We have all seen the ads for business schools and for-profit colleges. They promise us a world of opportunity if we enroll now in their programs, if we just plunk down thousands of dollars to learn how to be a graphic artist or a computer technician. The students we see in the ads are a diverse bunch: young people of color who are just out of high school, middle-aged women returning to the workplace after raising their kids, recent immigrants looking for higher-wage jobs — they are all reaching for the next rung on the ladder to financial security and professional fulfillment.
After graduation, after taking out student loans to cover tuition and books and fees, the reality sets in. The school has overstated its placement rate; the school has stuck with programs or technology that employers no longer need. With no job in sight and outdated skills, the students walk away with nothing but debt. Bloomberg reports that nearly 50 percent of the country’s student loan debt is owed by for-profit students and graduates, even though they account for just 11 percent of all college students.
This isn’t necessarily the story of every for-profit college, but it may ring true for graduates of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc. High profile education companies like Corinthian, ITT Educational Services Inc. and Illinois-based Education Management Corp. are facing investigations by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Federal and state officials have filed civil suits, too, about the misleading marketing of some of these corporations.
It is hard to say whether any of these actions will reimburse the students or pay off their loans. As we said in our last post, the students will have a better shot at having their loans forgiven if their school is closing down — especially anyone who is mid-program.
For companies that have not closed but that are struggling financially, students may be able to make a similar argument. Campuses are losing staff and faculty, and the students are left with few course offerings and, in some cases, no placement assistance.
At one Education Management campus, students are petitioning the federal government to cancel their loans. Other groups of students are protesting in front of the Capitol.
Critics and some for-profit education companies respond that students should just pay what they owe. They knew the risks of borrowing, and now they should fulfill their obligations.
There is no easy answer, but, as lawsuits and enforcement actions drag on, those loans continue to accrue interest.