Last year one of America’s largest for-profit higher education institutions filed bankruptcy and closed its doors. The fall of Corinthian Colleges is a hallmark moment that we cannot forget; because if we do, then we may be suckered again by devious businesses that pose as universities.
Though the Corinthian enterprise has fallen, thousands of Corinthian students awoke without a college to attend. Some of those students were at the tail-end of their programs, having spent years taking courses toward reaching their career goals. Most of those students have spent thousands of tax payer dollars – in the form of federal loans and Pell Grant allotments – for degrees which are now void. Hopefully other institutions will kindly accept their college credit and allow them to complete a college education. Hopefully their debt will be forgiven or wiped away with the profit gained from the Corinthian machine. Hopefully those same students will continue their college journey at a respectable and affordable institution of higher-learning.
Let us hope that these same students reach their career goals without debilitating student loan debt. The Corinthian students signed the enrollment agreement expecting their academic and professional needs would be adequately met. Those needs were not met. Instead, they were blindly tossed into an array of increased loan debt and lost opportunity costs.
Despite many warnings from various government entities, ex-students, and states attorneys, Corinthian Colleges decided to continue exploiting poor and vulnerable students, such as single mothers living near or under the poverty line. Corinthian refused to take responsibility for its errors -namely, misrepresenting job placement and graduation rates, and extorting millions in federal aid at the expense of the tax payer and student. Too many well-intentioned, yet vulnerable, students were taken advantage of for one reason…profit. And that profit was not fairly dispersed to the students left without a degree. Unfortunately, it was dispersed to high paying Corinthian administrators and managers.
For-profit colleges can work for the student with the financial means to outright afford the degree and has done his due diligence in researching the pros and cons of the institution. But most students at for-profit colleges have not weighed their college decision well-enough to make an informed decision. In some of the worst cases, these students are defrauded and coerced. Most of the Corinthian students were coerced into sub-par degree programs by means of flashy marketing and high-pressure recruitment tactics – which use shady sales techniques, such as hitting a person’s trigger points.
Having worked in higher education for a while, I can empathize with the Corinthian students. I have seen a great multitude of students flood through open enrollment gates, and bombarded by relentless phone calls from admission workers who are just trying to reach their enrollment quota for the month. After all, these admission workers have bills to pay, including student loan repayments themselves. Does low employment rates and a recovering economy justify the use of unethical sales tactics? No, not at all. But it still happens, even a year after the fall of Corinthian. How do we guard our loved ones and neighbors from similar Corinthian-like traps?
You can usually determine the true intention of a college by how forcefully it enrolls students, what type of filters it has in place to avoid the exploitation of under-resourced students, and how much of its revenue is spent on admission practices and marketing.
I have worked on the opposite side of those admission workers, “putting out fires” as I often explain my job. I help far too many students out of the Corinthian pickle, and find myself advocating against the odds. I believe the students’ best interests comes first; not the university’s pocket book. I’m often left wondering why so many uninformed students continue flooding through the for-profit gates, only to find themselves in deeper debt than when they initially enrolled. My only conclusion thus far is that these prospective students do not have the knowledge and awareness necessary to make an informed decision.
So, with the Corinthian machine fallen, will we hold our institutions of higher education accountable to higher standards? Will we encourage our loved ones to read, and re-read the enrollment agreement? Will we track our colleges’ spending habits?
We may need to rethink our definition of “higher education”, and demand better standards.
What happens if we don’t?