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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More than half of the students who enrolled in in those colleges in 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma within a median of 4 months… Among 2-year Associate degree-seekers, 63 percent of students departed without a degree.

The vast majority of the students left with student loan debt that may follow them throughout their lives, and can create a financial burden that is extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to escape.

It gets worse. In August 2010 the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of the US Congress, issued a blistering condemnation of the for-profit education industry. I’ve never seen a report quite like this from any government entity.

In 2009, GAO operatives posing as students enrolled in 15 for-profit colleges – all of which received at least 89 percent of their income from Uncle Sam. The result? All 15 universities “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to GAO’s undercover applicants.” Four of the schools engaged in outright fraud, for example: encouraging applicants to falsify their assets so they might qualify for financial aid, misleading applicants as to the total costs of tuition, or lying about their potential salaries when they graduated. Like this one:

A small beauty college told our applicant that barbers can earn $150,000 to $250,000 a year. While this may be true in exceptional circumstances, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 90 percent of barbers make less than $43,000 a year.

Then there was the tsunami of telemarketing from the lead gen sites, which I also experienced:

In addition, GAO's four fictitious prospective students received numerous, repetitive calls from for-profit colleges attempting to recruit the students when they registered with Web sites designed to link for-profit colleges with prospective students. Once registered, GAO's prospective students began receiving calls within 5 minutes. One fictitious prospective student received more than 180 phone calls in a month. Calls were received at all hours of the day, as late as 11 p.m.

Not surprisingly, tuition costs at these private institutions are up to five times as expensive as those from public schools, per the HELP report. An associates degree that cost $8,300 at a local community college costs $35,000 at one of these schools. A bachelors runs $63,000 – or about $11,000 more than your typical state school. Professional certificates cost close to $20,000 on average – nearly five times what they would cost at a public institution.

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