Industry touts its success stories

Kyle Hitt, left, and Apryl Shackelford.
Kyle Hitt, left, and Apryl Shackelford.

Kyle Hitt of Miami is the face of success for the for-profit college industry. In Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges (FAPSC) print advertisements, he’s described as a student who “tried community college” but ultimately found his path in Everest University’s surgical technologist program.

Hitt now works as a surgical tech in a plastic surgeon’s office, a job that involves handling instruments and medications used by a surgeon. The advertisement states he “credits his instructors for helping him reach his goal.”

In an interview with the Herald, Hitt said he liked his instructors at Everest but he complained that recruiters pushed students to enroll in majors they didn’t want — majors where the school “needed the numbers.” Hitt said “I had to really stand my ground” when recruiters tried to push him into a patient care program instead.

Hitt said he paid about $36,000 for the 12-month certificate program in Kendall, and he’s earning less than $20,000 a year. He doesn’t have health insurance. Some weeks, he might work only 20 hours — it all depends on how many surgeries the doctor has scheduled.

For what he paid, Hitt said, he could have earned a full-fledged degree somewhere else, instead of a certificate.

“I wish I would have done a little bit more research, to get the most bang for my buck,” he said.

Also highlighted in the promotional material: Apryl Shackelford, who was Duval County’s Teacher of the Year in 2013. When Shackelford turned to Everest, she was a 31-year-old single mom of two boys. She had dropped out of high school and had just moved from Miami to Jacksonville.

Shackelford said it was an Everest TV commercial that sparked her interest in the school.

At Everest, Shackelford said, she loved her instructors, who were willing to tutor her in subjects she struggled with, like math. Although some former Everest recruiters complain they faced extreme pressure to hit sales quotas, Shackelford said she was flattered by the persistent way Everest chased her.

“I want to go where people are trying to get me in the door,” Shackelford said, “or care that I do have an education.”

Shackelford received a criminal justice degree but decided to pursue teaching, which required a year of classes with the school district as part of its alternative-certification process. Later, as a reading teacher at Jacksonville’s Northwestern Middle School, she would motivate students by sharing stories of her own personal struggle.

Shackelford believes in the for-profit education model so strongly that she earned her master’s at the University of Phoenix and is wrapping up her doctorate at a third for-profit, Grand Canyon University.

She said she believes that some of the criticism of for-profit colleges is motivated by snobbishness.

She said she has about $100,000 in debt and earns about $40,000 a year, but is being groomed for an assistant principal position, which should boost her earnings.

“I say education is priceless,” Shackelford said. “If it takes me a lifetime to pay it off, so be it.”