Education Dynamics Falsely Peddles For-Profit Colleges As Non-Profit
You can learn a lot just by googling. Yesterday, I searched Google for “nonprofit colleges,” and the top response was the ad shown above, promising “Flexible Degree Programs Offered by Non For Profit Online Colleges.” I clicked on the link, and it sent me to this site called “findcolleges” or “findtopcolleges.” As indicated in the ad, the specific page’s URL includes the phrase “nonforprofit.”
The site, operated by a company called Education Dynamics, showed me a list of colleges, with links to those schools’ websites. The list started with the University of Phoenix.
The University of Phoenix has long been the country’s biggest for-profit college, currently owned by Apollo Global Management and other private equity firms.
The University of Phoenix, by the way, has a record of high prices, poor educational outcomes, and trouble with law enforcement agencies for deceptive advertising and other unlawful predatory practices.
Other schools listed on the findtopcolleges “nonforprofit” page — the only list on the page — include for-profit colleges Strayer, ECPI, and Walden.
The ad on Google — keyed to a search for “nonprofit colleges,” promising “Non For Profit Online Colleges,” and then directing traffic to a site peddling for-profit colleges — is deceptive.
The “non-profit” label has been a strong selling point for colleges in recent years, after decades of scandals tainted the reputation of for-profit colleges.
Six months ago I did a similar Google search and came straight to a website called “Nonprofit Colleges Online,” which railed against abuses by for-profit colleges and then offered lists of and links to a number of for-profit colleges. Soon after I published an article describing this deceptive website, the site, operated by Best Choice Media, apparently removed all the listings for for-profit colleges.
But back to the site I found yesterday: Even some of the non-profit colleges listed on the findtopcolleges “nonforprofit” page are former for-profit colleges, and two of those are currently barred by the U.S. Department of Education from advertising themselves as non-profit.
The University of Arizona Global Campus is an online college that until recently was for-profit Ashford University, owned by Zovio, and is still operated by Zovio under a deal with the University of Arizona. Ashford / Zovio has an awful record of deceptive practices and predatory abuses against students. Under its current arrangement with the U.S. Department of Education, which has allowed federal student aid to flow to the school while final approval of the deal is pending, University of Arizona Global Campus is prohibited from advertising itself to students as a non-profit.
Also listed on findtopcolleges is Grand Canyon University, a large Arizona school which reorganized as a nonprofit but whose application to be recognized as a non-profit was rejected by the Department of Education in 2019, because the school remained tethered to the for-profit company that previously owned it. Grand Canyon sued in January to reverse the Department’s decision, but meanwhile the Department has barred, it, too, from advertising itself to students as nonprofit.
In fact, of the ten schools listed on this “nonforprofit” page of findtopcolleges, only four — Southern New Hampshire University, St. Leo University, Colorado State University Global Campus, and Purdue University Global — are free-and-clear non-profit institutions. And even one of those four, Purdue Global, is in fact another for-profit college, formerly known as Kaplan University, disguised as a state-affiliated institution through a shady deal.
The findtopcolleges online search tool is another aspect of the deception and cynicism here. If you, say, tell it you are seeking a bachelor’s degree in business, the exact same ten colleges that are on the “nonforprofit” page are recommended. If you say you want an associate’s degree in criminal justice, those ten schools appear, plus one more — Post University, another for-profit college. If you search for doctorate degrees in psychology, you get basically the same group of schools.
findtopcolleges’s operator, Education Dynamics, is a company that attracts and sells “leads” — prospective students — to colleges that are anxious, or even desperate, to recruit new people and cash their federal financial aid checks. A Hoboken, New Jersey-based company, Education Dynamics has a CEO, Bruce Douglas, who, rather than attending any of the schools recommended on his websites, graduated from the Ivy League’s Brown University and Columbia Business School.
Education Dynamics has long been in the business of finding leads for deceptive for-profit colleges, including the schools operated by Perdoceo, formerly called Career Education Corporation. In 2019 that company agreed to pay $30 million to settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission that it recruited students through various deceptive lead generation sites (though the FTC complaint names lead generators other than Education Dynamics).
Education Dynamics also previously sold its services to the now-shuttered Corinthian Colleges, one of the most disgraceful for-profit college operations ever.
Education Dynamics operates many other websites, including Education Connection, which once ran TV ads featuring 90210’s Shannen Doherty and also still promotes predatory colleges, including Ultimate Medical Academy, South University, and Perdoceo’s American Intercontinental University,
In 2020, Education Dynamics acquired the higher education assets of another long-time lead generation operation, QuinStreet, a company that once operated deceptive military-themed lead generators including at GIBill.com, which state attorneys general shut down as deceptive in 2012, and on the website Military.com.
As NBC reported in 2019, Education Dynamics also runs military-colleges.com, which has nothing to do with the U.S. military but also peddles predatory for-profit colleges, including American Intercontinental and Grantham University, which was the only college recommended on another scam lead generation site, Army.com, a site the FTC shut down in 2018.
Education Dynamics’ deceptions regarding findtopcolleges go beyond the current Google ad and search tool. The site presents itself as a reliable source of advice, stating at the top of the page, “Finding the right online degree program for you can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. That’s why we have outlined our online school selections, some of their potential benefits, and their most popular programs among online students*. Get more information from one or all of them to help you on your education journey!”
While you proceed on that journey, you have to click on the “?” button next to the designation “Sponsored Schools,” which appears above and below the list of schools, to find out the hard truth: “EducationDynamics receives compensation for the featured schools on our websites…”
So not only is findtopcolleges’ Google ad misleading, the site itself is deceptive. It claims to provide advice on finding “the right online degree program,” and offering its own “selections” of schools — “top” colleges — and then it lists schools that pay Education Dynamics for the privilege of being listed. The site doesn’t even bother, it seems, to offer (as some deceptive sites do) other pages or features offering actual advice not influenced by advertising fees.
It’s not as if government regulators have never heard of these kinds of scams. Starting in 2016, the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down occasionally on deceptive for-profit college lead generation websites, often taking action against sites described first here on Republic Report. Unfortunately, the penalties imposed by the FTC, and the reach of the agency’s enforcement activities, seem to have been insufficient to deter the false advertising, which continues to this day. With students continuing to have their financial futures ruined by predatory colleges, the FTC needs to step up these enforcement efforts, or fraud will continue to pay.
The U.S. Department of Education, meanwhile, needs to take action against the predatory colleges that advertise on these scam sites.
By the way, yesterday when I searched on Google for “non-profit colleges” with a hyphen, instead of “nonprofit colleges,” findtopcolleges was only the third listed ad. The top listed ad was for Capella University, deceptively promising, “Lead Change In Nonprofits With An Online Master’s Or Doctoral Program.” The ad led to the Capella website. Capella is a for-profit college.
UPDATE 07-28-21: One day after I posted this article, the Education Dynamics Google ad that I described seems to be no longer running, at least in response to my search, and the page at that “nonforprofit” URL is gone. The Capella ad also stopped popping up when I searched. Good.