“I, first of all, couldn’t believe that they would show up for a Frosty,” Ramirez-Damon said. But the student did, she said.
“The Frosty was handed over, and the attendance sheet was signed,” she said.
The document fraud was sometimes quite blatant, Ramirez-Damon said. The fake Haitian diploma, which was used to admit ineligible students, was re-used over and over to the point that the previous student’s name would still be visible, she said.
Collins, the former ATI student, said she took her studies seriously. When she chose to enroll, she sold her home in Key Largo and moved to Miami-Dade so she could be closer to ATI’s Miami Gardens campus. When she thinks back to the sales pitch she received, she’s convinced that school administrators knew the college was at risk of closure, and yet they signed her up anyway.
Once ATI shut its doors, Collins and other students had a bunch of college credits that they couldn’t transfer to any other school. One other local technical school, Southeastern College, agreed to teach out the remainder of Collins’ ATI program, but only if she coughed up an additional $10,000. Collins was forced to cancel her kids’ summer camp for August, she says, to pay the $1,000 a month that Southeastern now demands.
When Collins, 27, signed up with ATI, she said the admissions rep knowingly pushed her emotional buttons at the time of her divorce. The recruiter said going back to school would be “moving forward” with her life, Collins said.
ATI’s whole philosophy, Collins said, was “playing off of people that are down and out, and giving them some sort of false hope that this going to be better for you, and ATI is going to be the answer to all of your prayers.”
Some for-profit colleges have coached their recruiters to play on students’ emotions. A U.S. Senate oversight committee in 2011 obtained written manuals from multiple schools that outlined this specific strategy.
At ITT Technical Institute, for example, recruiters were told to “poke the pain a bit and remind them who else is depending on them and their commitment to a better future.”
Though Collins says she now feels double-crossed by ATI, she’s determined to still be successful. She volunteers once a week at Homestead Hospital — eager to gain ultrasound experience, and also to prove she’s a dedicated employee.
“Even if I have an ATI diploma,” she said.