Editorials

Getting hustled

FEELING DUPED: Rose Grier, of Lake City, thinks she was lied to by an admissions recruiter from Argosy University, who convinced her to sign up for expensive online classes while she was caring of her critically ill husband.
FEELING DUPED: Rose Grier, of Lake City, thinks she was lied to by an admissions recruiter from Argosy University, who convinced her to sign up for expensive online classes while she was caring of her critically ill husband. Miami Herald Staff

That the for-profit school industry is grinding out defeat, debt and joblessness — along with certificates of completion — is egregious enough. That it’s doing so with the state of Florida’s blessing is downright disgusting.

Miami Herald writer Michael Vasquez dives deep this week into the morass of for-profit colleges, in his week-long, multimedia series, Higher Ed Hustle. And “hustle” is exactly the right word to describe what’s going on in Florida. Too many of the for-profit schools have all the recruiting finesse of knee-capping thugs. Unless the recruiter puts on a seductive charm offensive and becomes the potential students’ best friend.

Many of the recruits are ripe for the these predatory approaches. They might already have experienced life’s hard knocks, perhaps as a steady worker who got laid off, or as a single parent trying to provide the kids with a better life. They might be unable to get into a program at a community college. They are all welcomed with open arms and fictional lures by the for-profits. Some students have said that they didn’t even have to fill out the admissions application or the financial paperwork. Others have complained that their signatures were forged.

Recruiters lie, glowingly, about students’ job prospects: “I just felt like I was doing evil,” Vince Martin, once a recruiter for Everest University, told the Herald.

And the money — always the money. Students bring in millions in Pell Grants, need-based awards backed by the federal government. That’s why some schools keep dropouts on the books. And what Pell Grants don’t fund leaves students — many of whom subsequently can’t get a job — on the hook, buried under debt.

Several states are cracking down on for-profits’ predatory practices. Massachusetts and California have sued Corinthian Colleges, parent of Everest, demanding that students be reimbursed. Monday, thousands of students at Corinthian campuses showed up to take their finals. They found the doors locked, campuses shuttered. The attorneys general of nine states wrote to the U.S. Department of Education this month, asking it to forgive Everest students’ federal loans because of the company’s conduct. Florida, however, is not one of those states. To the contrary, legislators have ensured that for-profit schools are a growth industry in the state.

This should surprise absolutely no one. After all, throughout the 2015 legislative session, the most ideologically rigid and, seemingly, uncaring legislators have stood firm against expanding Medicaid. Instead, they have turned a blind eye to the pain and suffering of almost 1 million Floridians who can’t afford healthcare, except in the emergency room.

So it’s foolish to think, to hope, that legislators care one whit that for-profit colleges are exploiting their constituents, in too many cases providing substandard and costly “education” to people who can least afford to be taken in by what amounts to a well-honed boiler-room scheme.

Legislators will protest that there is oversight that keeps them apprised. Indeed there is — the Commission for Independent Education, set up by the very same Legislature and dominated, of course, by for-profit industry execs, who have managed to see, hear and speak no evil about their own, much less sanction any school.

Throw in the campaign contributions and the jobs that the for-profits provide these elected officials, and one suspects the hustle will go on for a long time.

Disgusting.

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