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Harper’s looks at shady recruiting practices at for-profit colleges

Harper’s Magazine has unveiled a lengthy piece on the University of Phoenix, one of a host of for-profit colleges that is currently being investigated in the state of Florida and across the country. The piece, which is worth reading in full, explores the falsities in the schools’ recruitment practices, along with their embarrassingly low graduation rates and the high debt taken on by their students.

According to the piece, enrollment at the roughly 3,000 for-profit colleges in the country has risen from 365,000 to 1.8 million in the past decade alone. But enrollment rates haven’t necessarily led to a hike in graduation rates. In fact, almost three-fifths of those enrolled drop out within a year. Students at for-profit universities also default on their loans “at about twice the rate of students at public colleges and universities and three times the rate of students at private ones,” according to Harper’s.

In his piece, writer Christopher Beha enrolls in Phoenix and witnesses the school’s recruitment practices firsthand. As Beha points out, for-profits are notorious for their persistence; his admissions counselor calls him “about a half dozen times in the days after our first conversation with reminders of our appointment, directions to campus, and general encouragements.”

A report compiled by the Government Accountability Office cites one prospective student who was called more than 180 times in one month.

In Beha’s first credit-bearing course at Phoenix, titled GEN 195: Foundations of University Studies, the results of a seemingly simple test were demoralizing to his fellow students, most of whom were either black or Hispanic. For-profits are often accused of preying on minorities and lower-income students.

Whistleblowers at schools like Kaplan, University of Phoenix and Everest University have long alleged that the schools engage in illegal recruitment practices — leading to hundreds enrolled in degree programs that never lead to salaried jobs.

Florida’s own investigation into eight for-profit schools remains ongoing.

Florida also recently joined in a federal anti-fraud suit against the company that owns the Art Institutes, Education Management Corporation. The U.S. Department of Justice’s suit alleges that the schools fraudulently collected $11 billion in government aid by recruiting low-income students between July 2003 and June 2011. According to the suit, the company collected $2.2 billion of that money in 2010 alone — amounting to almost 90 percent of its revenue for that year.

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