students to turn in late work, and then constantly bugging those students with emails and phone calls to get them to submit assignments.
“The real aim was to get students to do part of an assignment in order to count them as still enrolled, thus keeping the funds rolling to the college,” she says. “In other words, it didn’t matter if they did the whole assignment thoroughly or even received a passing grade on the written assignment. As long as they logged in and typed in a couple of characters into the discussion board they were still enrolled and thus the funding continued.”
“Grades were essentially a joke…there were students not doing any work at all and still passed with a B average.”
Allowing students to pass a course without having actually learned anything was one reason a former English teacher left her job at Heald.
“My main dissatisfaction was with the testing that determined whether or not a student had mastered the skills needed to progress to the next level,” she says. “Most students moved on regardless of skills.”
And students were aware of this no-fail attitude at CCI.
“During one of my last classes at Everest, I realized that I would have an A in the class even if I didn’t fully complete an assignment,” one former student recalls. “I wasn’t feeling well and just turned in what I completed. In another class, I just didn’t turn in the assignment at all. Both assignments received full points.”
Other students claim to have deliberately turned in poor work or incorrect assignments to test the rumors of grade falsification. They too received full credit.
“Grades were essentially a joke at one point when I inadvertently turned in the wrong paper that was even half way done, but still received an A on it,” a former Everest student says. “There were students not doing any work at all and still passed with a B average.”
Graduation: More Broken PromisesImage courtesy of jaagerlecoultre
Let’s go back to those ads that for-profit schools pay good money to run in-between paternity test results on Maury. These commercials, and other marketing material from CCI schools, tout job-placement assistance and have former students talking about the fantastic gigs they got after graduating.
But the former Heald admissions staffer says students are being lied to.
“The amount of help students would receive from career services was misrepresented,” she says. “They were told lifetime career assistance and the career services department wouldn’t help them after the first placement.”
“The amount of help students would receive from career services was misrepresented… The types of jobs the student could pursue after they finished were misleading.”
Other times she overheard incoming students being told about future job prospects that were nowhere in line with their chosen areas of study.
“The types of jobs the student could pursue after they finished were misleading,” she says. “Some students were told medical assisting was the entry to nursing, which isn’t true.”
Nearly all of the Corinthian insiders that spoke to Consumerist left their positions because of the unsavory practices they were party to, but thousands of students, employees and instructors still wait to learn the fate of their schools.