For-profit colleges’ alumni often in debt and out of work

Jul 29, 2014 by

The pitch sounded too good for Lakeisha Hall to pass up.

An aspiring nurse, Hall already had secured a coveted spot at Solano Community College, which required students to take tough courses like anatomy and physiology before starting the nursing program. But Intercoast College in nearby Fairfield offered something faster: a 17-month crash course in vocational nursing that promised to prepare her for the state licensing exam and a career in a less difficult nursing field.

“It sounded really good,” Hall said. The people at Intercoast “really motivated us. They said, ‘We’re gonna help you! We have tutors and the best teachers.’ ”

But Hall didn’t pass the state test. Today, the 22-year-old works as a teacher’s aide, owes about $30,000 in loans, and can’t even get her transcript and diploma from the school.

“I’m upset and I’m angry,” she said. “I should have just stayed at Solano.”

Hall and other students accuse Intercoast of failing to adequately prepare them to pass the state licensing exam and of staffing classes with inexperienced teachers who come and go – despite charging more than $36,000 in tuition, or about 15 times the price at public community colleges. Instructors, mainly nurses, say the company pays little and pressures them to pass students, qualified or not.

“Private schools want money,” said an Intercoast instructor who asked not to be identified.

Intercoast officials said their mission is to help students learn the material and find jobs, and that they take complaints seriously. State records show that the vast majority of Intercoast vocational nursing students passed the licensing exam last year. But pass rates have since started to fall.

“We work with students,” said Geeta Brown, Intercoast’s president since 1994. “We care deeply about students. We strive to do the right thing and develop opportunities for our students to succeed.

“It definitely disappoints me and troubles me when I hear a student has problems or is not pleased with the services provided,” she added. “We take feedback seriously and strive for satisfaction from all our students.”

The complaints at Intercoast echo those of many students and employees of the for-profit college industry that offers to train students to become chefs, cartoonists, talent managers and law-enforcement specialists. As for-profit colleges have proliferated, so have well-documented problems of excessive student loan debt compared with graduates of public or nonprofit private schools; higher default rates; and dubious earning potential.

At least 15 for-profit education companies in California have closed their vocational nursing programs since 2010, many after facing problems with accreditation or with the state agency that oversees them.

Consumer advocates say a state law meant to protect thousands of students like Hall is too weak; students have little recourse to fight back against education companies that fail to deliver on promises.

Lawmakers are taking steps to strengthen the Private Postsecondary Education Act, which is up for renewal this summer. But so far, the proposals don’t restore several protections that legislators watered down or stripped from state law in 2009, including the students’ right to sue schools.

Records show that the for-profit education industry donated thousands of dollars to state lawmakers in 2009 as lawmakers debated the law and removed protections, and in 2010 after the law passed.

For-profit colleges have thrived in California over the past 15 years and expanded into lower-skilled medical fields like licensed vocational nursing, known in most states as licensed practical nursing, which requires less training than registered nursing. Such schools typically market to low-income women of color.

via For-profit colleges’ alumni often in debt and out of work – SFGate.

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