Inside Higher Ed reports on the GAO (Government Accountability Office) investigation of the unethical, if not illegal recruiting practices at for-profit colleges. Read the GAO report (warning pdf): gaomarketing. Here’s an excerpt from the Inside Higher Ed article (the rest is here):
Undercover investigators posing as students found that employees at all 15 for-profit colleges visited for the investigations made “deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” to students about accreditation, graduation rates, employment outcomes, program costs or financial aid. At four institutions visited, admissions or financial aid officials encouraged students to submit fraudulent financial information in order to qualify for federal aid, the GAO says in its report. Though many similar tactics have been reported in the news media and recounted by former employees like Pruyn, the GAO report and video carry the weight and credibility of a Congressional investigation.
The investigators also submitted contact information for four prospective students with fictitious identities to “lead generation” websites that supply colleges with names of interested students, and encountered aggressive behavior, they said. Some students began receiving marketing calls from colleges within five minutes of submitting the information and, over the course of a month, one received more than 180 calls. Some came as late as 11 p.m. In all, the four students received 436 calls in the span of a month. Of those that could be tracked, all but six came from for-profit institutions. The six that came from nonprofit institutions were all from the same public college, according to the GAO. More damning than aggressive calls are instances in which college employees encouraged prospective students to commit fraud, or conveyed incomplete or false information about the institution’s costs and student outcomes.
This caught my attention:
At all but two of the colleges visited, college employees offered deceptive or questionable information about graduation rates, exaggerated likely earnings, or guaranteed applicants jobs after graduation. An employee at a small beauty college told an applicant that barbers can earn $150,000 to $250,000 annually. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 90 percent of barbers make under $43,000 a year. At a college owned by a publicly-traded company, an employee told an undercover applicant that instead of pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice, she should go after a medical assisting certificate with which, after nine months of school, she would be able to earn as much as $68,000 a year. A salary that high would be unlikely, since according to BLS data, 90 percent of people working in the field make less than $40,000.
Two colleges told undercover students they could earn rewards like a gift card or an MP3 player by recruiting other students — a practice that could run afoul of a federal statute on “incentive compensation,” depending on the monetary value of those items.