MIAMI HERALD: Politicians turn Florida into for-profit college paradise

Career College Central Summary:

  • Students are a prized commodity at Florida’s for-profit colleges. Just two dozen can generate a million dollars in tuition by the time they are done.
  • In their zeal to fill classrooms, some schools do whatever it takes. That can mean deploying strippers as recruiters — according to a federal government complaint against Miami-based FastTrain — lying about job placement rates and using high-pressure, boiler-room sales tactics, including a psychological technique called the “pain funnel,” that can reduce a recruit to tears.
  • The sales force can also be warm and comforting.
  • “The guy was so slick, and I almost felt like he was my friend,” said Rose Grier, who claims she was tricked into taking on debt. “By the time the whole thing was done, I was like calling him by his first name, and we were laughing.”
  • Across the United States, for-profit colleges have been the target of dozens of government lawsuits and investigations aimed at curbing abuses. The typical complaint is that students — generally “adult learners” — get manipulated by schools that market aggressively and offer the illusory promise of a well-paying new career.
  • Everything about the sign-up process is quick and easy: The school fills out all the financial paperwork, then collects the loan proceeds directly. For-profit colleges offer convenient schedules and instant admission.
  • At budget-strapped community colleges, high-demand programs like nursing are at capacity. At Miami Dade College, only 41 percent of nursing applicants are accepted.
  • But at some for-profit schools, former students have complained they got a poor-quality education, with few or no job prospects. They’re left with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no way to pay it back.
  • While other states have attempted to rein in the schools, Florida lawmakers have given the colleges their enthusiastic support. As a result, for-profit colleges have grabbed nearly 18 percent of the Florida market — about 300,000 students — compared to 12 percent nationwide.
  • The Miami Herald took a year-long look at the industry’s Florida foothold, talking to former students, teachers and recruiters and reviewing thousands of pages of “whistle-blower” lawsuits, sworn testimony, consumer complaints and campaign finance reports. Among the investigation’s findings:

    • As other states adopted laws cracking down on colleges and their excesses, Florida legislators passed at least 15 laws that fueled the schools’ growth — while pulling in more than $1 million in campaign contributions from those same institutions. The Legislature, over the past six years, gave career colleges access to dollars set aside for veterans, the disabled, the jobless and Florida Prepaid College accounts.
  • In Washington, the Florida delegation pushed back against Obama administration rules aimed squarely at curbing for-profit college abuses — and took in nearly $400,000 in contributions.

    • One of the new Florida laws gutted the Florida Board of Nursing’s longtime role as the gatekeeper for new nursing programs.
  • That bill, passed in 2009, unleashed a flood of new for-profit schools over the next several years, followed by a 15 percentage point decline in Florida’s passage rate on the RN license exam. The national rate dipped, too, but nowhere near as precipitously.

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