Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Leading for-profit college responds to GAO report

A major for-profit college targeted in last week's stinging Government Accountability Office report has announced it will change the way its student recruiters are compensated, a reform that could neutralize the high-pressure sales tactics revealed in the undercover investigation.

Westwood College, a career college company based in Denver with 17 campuses, says in a release it will "implement a compensation policy more restrictive than the current regulations permit by converting its admissions representatives' compensation to fixed salary effective August 21, 2010, thereby eliminating enrollment targets as a component of compensation."

In other words, Westwood recruiters henceforth will not be rewarded for bringing more students in the doors.

The GAO report surveyed a sampling of 15 for-profit institutions and found evidence of deceptive or aggressive marketing techniques at every one. The targeted institutions included Westwood as well as Corinthian Colleges, the University of Phoenix, Education Management Corp. and Kaplan Higher Education, some of the industry's biggest players. Kaplan is owned by the Washington Post Co.

The Obama administration has proposed more than a dozen rule changes intended to tighten oversight of for-profit colleges. One of the most contentious changes would make it much harder for the colleges to pay recruiters according to how many "sales" they turn.

In 1992, Congress prohibited colleges from compensating recruiters based solely on how many students they brought in. But a series of "safe harbor" caveats, added in subsequent years, allowed the practice to continue. The proposed rule change would restore the original 1992 law.

"It creates such an aggressive marketing atmosphere that a person will do almost anything to get a student into the program," said Chris Lindstrom, higher education program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a group that supports the proposed regulations, speaking for a previous post.

Westwood doesn't say in its release how it compensates recruiters now. Presumably, some of their pay is based on the bodies they bring in.

The other big for-profit companies named in the report announced housecleaning efforts of their own: internal investigations, and (at least in the case of Kaplan) suspension of operations at the campuses cited in the report.

Westwood, though, appears to have responded with the most sweeping changes:

The college "will implement independent third-party verification programs" that have students confirm they have received and understood admissions information before the first day of class, according to the Westwood release.

Westwood also will expand its own "mystery shopper" program, mirroring the undercover approach of the GAO, to ensure recruiters are "being clear and accurate with students and the College is compliant with all state and federal regulations."

The college is raising admission requirements, including test scores, to "better assess academic preparedness and serve a larger percentage of students that are likely to succeed and graduate."

Finally, the college will roll out a new "admission presentation" after a year of effort, designed to help students determine whether Westwood is "the right fit." It reportedly includes complete and comprehensive information on tuition costs, average starting salaries and the student's obligation to repay student loans.

Please follow College Inc. all day, every day at washingtonpost.com/college-inc.

And for all our college news, campus reports and admissions advice, please see our new Higher Education page at washingtonpost.com/higher-ed. Bookmark it!

By Daniel de Vise  |  August 11, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  Administration , For-profit colleges , Public policy  | Tags: GAO investigation of for-profit colleges, Westwood College, career colleges GAO report, for-profit colleges  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Report: Liberal bias at Howard, AU, U-Md., GWU, Va.Tech
Next: U-Va. to boot student, faculty cars for unpaid tickets

Comments


This is one of the most important stories in the news today; I'm disappointed it has received so little attention. Having worked for a for profit for a couple of years, I am very familiar with the outrageous scam it pulls on students. Most of my students were hardly prepared for middle school, much less college. They could barely read or write. One teacher demanded an illiterate student be transferred out of her freshman composition class to my developmental English class; she could barely recognize the word "the." Talking with admissions, I was ensured she had scored above average on her admissions test! Despite administrative pressure (the object is to keep students in school until their financial aid benefits are exhausted), I flunked the student and tried to encourage her to seek tutoring in the community. The next semester, I saw her in the hallway and she chattered about being enrolled in a medical terminology class.

Most of these students had been told that medical assts and pharmacy techs made $50k annually by salespeople given the title of admissions counselors. Exasperated, I became subversive. I gave them research assignments that required that they contact potential employers and investigate trends in their chosen vocation. Even though they found out that pharmacy techs were often trained on the job and made at best $10 an hour, they did not re-evaluate their paths. Why? Because they were getting a college education without having to pay out of their own pocket. They did not understand that as soon as they stopped school, the bills would come due.

Employers would often send badly written resumes to the school and question how that student could have gotten a degree. On occasion, students would try to sue these schools after being rejected by employers, but we all know that corporations have more protection than consumers do. That it's taken this long to expose such a long-standing and flagrant fraud is ridiculous. I wonder if this correction would have happened if we'd elected another Republican president.

Any teacher at one of these for profits would be able to tell similar stories. But few do because we were forced to sign confidentiality agreements swearing not to discuss our work or the school with anyone...on the basis of respecting student privacy of course:)

Now, would you like to hear my experience scoring k-12 standardized tests? All I'll say about that right now--parents, demand to see your child's test, not just the test scores. I'd say more, but I had to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Posted by: macktan894 | August 15, 2010 1:47 AM | Report abuse


This is one of the most important stories in the news today; I'm disappointed it has received so little attention. Having worked for a for profit for a couple of years, I am very familiar with the outrageous scam it pulls on students. Most of my students were hardly prepared for middle school, much less college. They could barely read or write. One teacher demanded an illiterate student be transferred out of her freshman composition class to my developmental English class; she could barely recognize the word "the." Talking with admissions, I was ensured she had scored above average on her admissions test! Despite administrative pressure (the object is to keep students in school until their financial aid benefits are exhausted), I flunked the student and tried to encourage her to seek tutoring in the community. The next semester, I saw her in the hallway and she chattered about being enrolled in a medical terminology class.

Most of these students had been told that medical assts and pharmacy techs made $50k annually by salespeople given the title of admissions counselors. Exasperated, I became subversive. I gave them research assignments that required that they contact potential employers and investigate trends in their chosen vocation. Even though they found out that pharmacy techs were often trained on the job and made at best $10 an hour, they did not re-evaluate their paths. Why? Because they were getting a college education without having to pay out of their own pocket. They did not understand that as soon as they stopped school, the bills would come due.

Employers would often send badly written resumes to the school and question how that student could have gotten a degree. On occasion, students would try to sue these schools after being rejected by employers, but we all know that corporations have more protection than consumers do. That it's taken this long to expose such a long-standing and flagrant fraud is ridiculous. I wonder if this correction would have happened if we'd elected another Republican president.

Any teacher at one of these for profits would be able to tell similar stories. But few do because we were forced to sign confidentiality agreements swearing not to discuss our work or the school with anyone...on the basis of respecting student privacy of course:)

Now, would you like to hear my experience scoring k-12 standardized tests? All I'll say about that right now--parents, demand to see your child's test, not just the test scores. I'd say more, but I had to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Posted by: macktan894 | August 15, 2010 1:48 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company