Corinthian Employees: School Manipulated Grades, Job-Placement Stats To Score Federal Aid Money

She did it. You can do it too. Of course "it" means "ran up thousands of dollars in student loan debt."

She did it. You can do it too. Of course “it” means “ran up thousands of dollars in student loan debt.”

When a college touts its job-placement statistics to prospective students and investors, does that number only refer to graduates who have jobs in their field of study? What about people who have decent jobs that aren’t in that field, but which they wouldn’t have gotten without the extra schooling? And should that stat include every grad who is earning any sort of paycheck, regardless of how meager the income or how unrelated to their education?

These are some of the questions that have been dogging troubled for-profit education chain Corinthian Colleges (CCI), which is in the process of selling off or phasing out most of its Everest University, WyoTech and Heald College campuses.

CCI is being sued and/or investigated over job-placement claims on both the state and federal level. The company’s hesitance to turn over data related to a federal investigation resulted in the Dept. of Education shutting off the tap of $1.4 billion in federal student aid the schools had been receiving each year.

The L.A. Times has looked into CCI’s job-placement claims and found that the school was counting self-employed grads as job-placement successes, even if those grads were only getting occasional freelance work.

One 2011 grad from Everest’s electrician training program says he found his photo on a campus wall featuring “successfully placed” graduates, but the work he’d been “placed” into was actually a on-off gig as a freelance audio engineer that he’d actually been doing before he ever started at the school.

He tells the Times that his attempts to get placement through Everest resulted in no jobs.

Why would Corinthian inflate job-placement stats? In addition to these figures being very important in determining a school’s federal aid eligibility, they can be used to convince potential students that it is worth spending upwards of 10 times the tuition of a comparable community college, and to pay for their education with federal student loans. The schools get that money instantly and the debt follows the student around for years, perhaps decades.

Additionally, the school could use high job-placement stats to convince investors that CCI was successfully training students. This implies that a for-profit education company isn’t just an expensive degree mill; that it could continue to make profits while also turning out successful students.

But a former corporate marketing and training employee at CCI tells the Times he believes the company’s purpose was just to get its hands on as much federal aid money as possible.

“It just made you feel dirty after a while,” he confesses. “They don’t make money; they take money from the taxpayers. That’s their whole business model.”

He also claims that CCI considered students registered with temp agencies to be “employed,” while a pending lawsuit against the company by the California Attorney General said there were problematic “self-employment placements.”

CCI has already paid $6.5 million to settle a 2007 suit that alleged the school placed students at bogus businesses that had been made up during class assignments.

Even when the school did try to find work for students, it apparently didn’t try too hard. A former career services and admissions staffer at Everest campus in Houston tells the Times she was told to find employers with high turnover rates because of bad management or low pay.

Graduating students could be put into these meat grinders for just long enough to be considered successfully placed somewhere.

“It’s not a department set up to help the graduates actually seek out a career,” she explains to the Times. “It was just a way to sell the dream.”

She says that CCI, which saw its enrollment balloon during the recession as unemployed low-income Americans sought an affordable way to improve their lot in life, trained employees to manipulate potential students into believing that education at a CCI school would result in a better life.

“You’ve got people who are crying in their chairs, thinking that you’re really there to help them,” she recalls. “If you’re a good rep, you’re going to turn that around and use it against them to convince them to come to school.”

A former professor at one Everest campus says he felt pressured to give passing grades to poor-performing students so that they could continue with their expensive course work — increasing the revenue from that student by keeping them at the school — and ultimately boost the school’s graduation rate — once again, making the school look more attractive to prospective students and investors.

He tells the Times he once tried to fail a student, but school administrators changed her grade so that she passed the class.

A rep for CCI says there is no merit to allegations of job-placement stat manipulation and maintains that there is “clear evidence that students at Corinthian Colleges are well served by their education.”

We’ve been talking to former and current Corinthian students for the last week and tomorrow, we’ll tell you if they agree with that sentiment.

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