NYC For-Profit College With Troubling Owner is Running Troubling Subway Ads
ASA College, a for-profit school with campuses in New York City and Miami, has been in the news lately because its owner, Alex Shchegol, who was forced out as the college president by his board three years ago amid allegations of egregious sexual misconduct, ousted most of the school’s board members last fall and regained control. Shchegol’s resurrection lasted just a few months: After the New York Daily News exposed it, on November 20; and after ASA’s accreditor, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, placed the school on probation, finding it out of compliance with the applicable standards, Shchegol resigned again as president, effective December 31.
At least ten women have accused Shchegol of offenses including rape, coercing students into sex, and sending unwanted pictures of his penis. He left the presidency of the school for the first time in 2018 in the wake of a lawsuit alleging he used a school employee to help him find women to target. The school has paid out more than $2 million in out-of-court settlements over Shchegol’s behavior, according to the Daily News. Shchegol has denied the sexual misconduct charges.
Shchegol remains ASA College‘s owner.
Now, New York City commuters are seeing a new ad campaign from ASA, blanketing entire subway cars, including on trains traveling between Queens and Manhattan. For-profit colleges have advertised heavily on the New York subway for decades, selling dreams, often with misleading claims. The new ASA campaign is troubling, especially for a school already in jeopardy with its overseers.
One particularly concerning ad shows a globe covered with flags of many nations, and overseas landmarks including the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, and Rio de de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue, and it says, “J1*F1*B1/B2 STAY LEGALLY IN AMERICA.” The copy seems to reference visa categories maintained by the federal government. F-1 and J-1 are designations for visas that allow foreign citizens to study in the United States. But a B-1 visa is for business travel, and B-2 is for tourism and other personal travel; such visas are normally limited to 180 days, and seeking a college degree, as well as taking a job, are not permitted under either status. So why does ASA appear to suggest in its ad that people with B-1 or B-2 visas can stay legally in the U.S. if they enroll at the school?
Another troubling ad, purporting to show an ASA graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden, promises, “GET A PRESENT $4000 TO $8000 AT GRADUATION CEREMONY,” with an asterisk going to some hard-to-read fine print that I believe says, “If you applied for new students challenge scholarships.” I don’t know what that might mean, but I don’t think ASA is giving that present to every graduate.
Another ad announces, “NO HS Diploma or GED? We can help! GET YOUR GED WHILE STUDYING AT ASA COLLEGE.” Although programs exist under federal law that allow students without a high school diploma or GED to start college courses, some for-profit schools abuse and manipulate these rules in their quest to enroll as many new students as possible.
Getting more weird, yet another ad shows a white cat and claims “THE BEST DECISION OF MY LIFE” was to attend ASA, “now all the cats in the world know and respect me.”
And one more ad touts ASA’s sports programs.
ASA has about 3000 students, the majority of them people of color, seeking degrees in programs including business, criminal justice, health care, and information technology. Many students have had bad outcomes from the school.
In 2019-20, ASA received some $16 million in taxpayer-funded student grants and loans. If the school lost its accreditation, or was found by the Department of Education to be in violation of Department rules against deceiving students or other abuses, it could lose its access to that federal aid.
Shchegol’s restoration as ASA president was defended at a Florida hearing in November by Peter Leyton, a lawyer representing the school; Leyton said Shchegol dumped the old board because his expertise was needed to reverse declining enrollments. Leyton is a long-time for-profit college industry lawyer who served for more than a decade on the board of the industry’s main lobbying group, now called CECU.
Repeated calls to ASA College seeking comment led to multiple hangups and requests to call back later.
UPDATE 03-02-22: The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a non-profit legal services provider that often represents ripped-off students, has written to ASA College’s accreditor, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, explaining in detail why ASA’s ads (which also are featured on the ASA Florida campus Facebook page) are deceptive and improper and calling on the accreditor to “take appropriate action.”
UPDATE 03-17-22: ASA’s accreditor, MIddle States, sent a letter dated March 11 to the school directing it to show cause by April 15 “to demonstrate why its accreditation should not be withdrawn because of insufficient evidence that the institution is in compliance with the Commission’s standards,” including rules governing deceptive recruiting and compliance with human rights standards.
The Florida Department of Education’s Commission for Independent Education is also looking at ASA’s advertising; its next hearing is March 29.
UPDATE 3-23-22: NYLAG wrote again to Middle States alerting the accreditor to new Department of Education data indicating “that over 92% of ASA students attend programs in which the median graduate earns $31,800 or less three years after completion—essentially minimum wage.” Also, “this data only captures completers; only 37% of ASA students graduate, and non-completers generally have much lower earnings than those who finish their programs.” In addition, the “data further show that ASA’s nursing program does not offer nearly the wages advertised… ASA advertises that the ‘starting median annual wage for registered nurses/RN is $73,000 [and] the annual wage for an RN nurse with 3 years of experience is about $110,000.’ However, the [Department of Education] data demonstrate that the median wage of ASA’s nursing program is only $51,724 three years after
graduation — less than half of the wages ASA advertises.”