Yesterday at Sen. Tom Harkin’s press conference on the release of his new report on the predatory nature of the for-profit college industry, one of the most illuminating testimonies came not from the senator or his colleagues, but from a former active and knowing participant in the abusive system. Laura Brozek worked for ITT Technical Institute for over seven years as a recruiter in southern California. She started as an entry-level recruiter, enticing prospective students, including parolees and those with felony records who were interested in criminal justice jobs they likely could never obtain, to enroll at the school with promises of future success in high-paying jobs.
Brozek described how she easily climbed the corporate ladder at ITT Tech, eventually becoming promoted to director of recruitment in her region. She and her colleagues who met their goals — measured primarily on the number of students enrolled or “asses in classes” and “kiss ‘em and sit ‘em,” according to Brozek — were rewarded with salary increases. Those who failed to meet their goals were demoted and sometimes even terminated.
That wasn’t Brozek’s problem. She was really good at recruiting, receiving awards and accolades, thanks to mastering recruitment techniques including the “pain funnel.” The pain funnel was used to ”demoralize potential applicants by discussing their life’s shortcomings in order to have them enroll, where their life would improve.” Such techniques are both “predatory” and “very successful,” she said. Students would enroll with the ”expectation that if they spend enough money, whether through savings or students loans, their problems would be solved,” Brozek said. “For a large percentage of students who enrolled, this was simply not the case.”
She and other recruiters skimmed over statistics on poor retention and job placement rates for ITT Tech graduates, instead emphasizing potential success.
Brozek no longer works at ITT Tech. Her story is an important reminder that for-profit school aren’t simply using taxpayer dollars to make profit with little oversight or accountability — they’re making that profit by knowingly hurting vulnerable members of society — disadvantaged or minority young people, veterans, immigrants, and former prisoners.