Propping Up Liars and Cheaters

Guess who pays for the for-profit colleges that got stung by the GAO?

In an operation that must have been quite thrilling to the bean-counters at the Government Accountability Office, GAO investigators infiltrated the murky world of for-profit colleges, going undercover to enroll and take online classes. What did they discover? That 12 out of 15 colleges accepted them as students even when they used phony identities or falsified high-school transcripts. That the loan counseling required by federal law wasn’t always offered. That when, once enrolled, they submitted clearly plagiarized work, it was accepted for credit without comment. That when one undercover student failed two multiple-choice quizzes, the instructor suggested the student write the correct answers down and take the quizzes again. That when a student in a required business course handed in photos of celebrities to answer essay questions, the student passed.

It gets worse.

Some of the schools quoted the “students” prices for a nine-month enrollment period, yet told them they’d attend classes year-round. Staffers instructed them in how to falsify federal loan forms in order to qualify for grants. Some staffers pressured the undercover agents to sign contracts before letting them speak to financial advisers about loans. (The GAO agents took secret camera footage of recruiters; you can see it here.) The agents received “numerous, repetitive” recruitment calls after they registered on those girl-in-the-pajamas-type websites that promise to link you with the perfect college. The calls began within FIVE MINUTES of sign-up, and one prospective student got more than 180 calls in the space of a month. In all, seven of the 12 for-profit schools where the GAO spies enrolled violated those schools’ own policies on cheating, grading standards and loan counseling, and all 15 made “deceptive or otherwise questionable” statements to them. And programs at the for-profit schools cost substantially more than those at nearby not-for-profit ones—in the case of one massage-therapy program, $13,480 more.

I hear you shaking your head and murmuring, “Poor dumb slobs who’d even go near those shady colleges.” Well, no, it’s poor dumb us, because the GAO targeted schools that received 89 percent or more of their revenues from federal student aid—$32 billion worth in 2009-2010. Which means you and I and Aunt Sadie are propping up these shameful house-of-cards colleges that prey on the all-American dreams of young people longing to better themselves.

Cue the commenters who inevitably write when I address this topic to say: That’s not my school. My school’s not like that. My reply: Download the full report. The GAO’s targets included the five largest commercial colleges in the nation. Even if you’re convinced your school’s clean, you’re swimming with some real bottom-feeders. And I’m tired of my taxes subsidizing them.