Journalism in the Public Interest

Ex-Admissions Officer at For-Profit College Testifies About School’s Tactics

In a recent court filing, a former admissions officer at a for-profit college in Utah testified that the school instructed recruiters to make prospective students “feel hopeless” and gave the recruiters financial incentives for meeting enrollment goals, according to the Deseret News.

The document, filed in federal court in Salt Lake City, is part of a lawsuit by three students accusing recruiters at Everest College of lying to them about program costs and whether their credits from other schools would transfer. The Deseret News highlighted details from the affidavit by former school employee Shayler White:

In the declaration, Shayler White said he worked for Everest College from December 2009 until September 2010, when he was laid off for failing to meet enrollment quotas. He said admissions workers could receive a $5,000 salary bump for enrolling 36 students in six months. They were instructed to use "power words" like "career," "professional" and "successful" to sway potential recruits, White said.

"The tactics also included questions designed at putting down the prospective student, making them feel hopeless, bad about their current situation and stuck at a dead end, in order to make enrolling in school look like the best solution to the problem," he wrote.

An Everest College spokesman told the Deseret News that many of the statements in the affidavit were "factually wrong or false," and admissions representatives are instructed to "avoid negative appeals."

Over the weekend, the Florida attorney general’s office announced it was investigating recruiting practices at three additional for-profit colleges. The announcement brings Florida’s probe of the industry to a total of eight schools, including Everest. As of November 15, Everest had the most student complaints filed with the Florida attorney general’s office.

The school has said in the past that though high default rates on student loans are “an issue for a number of our campuses,” default rates have more to do with a school’s demographics than the schools themselves, and campuses with more low-income students generally have higher default rates.

That’s also the argument used by the industry at large, which has warned that the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulation to crack down on for-profit schools would particularly hurt minority and low-income students. (According to a report released last week, the schools “saddle the most vulnerable students with heavy debt,” according to non-profit research and advocacy group Education Trust.)

We’ve noted that students at other for-profit colleges have also accused school recruiters of misleading them. In August, government investigators went undercover at 15 for-profit colleges and found that all of the schools made “deceptive or questionable statements” to the investigators who were posing as applicants.

Inform our investigations: Do you have information or expertise relevant to this story? Help us and journalists around the country by sharing your stories and experiences.

The Department of Education is responsible for ensuring that only eligible students receive federal student aid in addition to overseeing school compliance with Title IV laws.  To accomplish this, they rely on department employees and external auditors to review and audit schools.  It would seem to me that; a) these employees/auditors are not qualified, or b) these employees/auditors are being “rewarded” for certain oversights.  Whenever federal funds are doled out, you can bet there will be many waiting hands vying for a piece of the pie.

Going way back to the mid-60s, I visited an “enrollment officer” at a trade school even though I already had a BA from a top university and was fully employed and was an Army vet too.

I was looking to make some kind of change that might allow me to start my own business.
This person wore a blazer with a faux academic patch on the pocket and he used these same tactics described here.  Instead of focussing on the potential benefits of the training, he tried to make me feel like some kind of loser.  He might have signed me up with a different tactic, but his presumptuousness annoyed me to no end.  I cut him off and walked.

I applied to Kaplan University Nov 2010..and there was a little squabble between admissions counselors, one tried to muscle out the I got the feeling they were on commisson, which each representative denied…but when I asked was a waiver of application fee available, they insisted no. I had applied to 3 other schools which waived the application fee. So, my application was within 1 week of class start date and the application fee was the only hold up…so I am waiting for more timely financial time and starting in 2011. I felt that the fee was a major part of the advisors salary.

I worked very briefly for a for-profit college as a recruiter.  The group I was hired with were brought on under the pretense of “presenting high school students information about further education”.  In under a week it was revealed that our job was entirely about numbers; we were to use any means necessary to get into a high school, in front of a “useless” class like English or History, and pitch the beauty of becoming a diesel mechanic.  What they really wanted was contact information from the kids, so face to face appointments could be scheduled in the kids’ homes.  We were told (forcefully) that our goal was to “get them before the military or some college”.  The entire pitch we were trained in was a con designed to put down traditional education for the “fast money” they’d be making as mechanics in as little as eighteen months.  Cash incentives were offered for enrolling kids, 10% of their mandatory application fees, and for each student to complete the course, a thousand dollar bonus.

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Feb. 2, 2011, 4:29 a.m.

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Robin Daniels

Oct. 24, 2011, 1:04 p.m.

I was an outside (high school) admissions advisor for almost 3 years for a small technical school in Virginia. I was quite successful as an advisor, and was given 2 substantial raises to compensate my efforts before I started receiving retention incentives or graduation bonuses. Once a student started school, we received 100 when they completed 30 credit hours, 100 at graduation from a diploma program, 100 when they completed 60 credit hours, and 150 when they graduated from an associates degree program. Additional graduation bonuses were to be paid if you had over 35 graduate in a single calendar year. August of 2010, they had started to tell us that we most likely would no longer receive these incentives and bonuses, but we were promised that our salaries would be adjusted accordingly. I was never encouraged to do anything unethical or unscrupulous in recruiting/admissions. I did spend an inordinate amount of time in the student’s homes to ensure that the student and parent understood how the admissions and financial aid processes worked. The director of financial aid was actually a compliance office with the federal DOE so he made sure that all financial aid practices and information was in compliance with regulations. The school was also very proactive in preparing for the new compliance and disclosure regulations that went into effect July 2011. My only complaint was with the admission’s department which did encourage us to be fairly aggressive in presenting information/programs to high school students, collecting lead information, and in calling/ meeting with students in their homes. The admission’s process however, was straightforward and has only in the last year become more stringent in terms of student acceptance since the implementation of aptitude testing, and rejection of students based on their backgrounds (ie. felonies, misdemeanors, and problems with their driving record). My activities were micromanaged and I was often pressured to enroll more students to the extent that I felt my job was in jeopardy. As a woman, I occassionally felt uncomfortable in homes, and I did receive some propositions in the form of text’s and lewd photographs. Even once I made management aware of some of those concerns and issues, no help or advice was given other than to say I did not have to enroll them - in those cases, I did not always feel like I had a choice.

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