Technical and occupational schools such as Lincoln Tech, University of Phoenix and ITT Tech generally target students who might not have the time or resources to attend a traditional college, but many state attorneys general have recently raised questions about where the schools' priorities stand.
Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen is part of a multi-state investigation looking into the business practices of 10 for-profit schools nationwide.
Complaints range everywhere from invasive recruiting tactics to students finding they aren’t prepared for their field of study upon graduation.
Some of those allegations resonate with Enfield’s Christinna Mack. In part, they tell her story, too.
“I was interested in medical for a little bit,” said Mack. “Lincoln Tech was running commercials so I said, ‘Why not? Let’s check it out.’”
Mack enrolled in a year-long medical assistant certificate program at Lincoln Tech—a $14,000 road patched with student loans and some financial aid. She justified her decision with the belief that it would help her get a sustainable job.
“After going through the program, there were [about] 15 of us and maybe only three of us got a job from our internships,” said Mack.
Her experience doesn’t stand alone. Dirk Hughes used to work as a teacher and registrar at a for-profit school and often questioned his former employer's values.
“[The highest goal was] to make a profit,” said Hughes. “That’s the highest goal of any corporation.”
Hughes added that when he fell short of his goals, he was terminated.
“There are other things that kind of detracted from what I think most people thought they would be doing as educators, and they were more corporate related,” said Hughes. “I think [that] was detrimental to their professional education experience, if not the students’.”
According to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the for-profit school industry gets more than $25 billion in federal aid every year, meaning your tax dollars help keep them in business.
And what do these schools do with their earnings? The HELP Committee estimates only about 17 percent of all revenue goes toward education and instruction, compared to the estimated 23 percent they put into marketing.
Translation: The average for-profit school invests less in the quality of education than the commercials aimed to lure in students like Mack.
“Everybody seemed happy,” said Mack. “They were talking about their personal experiences, so it made me interested, like if they could do it, I can do it, too.”
But as the Troubleshooters found out, even some of those success stories have their fine print. We reached out to Lincoln Tech alumna Mimi Pomeroy, who is featured on the school’s website.
On her graduate bio, she describes her experience there as “one of the best decisions [she] ever made.”
But when we connected with Pomeroy over Facebook, she clarified that Lincoln Tech asked for a testimonial as soon as she found out she secured a job after graduating.
“Little did I know, I didn’t need all of that schooling for the position and was making just as much money as my co-workers who did not go to school," she said. "If I could go back in time, I would have cut Lincoln Tech completely out of my life.”
A spokesperson for Lincoln Tech responded with the following statement:
“For the past 68 years we have successfully educated and placed over 200,000 students and I am confident that our programs are very sound and that our campus teams are committed to helping their students. We have over 30 campuses in fifteen states offering programs in five areas – Automotive, Skilled Trades, Allied Health and Nursing, Hospitality and Business and IT. Our graduates range from the CEO of a multi-billion, publicly traded IT services company to your local nurse. Our education is designed to allow our students to enter the workforce with a solid foundation and given the response from industry I know that we are delivering on our promise.”
But the regrets don’t come cheap for those who aren’t satisfied. For-profit schools can cost four times as much as a community college, leading most students to take out expensive private loans.
And the HELP Committee’s report notes that while only 10 percent of all students end up attending a for-profit school, those students account for 46 percent of all student loan defaults.
“I hear from a lot of people that went to a for-profit that will never ever make enough money to pay off their loan,” said attorney Josh Cohen.
Cohen helps students get out of debt and advises prospective students to compare how much tuition costs to how much they'll realistically make with that degree.
But for-profit schools do cater well to students who can’t fit traditional schooling into their schedules. With class sizes at community colleges diminishing, it can take three years or longer to earn an associate’s degree. And if you’re raising a child or if you have a full-time job, sometimes a traditional education simply isn’t an option.
“If the public schools were doing it, would we have a for-profit market?” said Cohen. “They’re filling in what we don’t have.”
The schools under investigation include:
- Apollo (University of Phoenix)
- Career Educational Corporation
- Corinthian College
- Education Management Corp
- ITT Tech
- Universal Tech
NBC Connecticut reached out each of these schools. Kaplan, University of Phoenix and Education Management got back to us saying they are each cooperating with the states involved.