Online degrees with the greatest of sleaze

Who's really behind those infographic-spewing lead generation sites? A massive multi-billion-dollar education industry funded largely by taxpayers. Part III of a series.

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Image credit: Hemera

I’ve been receiving quite the education in the world of for-profit education lately. It started with a spammy infographic distributed by OnlineSchools.org, lead me into the murky world of online lead-generation, and deposited on the doorstep of a multi-billion dollar industry that’s been the subject of a lot of government scrutiny over the last few years.

My quest started with two simple questions: Who are these guys, and why are they so desperate to sign me up for a second-rate online diploma mill?

[25 link-building tips to drive traffic to your website and Big data, big jobs?]

The answer, as is usually the case: Money. BIG money. Much bigger than the $50 to $250 those spammy telemarketers receive when I fill out a Web form and/or sign up for classes.

There is an enormous amount of money in the for-profit education industry – and much of it is coming out of your pocket and mine. How much? In 2009 some $32 billion worth of Federal money was given to for-profit colleges, mostly in the form of financial aid and student loans, according to a two-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).

Those institutions pocketed an average profit of nearly 20 percent – and that’s after deducting more than $4 billion spent on marketing and recruitment (ie, the lead-generation Web sites and telemarketers I wrote about in Part I and Part II of this series).

What did we get for our money? Per the HELP report [PDF]:

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