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.


Granted, these public schools are subsidized by taxpayer money – but then, so are the for-profits. Pro Publica has a nice breakdown of these and other numbers relevant to for-profit schools.

Students who are duped into enrolling into one of these education mills emerge with a mountain of debt and poor employment prospects, per HELP. The unemployment rate for students who attended for-profit schools was 23 percent in 2009 – more than twice the national average back then for everyone else. Students at for-profits are also much more likely to default on their loans, sticking you and me with the bill.

After the GAO report appeared two years ago, the Obama Administration vowed to seriously reform for-profit universities. That was met with what one Department of Education official told the New York Times was “a ferocious response” by the for-profit EDUs. Per the Times:

Officials at the White House and the Education Department described the industry’s aggressive efforts as unusual even by Washington standards. Mr. Sunstein, the White House official, characterized the intensity as “extreme.”

New regulations are now in place, but they’re pretty weak. For-profit schools must demonstrate they lead to “gainful employment” by showing that at least 35 percent of students are repaying their loans (a requirement that has already been struck down by a federal court) and that loan repayments don’t exceed a certain percentage of the graduate’s annual income. Nothing about fraud, nothing about hyper-aggressive marketing. Mostly just nothing.

To recap: Spammy infographics buttered all over the Web, networks of anonymous Web sites using black hat SEO tricks to fool Google, insatiable lead-generation companies, tenacious telemarketers, aggressive recruiters signing people up for dubious degrees attached to vast amounts of debt -- all of that is underwritten by tax dollars. Does that tick you off? It ticks me off. 

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