The busy MATC professor in his even busier office. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris Michael Rosen peers over the top of his glasses, which sit beneath a furrowed brow, and apologizes for ignoring the reporter who just stepped into his office. “Sorry, I’m just responding to emails,” says the president of the American Federation of […]
The busy MATC professor in his even busier office.
Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
Michael Rosen peers over the top of his glasses, which sit beneath a furrowed brow, and apologizes for ignoring the reporter who just stepped into his office. “Sorry, I’m just responding to emails,” says the president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 212. “These students both got screwed.”
He doesn’t go into specifics. But amid an office filled with clutter, a clue to his charges rests in one poster’s conspicuous message: “Stop For-Profit College Scams.”
Rosen is an economics professor at Milwaukee Area Technical College. His Downtown office sits in an obscure brick building on West Juneau Avenue. The room overflows with news clippings, stacks of manila file folders and pro-Democratic literature, a hint that while Rosen may be temporarily oblivious to the occasional visitor, he keeps close tabs on the world around him.
Lately, Rosen has held a particular interest in that poster’s subject, and he’s heard from a steady stream of the “scammed” and “screwed.” He got serious about the cause a few years ago, when an institution called Everest College wanted to open its doors in Milwaukee, prompting him to look a little closer at this local for-profit college foray.
Such schools, also called proprietary schools, are operated by companies seeking a profit. This differs from public universities like the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and private schools like Marquette University, which function as nonprofit organizations, meaning any surplus revenue is reinvested into their institutions. With for-profit schools, a portion of revenue is distributed to owners and shareholders as profit – in some cases up to 37 percent. That number comes from a U.S. Senate report released in July 2012, which details an investigation of 30 for-profit college companies. The report also found these companies benefited from $32 billion in taxpayer money in the 2009-10 school year and generated $3.2 billion in pretax profits in 2009.
Rosen believes that cash comes at the
expense of students who don’t get what they bargain for. “For-profit colleges promise students the world,” Rosen says. “Meanwhile, stockholders and CEOs are making out like bandits by charging exorbitant costs to students who aren’t sophisticated about tuition or enrolling in college.”
When Everest first popped up on Milwaukee’s radar, Rosen wasn’t such an informed partisan. He was simply baffled that a “technical college” without roots in Milwaukee would want to set up shop just blocks away from his MATC classroom. So he Googled Corinthian Colleges, Everest’s parent company, and was stunned by the results. “I saw all the lawsuits,” he says.
Just one example: In 2007, Corinthian paid $6.5 million in a California settlement over allegations that the company exaggerated how many students found employment, and embellished the starting salaries of those who did, to encourage enrollment by potential students.
“I just started finding this stuff,” Rosen says. “It became really clear to me that this was a group preying on low-income students.”
The poor dropout rates, low postgraduation job-placement rates and high amounts of postgrad debt alarm Rosen and his fellow for-profit college critics. The Wisconsin Educational Approval Board (EAB) – which oversees these schools in the state – estimates that the average student graduating from a for-profit school has $22,169 in debt. During the 2010-11 school year, 18,644 students dropped out in Wisconsin alone.
As for Everest, “They were trying to set up by MATC,” Rosen believes, “not only to prey on low-income students, but to redirect students at MATC who might not get into their programs right away.”
Whatever Everest’s plan was, it didn’t succeed. In September 2012 – less than two years after Everest’s Milwaukee base camp opened – Corinthian announced the campus would close. The campus’ dismal job-placement rate of 6 percent played a role in what Kent Jenkins Jr., Corinthian’s vice president of public affairs communications, calls an “unprecedented situation.”
Rosen could remove one for-profit college from his list of concerns.
“I felt validated,” Rosen admits. “But I also felt a certain sense of indignation that so many people had been manipulated and exploited, and I thought that was tragic. This shouldn’t happen.”
But for all of Rosen’s issues with Everest, it was far from the only for-profit college in town. David Dies, the executive secretary of the EAB, estimates there are about 40 in the Milwaukee area alone – for now, anyway, because Everest isn’t the only school leaving. The University of Phoenix is closing its Brookfield campus, Sanford-Brown is closing its West Allis location, and Kaplan College is closing its campus on Pleasant Avenue.
The colleges cite similar reasons for closing. Mark Spencer, a spokesman for Sanford-Brown, says the campus stopped enrolling new students at the end of June 2012 but will “teach out” its current students, an exit strategy that allows those enrolled to finish their programs. “Our team made this difficult decision after evaluating a number of factors, including the performance of the campus and expected student outcomes,” he wrote in an email.
It’s another dose of validation for Rosen. But if his goal is the disappearance of for-profit colleges, he won’t be retiring that slogan-bearing poster anytime soon.
Photo by Kris Wiktor
Corinthian Colleges was founded in 1995 and went public in 1999, then experienced a period of rapid expansion. It had 28,372 students in 2001, but through the acquisition of other for-profit education companies and organic growth, that number reached 113,318 in 2010. Corinthian’s Jenkins says the company now operates 116 campuses nationwide under the Everest College, Heald College and Wyotech monikers, and they collectively enroll some 92,000 students.
The local Everest College saga largely began in 2009, when developer Dan Druml announced his plan to renovate a former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel maintenance facility at 1311 N. Sixth St. and create an Everest campus. The $11 million, 45,000-square-foot project was to be financed largely through bonds issued in the name of the city’s Redevelopment Authority, which made the bonds tax-exempt, allowing Druml to pay a lower interest rate to the bond purchasers. The Redevelopment Authority granted preliminary approval for those bonds on Nov. 19, 2009.
Meanwhile, Rosen was busy solidifying his opinion of for-profit schools. And before Everest could take the next step toward Milwaukee – zoning approval – Rosen started sharing his thoughts with a virtual megaphone. “I don’t think anybody in my community should be exploited,” he says. “I blew the whistle.”
Rosen teamed with 6th District Ald. Milele Coggs, and the two gathered others to join their cause. Among the Everest opposition: Voces de la Frontera, a local advocacy group; the Hillside Resident’s Council, which oversaw an affordable housing unit adjacent to Everest; the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch; and several aldermen.
Coggs, whose district was home to the campus, asked that the Board of Zoning Appeals delay its decision. She used a press conference in City Hall’s rotunda to launch a withering broadside. “Everest is not an educational institution,” Coggs claimed, “but rather an educational business with a goal of profit, not placement.” She warned that for-profit schools are sued so often because they “have a sordid history of promising jobs and transferability of credit to students, but all they deliver is crushing debt.”
So challenged, Druml and Corinthian Colleges had marshaled some allies of their own, including the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and public relations expert Evan Zeppos of Zeppos and Associates, a firm recently purchased by Laughlin Constable.
Zeppos is known for handling reputation management and crisis communication, most recently with the Palermo’s Pizza worker strike. Rosen recalls an exchange when Zeppos contacted him and asked him to back off: “He said, ‘What can we do for you? We’ll get more teachers to be in the union.’ I said, ‘This isn’t about the union. It’s about poor people getting ripped off.’”
Zeppos says he doesn’t regret representing Corinthian or facing off with Rosen. “I consider him a friend,” Zeppos insists. “I was aware of him fighting the proposal, so I called him and asked him to meet me. He said there was no way he could ever support a private college. He has been critical of me personally on this issue. But we just happen to have a difference of opinion.”
As for MMAC, which counts Druml as a member, the organization downplays its involvement. “Our role in recruiting Everest to Milwaukee,” MMAC President Tim Sheehy says, “was really limited to an informational reception that we held for them. People didn’t know much about Everest, ourselves included.”
The reception, held in a conference room at the Bradley Center, featured current and former Everest students talking about their experiences. Sheehy remembers the opposition to the school and says that was one reason MMAC held the reception. Members at the event asked about the school’s reputation and student training, he says.
In the end, however, the zoning battle proved rather one-sided. Everest’s path was cleared on Feb. 11, 2010, when the Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-0 in favor of the special-use permit for Druml’s Everest development. The opposition’s lone “victory” came in the form of an abstention by Catherine Doyle, the board’s chairwoman, who voiced concerns over Everest’s loan practices. But Doyle also conceded it was an issue for Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. The Redevelopment Authority followed suit and provided final approval for the $11 million in bonds that June.
Nearly three years later, looking back on how Everest won its place in his city, Milwaukee
Mayor Tom Barrett takes the words right out of Doyle’s mouth.
“A lot of these issues need to be addressed at the state or federal level, not at the local level,” Barrett says. “There were some people here that were not happy, that wanted [us] to stop them from coming here. Local government is not the level of government that can do that.”
But setting up shop and staying in business are two entirely different matters.
Everest’s problems began well before the school announced its closing last September. According to the EAB’s Dies, the school was shuttered due to reporting malfeasances and a long track record of poor performance. “We became aware of the fact that there had been some turnover with senior management,” he says.
It was the first clue that Everest’s Milwaukee campus might have difficulty regaining its footing. Jenkins explains that the company has never opened and closed a school in such a short period of time. “Unfortunately,” he wrote in an email, “problems at the Everest Milwaukee campus appear to have begun early on and were never sufficiently addressed.”
Photo by Kris Wiktor
Unlike Everest, Herzing University survived well beyond its Wisconsin infancy. It stands as an example of a for-profit college carving out a successful local niche.
In 1965, Henry and Suzanne Herzing founded the university with its first campus in Madison. Today, Herzing has 12 campuses in eight states, including a second Madison location. Herzing added online classes in 2003. That now-robust online program was spearheaded by Renee Herzing, daughter of Henry and Suzanne.
Exuding the confidence and polish of a modern businesswoman, Renee is now the company’s president. She earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Brown University in 1990, a master’s of business administration from the University of Phoenix in 2001, and rose to her leadership position after holding several posts within the company.
Herzing University’s Brookfield campus sits unobtrusively behind Brookfield Square mall and shares a large stone building with offices for Allstate Insurance and AT&T. The campus layout was designed by Henry Herzing. Its interior is a white-walled maze of hospital simulation rooms, computer labs, massage therapy rooms and administrator offices. An arrow points in one direction for Allstate and another for Herzing.
This Herzing campus held its first classes in April 2010 with 20 students, and it now enrolls nearly 300. Jody Wasmer, the campus president, attributes the increased attendance to a policy of growing slowly and being prepared. The Herzing strategy isn’t “to get 100 students right away,” she says. In her mind, not following this strategy is where Everest’s Milwaukee location went wrong. “They grew too fast,” she says. “You can’t oversaturate a market.” Plus, the school must address the local market’s demand. “You want to be sure you’re setting up somewhere where employers want your graduates.”
Those graduates can be atypical of the customary college student. According to the Wisconsin EAB, Herzing enrolls more than 2,300 students at its four state campuses, and nearly 70 percent of them are over the age of 25. Renee Herzing says her schools, as well as others like it, serve populations largely ignored by traditional educational institutions. “Their student body looks very different from my population,” she says. “They’re very selective. We have minimum requirements. Risk factors. An 18-year-old supported by their parents looks very different from a 35-year-old single mom who is the first in her family to go to college.”
It was certainly an untapped market. The for-profit college industry has blossomed during the past decade. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2001, 766,000 students attended for-profit colleges. Come 2010, that number was up to 2.4 million. In Wisconsin, according to the EAB, 164 for-profit schools enrolled about 55,000
students for the 2010-11 school year.
Their student demographics illustrate what Herzing alluded to. A higher proportion of for-profit students are women. At Corinthian, 64 percent of its students nationwide are women (specific data for the Milwaukee campus was unavailable). At MATC, 51.4 percent of students in 2011 were female, and at UWM, it was 52.4 percent. At Marquette, women composed 53 percent of the fall 2012 freshman class. As for income levels, 85 percent of Corinthian students come from families with incomes of less than $45,000. At MATC, just under a third of the students are considered low-income.
Student populations underserved by the larger education establishment underscore the need for proprietary schools, says Steve Gunderson, a former Wisconsin U.S. representative who’s now president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. Gunderson explains that by 2025, the country will need somewhere between 8 million and 23 million workers with postsecondary education and skills. Traditional schools, he says, can’t meet that demand. “Unless private-sector schools commit the capital necessary, we will deny millions of Americans the opportunity for better jobs and a better life.”
He could hold up Aimee Siegler as a prime example. The La Crosse-area resident works at Benchmark Electronics as a global compliance manager, and she earned that lofty title by way of the for-profit college route.
Siegler once worked in the borrowing department of Great Lakes Higher Education Corp., one of the country’s largest student loan servicers and guarantors. She knew who was taking out student loans and what kind of programs they were being used for. It helped form Siegler’s negative perception of proprietary schools, one not too dissimilar from Rosen’s. “I spoke with a lot of students from beauty schools and truck driving schools where the schools failed to deliver what they promised,” she says.
But she saw something different in Herzing and started taking classes. In 1996, Siegler earned an associate degree in mechanical and electronics drafting from Herzing’s Madison campus. She later received a bachelor’s degree in technology management through Herzing’s online program, completing her studies in 2006. “When I compare [my earlier perceptions] to the education from Herzing,” Siegler says, “I really thought I received a quality education. I learned what I needed to learn while I was there.”
And she more than tripled her salary.
The president of Herzing University, founded by her parents in 1965, says personal responsibility plays an important role in
student outcomes. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, stands behind a podium in a gray suit and red tie. He’s flanked by an American flag on one side and an easel displaying a bar graph on the other. It’s July 30, 2012, and Harkin is going public with findings from the most comprehensive inquiry ever done into for-profit colleges.
Conducted by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which Harkin chairs, the investigation reported its findings in four volumes, each the approximate thickness of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The results stem from two years of Senate hearings, interviews, document requests and data mining.
“Everything is data-based,” Harkin asserts, adding a preemptive challenge to presumptive protests by the for-profit industry. “Ask them for their data. We have the data.”
Harkin characterizes the investigation as a watchdog effort in the public interest. “This report details how Congress has failed to monitor the results of this sector – or to safeguard the enormous investments that the taxpayers are making – and also to the students,” he says.
The money word: taxpayers.
Under current government regulations, for-profit schools can get up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal student loan funds, and those loans are financed by taxpayers. In the 2009-10 school year, $32 billion of taxpayer money – in the form of federal financial aid – went to companies running for-profit colleges. Harkin’s committee also found that, on average, publicly traded proprietary college companies boasted a 19.7 percent profit margin in 2009. For comparison purposes, the report noted that Walt Disney Co.’s 2009 profit margin was 18.5 percent, while Coca-Cola’s was 26.6 percent.
Among the companies examined by the HELP committee was Corinthian Colleges, Everest’s parent company. Corinthian reported that, in 2010, 83.1 percent of its $1.76 billion in revenue came from federal education funds. That same year, Corinthian earmarked 13.5 percent of its revenue – or $240.8 million – for profit.
Harkin’s verbal lashing of the industry is multilayered. In addition to criticizing “abysmal student outcomes,” “exorbitant tuition rates” and “taxpayer money spent on marketing and profit,” he charges the schools with “regulatory evasion and manipulation.”
“And these practices are not the exception,” Harkin says. “They are the norm. They are systemic throughout the industry, with very few individual exceptions. A large share of the $32 billion that taxpayers have invested in the schools in 2010 was squandered. This cannot be allowed to continue.”
The HELP report says for-profit schools cost about four times as much as a community college and 20 percent more than a four-year public school. And almost every proprietary student pays those costs with the help of loans: Ninety-six percent take out student loans, and 22 percent default within three years of entering repayment. The national default average is 13.4 percent.
Milwaukee’s Joriah Siemann is not in default, but he knows all about having trouble paying off loans. The 37-year-old still owes $20,000 to ITT Tech in Greenfield. He earned an associate degree in computer networking in 2004 after learning about the program online. After an entry exam, Siemann says, he felt pressured by his admissions representative to enroll on the spot. He acquiesced, not realizing he’d also taken out $35,000 in loans to pay for his tuition. To top it off, he says the school’s job-placement efforts were subpar. “They didn’t help me find a job at all,” Siemann says. “I’m kicking myself for going to ITT.”
The Senate HELP report seems to indicate where ITT’s priorities are. It found that nationwide in 2010, ITT employed one recruiter for every 34 students, but one career counselor for every 204 and one student services employee for every 807. Siemann now works two jobs – as a systems administrator and a restaurant server – and is enrolled at MATC while paying off his ITT degree.
Tom Deffke, who works for WFA Staffing, an employment agency in Milwaukee, would not be surprised by Siemann’s story. Deffke says placing graduates from for-profits proves to be an ongoing challenge. “I have not placed anybody from these schools,” he says. “Part of it would be experience, part of it would be that that degree has no appeal to a prospective employer.”
Deffke says the large batch of applicants from for-profit schools who couldn’t be placed motivated him to write letters to former Sen. Herb Kohl, Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. “I had a gentleman who went into debt about $16,000 for pharmacy tech,” Deffke says. “The man was a convicted felon and could not work in the medical field. But they took his money? It’s worse than anything Bernie Madoff did.
“I feel so badly for people,” he continues, “that are looking for a career path, and they’ve been sold something that is not going to lead them to a career. They’ve been sold a useless piece of paper.”
Most students don’t stick around long enough to get that piece of paper, according to the HELP report. Of the 1.1 million proprietary school students enrolled nationwide in the 2008-09 school year, 54 percent withdrew by summer 2010. For some local context, MATC reports that 54 percent of new full-time students who enrolled in fall 2010 re-enrolled in fall 2011. For MATC’s part-time students, that number drops to 48
Those numbers help explain low graduation rates. Harkin’s committee reported that 63 percent of associate degree seekers at for-profit colleges leave without earning their degree. On this count, proprietary schools might seem to be beating technical and community colleges. At MATC, just 18 percent of full-time students entering in fall 2007 finished their associate degree within three years. But 31 percent of those students transferred to another school. That represents a success rate of 49 percent, according to the school’s calculations.
Part of the problem, however, may be in how graduation rates are calculated. Gunderson, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities president, notes that graduation rates “as defined by the Department of Education in adherence to the ‘Students Right to Know Act’ are extremely limited for institutions across all sectors of higher education.” He says part-time students as well as non-first-timers are excluded from these rate calculations, and such students make up the vast majority of people who attend for-profit colleges. “Famously,” Gunderson says, “President Obama would not be counted in the graduation rate calculation because he attended more than one institution.”
But Obama’s November re-election may mean reforms for the schools Gunderson represents. In his first term, Obama was hard on for-profit schools. In April 2012, he signed an executive order, which Gunderson called a “deeply unfortunate development,” aimed at protecting active military members and veterans from abuses. The order trademarked the term “G.I. Bill” under the Department of Veterans Affairs, making it harder for for-profit colleges to use the term to attract veterans, and requires colleges that participate in the G.I. Bill program to provide a document explaining student loans.
Several other reforms are in the pipeline. The Obama administration is working to pass the “gainful employment” rule, which would stop federal aid to schools with consistently high numbers of students who have large amounts of debt. Another piece of legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, would prohibit for-profit schools from spending federal aid money on marketing, advertising or recruiting. And Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin wants to reduce the percentage of revenue that can come from federal funds, taking it from 90 to 85 percent. Durbin’s legislation would also rewrite the rules so that military benefits are counted as federal aid. (Harkin is a co-sponsor on both pieces of legislation.)
The HELP report appears to have found an audience.
Herzing University didn’t escape the Senate’s glare. Harkin’s committee took issue with, among other things, its high tuition costs and its student retention rates. But the company also got what passes for a compliment in the HELP report: “Students attending privately held and family-managed Herzing appear to fare better than students at some other for-profit colleges.”
Renee Herzing knows all about the Harkin committee report and what it says about her business. It asserts that, as Herzing’s student enrollment has increased, student outcomes have decreased as measured by withdrawal rates. “I wish our [rates] were better,” she says of the 52 percent of Herzing students who fall by the wayside, noting that going back to school is “definitely more challenging because adults have had more stress in their lives.”
As for Herzing’s tuition costs, they span a wide range, from a 144-hour nurse’s aide certificate costing $1,200 to a 121-credit bachelor’s degree in nursing for $86,940. Harkin’s report provides context: An associate business management degree at MATC costs $7,420, while the same degree at Herzing costs $27,300.
But Renee Herzing explains the numbers with a nod toward personal responsibility.
“The student is bearing the burden,” she says. “With us, a semester may cost $11,000. At a community college, it will cost about $1,500 to $3,000. But it is costing society a lot more through taxes.”
Like many proprietary schools, that trade-off comes with plenty of students who default on their loans. Herzing University’s 2010 two-year default rate stood at 8.7 percent, though Herzing herself insists the school is being proactive about preventing a higher default rate. She says they’ve added financial literacy to the curriculum, but again goes back to the theme of personal responsibility. “You can counsel and counsel and counsel, and in the end, it’s up to the [student].”
The school’s responsibility, meanwhile, is delivering on its educational promises. So far, Herzing student Greg Furger says those promises are being kept.
The 26-year-old is a full-time student enrolled in Herzing’s new accelerated bachelor of nursing program at its Brookfield campus. He grew up in Green Bay, and after high school, cared for his elderly grandfather. He moved to the Milwaukee area in 2009 and enrolled in MATC’s nursing program but made the switch to Herzing in September 2011. Why? Herzing’s bachelor’s degree offering was preferable to MATC’s associate degree, as was the accelerated, “nonstop” classwork. Convenience played a big role, too. Herzing’s campus is close to his job as a nursing assistant at the Froedtert Surgery Center, and now he and his wife are able to carpool to work and school from their home in Slinger.
Furger says the nursing program can sometimes feel like it’s undergoing growing pains, but he’s ultimately happy with his choice to attend. And the numbers that await him when he gets his degree seem promising. Renee Herzing says “about 80 percent” of the school’s students are getting jobs after graduation. Which dovetails with some seemingly surprising comments from Harkin.
Despite all of the HELP committee’s criticism, Harkin notes that for-profit colleges have an important role in postsecondary education. “We need to supplement the established system of traditional campus-based higher education to meet the demands of nontraditional students,” he said at his July 2012 press conference. “But we also have to hold colleges accountable.”
On that point, the diametrically opposed Rosen and Herzing actually agree, though they do so with their own caveats. “This is not a for-profit problem,” Herzing says. “This is a higher education problem. There is a lack of performance, there is waste, and it’s across the board.” Counters Rosen: “There are other schools exploiting students in this community. And there is still a need to regulate these schools at the local, state and federal level.”
But in Milwaukee, Rosen has one less school to worry about.
Everest’s Milwaukee downfall can be traced to leadership turnover. The campus’ first president left in November 2011, and Dies says the EAB learned his replacement was dismissed in May 2012. “We weren’t informed of this by the institution,” he says. Dies says Everest’s initial president, Mark Sullivan, left for “family reasons,” and the school’s second president, Scott Lester, was dismissed because of dismal student performance. In a statement, Corinthian said it cannot discuss the terms of the presidents’ discharges.
Once the EAB was made aware of the leadership problems, Dies says the agency moved to launch a full investigation. The EAB began reviewing annual records and found the campus was having issues with its accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, dating back to December 2011 because of particularly low job-placement rates. Also, Everest students were dropping out by the hundreds. EAB data shows that out of 1,585 students who were enrolled during the school’s two years, 827 had dropped out by September 2012. Out of its 397 graduates, only 95 were placed in jobs.
“What we saw here was that there was clearly not a market for it here,” Mayor Tom Barrett says. “That’s with the benefit of hindsight.”
Latoya Claybrooks could’ve used that hindsight. She enrolled in Everest’s medical assistant program in August 2011 – without a high school diploma. She was told she could earn her GED at the same time as her medical assistant certificate. (Corinthian stopped enrolling students without a high school diploma or GED in 2012.)
Ten months into her studies, Claybrooks was assigned an externship at a local urgent care clinic, a requirement for graduation. Upon completing just 60 of the 200 hours needed, she was contacted by the school and informed that she’d been dismissed from the position.
Unable to fulfill the externship requirement, Claybrooks dropped out, with neither her GED nor a medical assistant certificate. “At this point, I still don’t have a diploma,” she says. Claybrooks works part time in a daycare center and estimates she has $20,000 in student loans. “Now that Everest is closing, people are out on their asses and with loans that are unpaid that will follow them for the rest of their life,” she says. “We’ve been robbed.”
Once the Everest picture became clear, Dies says the EAB suspended new enrollment indefinitely in June 2012. Everest’s parent company decided to close the school after opting out of a comprehensive improvement plan. “We got to a point,” Dies says, “where we felt that trying to fix things wasn’t a good solution.”
Corinthian spokesman Kent Jenkins says the company is trying to do right by its remaining Milwaukee students: “When we have rare situations like the one in Milwaukee, we take responsibility for them, and we take actions to ensure that our students are well served. We aren’t pointing fingers or making excuses.”
Part of that responsibility deals with the $4 million in students loans obtained by the Milwaukee Everest students who dropped out. Corinthian has agreed to pay off those loans as part of an agreement with the EAB, though some students were unaware of that agreement.
In an editorial for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 19, 2012, the former president of Everest’s local campus, Robert Johnson, made a public apology for the school’s poor performance. “Last month, I arrived in Milwaukee to become the new president of Everest College,” he wrote. “I will also be the school’s last president.” The editorial outlined the company’s national success (a 68 percent job-placement rated compared to the Milwaukee campus’ 6 percent) as well as the commitment to continue to serve the students. “We fell far short of the expectations we set for ourselves, and we regret that deeply.”
Like Sanford-Brown, the for-profit college that’s closing its West Allis location, Corinthian uses a “teach out” method of closing schools. Students who are enrolled have the option of withdrawing, but for those who stay, the school will teach them through the end of their respective programs. Devon Reed is taking Everest up on that offer.
Now 21, Reed enrolled at Marquette University as a business major in fall 2009, but he dropped out after just six months. “I wasn’t into the atmosphere, and I didn’t get along with everybody,” he says. “It was kind of tough.” But after seeing Everest commercials “all the time” and driving past the school, Reed decided to enroll in March 2012.
Contrary to the wave of criticism leveled at Everest, Reed says his experience there has been positive. “I get to learn so much that I never even thought of,” he says. “Basically, I thought massage therapy was rubbing shoulders, but coming here, I pretty much learned about the whole body.”
Reed expects to complete his studies in January, making him one of the last students who’ll ever set foot in one of Everest’s Milwaukee classrooms. But as he approaches graduation, Reed’s sentiments betray not even a hint of collegiate nostalgia.
“I just want to finish.”