Former For-Profit College Recruiter: Industry’s Mantra Masks Predatory Abuses
Below is a statement sent to me late last week by Aidan Peters, who worked as an admissions representative from 2016 to 2020 for Colorado Technical University (CTU), a large online school owned by Illinois-based Perdoceo, one of the biggest companies in the for-profit college industry. In recent years, Perdoceo has settled major law enforcement investigations brought by the Federal Trade Commission and 50 state attorneys general, over allegations of predatory practices, but is still receiving hundreds of millions in federal student aid every year.
I have talked with Aidan, as well as more than a dozen other recent Perdoceo employees, over the past two years for several articles I have published about the company, and Aidan and other ex-employees also have spoken with government investigators. USA Today recently published an article with Aidan’s account.
Aidan tried to sign up for public comment at last week’s Department of Education negotiating sessions on new rules for college accountability but was told the available speaking slots were already taken. So I present his statement here, in which he addresses the for-profit college industry’s relentless insistence, including in the recent rule-making meetings, that all federal higher education regulations must apply in the same way to “all schools.” The industry insists such uniform treatment is demanded despite distinctions between types of schools made in federal education law, despite differences in the incentives and institutional constraints that affect different kinds of schools, and despite overwhelming evidence that job placement, debt, and defaults are worse, and predatory abuses are concentrated, in schools where a profit-driven entity calls the shots.
(I added some links below to provide context.)
My name is Aidan Peters, and I was a for-profit college admissions advisor. I want to start by just saying A+ for the industry’s “All Schools” slogan. It’s catchy, sounds promising, and shows marketing is your strong suit.
The slogan matches the design of the schools. All talk on the front end and little of value on the backend. The “All Schools” slogan, as well as these negotiations, are missing one thing: All Students. This week was made to sound like any rules with teeth would lead to the end of higher education as we know it.
For the ex-student commenters echoing the “All Schools” talking point: I get it. I would probably feel threatened if my time, energy, and money spent on a degree was being called into question.
I want to let you in on a secret: Your circumstances are not the norm. Behind the scenes, you would be what we call a lifer. Someone to enroll and have count towards metrics more than once. Even better if you refer another person to enroll, then it’s a two for the price of one. At one point, when students were nothing more than a number to me, I would refer to prospective students as target practice. If you don’t get ‘em the first time, tweak what you do for round two.
How many people in positions of power at these schools have a diploma on their wall from a for profit college? Not many.
Two things can be true at the same time. For-profit colleges can provide an education that benefits some people, and they can also be held accountable for the poor outcomes that many others face.
Here are some ways All Schools can help All Students:
1. If a student is unable to obtain their transcripts through a college due to a balance, do not allow them to enroll in another campus run by the same parent company. This puts students further in debt. If a school is willing to enroll the student more than once, the student should not have to repeat courses simply because the same company also withheld their transcript. This should apply to All Schools.
2. All students at all schools should have a real choice to receive a paper check instead of a debit card. Many students lose funds due to unnecessary charges and fees. The debit card option allows schools to pull funds automatically when funding was not calculated properly, leaving students overdrawn. A student should not be left holding the bag every time a school decides to change the charges. Students who get tricked into classes can be charged over $800 without having the ability to even stop a charge.
3. All students at all schools should be set up for classes properly. It should not be possible for a student to go through the satisfactory academic progress (SAP) process on multiple occasions, without the proper resources for class, and continue to be drained of funds.
4. All students at all schools going for bachelor’s degree that do not graduate should not have their records coded as a completed associate degrees in the system. All schools should not be able to positively impact their graduation rate unless the student can obtain the transcripts for said completed degree. If a school gets to benefit from this, so should the student. The Department of Education should also know how many of these conversions happen, in order to get a better understanding of the true graduation rate.
5. All students at all schools should be told whether federal grants and loans will be enough to cover the entirety of their program. This is not something a student should find out once they are 75% done.
6. All students at all schools should be able to have confidence their institution pays more for education than for marketing.