Student: Corinthian Colleges’ Demise Is Like “Watching A House Fall On A Witch”

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The downfall of Corinthian Colleges — the operator of Everest University, WyoTech, and Heald College — has put for-profit education chains in the spotlight, with people focusing on allegations of bogus job-placement statistics, grade manipulation, questionable marketing practices, and speculation regarding what will happen to $1.4 billion in federal student aid. But what about the actual students who have been watching this collapse from the inside? What about their stories?

Now that CCI and the Dept. of Education have reached a deal in which a number of CCI’s campuses and programs will be closed or sold, current and former students are sharing their experiences of broken promises and lost hope while attending the for-profit schools.

Dreams Of A Better Future

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Like many students, those who chose to attend Corinthian’s schools began with goals of bettering their lives; aspirations that CCI was more than happy take advantage of.

“I am afraid all I have worked for will get me nowhere in the future.”

In fact, last year California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against CCI, charging that it used false and predatory advertising and provided intentional misrepresentations to prey on prospective students. That same lawsuit claimed that CCI-operated colleges — which charge nearly $40,000 in tuition for an associate’s degree — target their marketing to a demographic of lower-income, often single-parent households near the poverty line.

In one specific case involving a single parent, Heald College advisors knew just how to offer her a glimpse into a brighter future.

“I have been trying to have a better future for me and my son,” one student tells Consumerist. “I thought I was getting a good education at Heald, learning a lot that I wouldn’t learn elsewhere.”

But those once-hopeful dreams have turned into a never-ending nightmare now that her campus might be on the chopping block.

“I am afraid all I have worked for will get me nowhere in the future,” she says. “I feel that it is almost pointless for me to continue on next quarter not knowing if my $30,000 debt is going to be for anything or if I am in debt for the rest of my life for nothing.”

Another student who was set to enroll at Heald College, but canceled his admission after hearing of the schools’ troubles, tells Consumerist that advisors “created a mirage, they know how to make you melt like butter.”

Perhaps one of CCI’s most effective weapons in enticing students comes in its prevalent use of advertisements. That’s what finally persuaded one former Everest University student in Georgia to enroll.

“I called Everest after watching a commercial where a girl said she earned her degree and how her life so-called took off,” the former student tells Consumerist. “I, like a lot of other students, had a high school diploma and no job, the thought of being able to earn a degree at home without having to commute everyday to school was awesome.”

Lured In By Ads, Retained By Counselors

While the sunny, optimistic advertisements touting CCI schools no doubt plant the seed in consumers’ minds, it’s the recruitment process that students fall for hook, line and sinker.

“The recruiters when I first started at Everest were very encouraging and they called every other day…I thought to myself how could anyone not succeed at this school with so much love and support.”

Many students tell Consumerist that the process was quick, easy and reassuring. Admission counselors were warm, engaging and went out of their way to meet prospective students’ needs.

But it’s also through the recruitment process that students get their first taste of false promises of quality education, career placement help and attention from a personal advisor.

“The recruiters when I first started at Everest were very encouraging and they called every other day,” the former Georgia Everest student says. “They walked me through financial aid, held my hand. Later, they inquired how I was doing in classes and encouraged me to use tutors online to help me. I thought to myself how could anyone not succeed at this school with so much love and support.”

Shortly after her first term things took a drastic turn.

“I was on my own,” she says. “No more phone calls to check on me, no more encouragement, as a matter of fact they didn’t even return my phone calls.”

Focused On The Money

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For Rick, who withdrew from Everest University online earlier this month, the admission process was much the same, but it also included pressure to take out loans.

“The admissions process was a four-hour phone call with an emphasis on the financial aid and how they would get it,” he tells Consumerist. “They pressured me into maxing out one of my loans by telling me that if I were to max it out it would be better for me in the long run, so I went along with it after about 45 minutes of being pushed.”

According to lawsuits filed by state and federal regulators, pressuring students into taking out costly loans has been a hallmark of for-profit college recuitment.

“They pressured me into maxing out one of my loans by telling me that if I were to max it out it would be better for me in the long run.”

That was the case when, earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a federal lawsuit against another well-known for-profit college chain – ITT Educational Services, Inc. – alleging the company pressured students into predatory loans that were destined to default.

A former Pennsylvania Wyotech student was directed to the school’s “favorite” private lender to fill a purported gap between the schedules of his federal loan and the school’s semesters. In the end, he accumulated tens-of-thousands of dollars in riskier private student loans, creating a debt that he is struggling to pay off.

In some cases, students report that advisors failed to inform them about important financial aid and class options that could have saved them from taking out costly loans.

“There was a summer term that I could have sat out of and avoided the extra loans,” a former Everest Online student says. “I wasn’t aware of being able to do so until the fall term began where I was informed that my Pell grant didn’t cover the summer term and now I had a balance. I had to take out an additional loan in order to continue to the fall term. I was struggling and my financial aid had been put in jeopardy.”

Lying About The Future

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Students who spoke with Consumerist generally entered the enrollment process at CCI schools with a clear idea of the career path they wanted to follow, be it automotive repair at WyoTech, medical billing at Everest or information technology at Heald.

While students reported that advisors and admission officers provided course information and encouraged them to move forward with their chosen paths, they also left out vital information.

The former Georgia student spent two years studying in the medical billing and coding arena, but as graduation approached she learned that advisors failed to provide a clear picture of her future employment chances.

See, she has a criminal record that prohibits her from ever working in the medical and billing field, something her advisor never mentioned.

No Job For You

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Even if the Georgia student would have been able to work in medical billing and coding, she likely wouldn’t have received CCI’s touted job placement assistance.

While Corinthian schools regularly advertise 100% job placement rates for certain programs, investigations into the company found that simply isn’t the case.

According to the California lawsuit against CCI, the school committed securities fraud when it reported a nationwide job placement rate of 68.1% in presentations to investors, when internal audits showed that executives were aware this number was highly inaccurate.

Additionally, the company is accused of paying a temp agency “to place students to meet the accreditation deadline and minimum placement percentage,” along with double-counting some job placements in order to make the school appear to be more successful in the eyes of investors.

These revelations come as little surprise to many students who have struggled to find jobs in their chosen career fields upon graduation.

“That was total bull shit…The education I got was of zero help in getting that job or doing that job.”

A former California Heald College student reported that when he was looking for a job after graduating with an Associates of Applied Science degree he found many of the jobs posted on the school’s bulletin board to be from ads he’d previously seen on Craigslist.

Similarly, when former student Anthony sought help finding a job from his school, he was directed to a cork board filled with the numbers to temp agencies.

“They said that I could use the campus computers to look online to find a job or use the information on the bulletin board that other students had placed, but they didn’t actually have any connections to get me a job as a paralegal,” he says. “So I found one on my own.”

But that didn’t stop the school from using Anthony’s “success story” to attract new students.

“They talked about the valedictorian who graduated with a great job as a paralegal who was running the research and development project in his firm all because of what he learned in school and with the help of their job placement,” he recalls. “That was total bull shit. I worked my butt off doing data entry until they saw that my talent was wasted in that department and put me to work doing research and development. The education I got was of zero help in getting that job or doing that job.”

The results weren’t much better for students who did receive help in job placement from their school.

A former medial administrative assistant student from Everest was placed in what she calls a “questionable” doctor’s office upon graduation.

“He would let his staff go in waves and then replace with new Everest students,” she says. “So the only job I had as a MAA was there and no one would give me a chance after working for him. Everest was no help in finding a new job at all.”

Left In The Dark

Image courtesy of Beth Rankin

While news of Corinthian’s likely demise has been circulating in the news, many details – such as what schools will close and when – remain unanswered. And until that information is revealed, students are left largely in the dark, creating a sense of helplessness and resentment toward their schools.

In some cases, students are finding their options limited.

“I found that the school is closing so I have decided to look into different colleges,” a current Everest student says. “None of them are offering the same classes I have already taken, so when I transfer most of my credits will not transfer and it will be as if I am starting all over again.”

Students who currently attend CCI colleges report that a lack of communication from the administration and tell us that business continues on as usual.

They Got What Was Coming To Them

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“I would be able to enroll my dog at Everest if they thought they could get money out of it.”

“I feel I was just a paycheck to Corinthian Colleges because not once did they fulfill their end of the contract of being with the student along the way,” an Everest Online student sums-up her experience. “What they did to myself and thousands of other students isn’t fair and ultimately we pay the price for their greediness because those that have obtained a degree from a Corinthian Colleges are not taken seriously and have a difficult time finding the employment to fulfill their degree. Those that are enrolled are now [are] faced with the situation of having to transfer or stick it out with the school, students such as myself that have put in time and have absolutely nothing to show for it.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that I would be able to enroll my dog at Everest if they thought they could get money out of it,” Rick, who recently withdrew, says.

Because so many students have been left with worthless degrees and mountains of debt, the likely downfall of CCI has provided just a sliver of joy and relief that the schools may not be around to hurt others.

“I hope they close down the school for good. I’ll be the first to stand in line to take a leak on their corporate office when that happens,” Anthony says. “The death of Corinthian is something kind of like seeing a house fall on a witch.”

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