Worse, subprime degrees from places like ITT and Full Sail are typically held in such low regard that it's difficult for grads to find jobs that pay enough to cover their loans. Nearly one in four for-profit students default on their loans within three years of leaving school, more than double the rate of public school students.

But there's nothing like advertising to paper over your shortcomings. So for-profits blanket the airwaves with ads that make earning a degree seem as easy as downloading an app. Who hasn't seen those late-night TV spots for "college in your PJs," or the Education Connection commercial featuring that rapping, dancing waitress? These ads drive viewers to websites that generate leads for schools' sales staffs, prompting an unending stream of solicitations. And when those leads are exhausted, schools buy lists from companies like QuinStreet, which made its name providing leads to subprime mortgage brokers.

Last month, QuinStreet reached a settlement with attorneys general from 20 states, who'd accused it of fraud for operating gibill.com. The website was made to look as if it was run by the government to help veterans, but was actually just a lead generator for for-profit colleges.

Barmak Nassirian, former AACRAO official: “They found a system where the pitch goes to one guy and the bill to someone else.”
courtesy Barmak Nassirian
Barmak Nassirian, former AACRAO official: “They found a system where the pitch goes to one guy and the bill to someone else.”
Iraq War veteran Chris Pantzke ran up $26,000 in debt at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
courtesy Chris Pantzke
Iraq War veteran Chris Pantzke ran up $26,000 in debt at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

"The thing that made those lists valuable was the foreknowledge that these were people in dire straits, who were in over their heads and financially desperate, and therefore much more susceptible to a pitch out of the blue," says Nassirian.

The idea is to prey on people's hopes and desires, offering the yellow brick road to the American dream: an education and a better job. Workers are trained to identify emotional weaknesses and exploit them. That's undoubtedly what made Suzanne Lawrence an attractive hire at EDMC. She had a master's in psychology when she went to work for Argosy's online division in Pittsburgh, Pa.

"It was really funny because they used a lot of the same skills I was trained to use in grad school as therapeutic skills — like empathy and reflective listening — on the sales floor," Lawrence says. "It was evil and slimy. Your big job was to create trust, make them think you were their friend. The main goal in your first conversation was to find something they called 'the confirmed need,' which was the hot button you were going to push if that person tried to back out on you. Like, 'My dad wasn't really proud of me,' and that's what you write down. You keep that on your file so when you call them and they say 'I don't want to go,' you say 'What about your dad? Don't you care about what he thinks anymore?'"

Lawrence worked with over 2,000 others in a sea of cubicles and an auto-dialer making 500 calls a day. The leads were generally so stale most calls were no answers, hang-ups or people screaming "Stop fucking calling me!" Dry erase scoreboards kept track of everyone's application numbers, horse-race style. Those who sold were loved. Those who didn't were berated, cajoled, and threatened, says Lawrence. Managers monitored calls and circled the cubicle bays encouraging workers to "always be closing."

The harsh, boiler room atmosphere prompted her to make references to Glengarry Glen Ross. No one got it. They were too preoccupied with keeping their jobs.

The pressure prompted all sorts of illicit shenanigans, including falsifying documents, says Lawrence. Salespeople were coached to evade questions about cost, and repeat the lie that "99 percent of our students don't pay anything out-of-pocket to go to school."

She was even instructed to sell online courses to people who didn't own computers. "Tell them to go to the library," her managers would say.


MILITARY DISSERVICE
Iraq War veteran Chris Pantzke was discharged from the Army in 2006 after his convoy was hit by an IED. He suffered from traumatic brain injury, along with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The injuries left the former sergeant moody and anxious in closed spaces. Being in a classroom was out of the question.

But a saleswoman for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, also owned by EDMC, convinced him that her school's online photography program was perfect for his situation.

He immediately struggled, getting migraines from staring at his computer. "There would be several days I'd get up at roughly 8 a.m. and wouldn't go to bed until 4 a.m.," Pantzke says. "That's how bad it was, because I was falling so far behind." He punched a hole in the wall next to his laptop and "dishes took flight."

In one online class, the teacher didn't have Internet access for more than a third of the course. Only after pestering three different advisors was Pantzke finally put in touch with the school's Disability Services Office. But despite the recruiters' original promise of specialized help, the Art Institute balked at his request for additional tutoring.

Then Pantzke appeared on PBS's Frontline for a story about for-profit colleges. Shortly before the Frontline piece aired, a vice president contacted Pantzke, asking him to sign a release saying "that I was doing fine and things were going great."

He refused, but soon noticed a miraculous lift in his academic fortunes. Despite turning in one slapdash assignment he knew wasn't any good, he received an A. "Once I started making waves, I started passing my classes with A's and B's," he says. "I don't know if my grades were true and it made me doubt my photography ability."

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12 comments
argosywhistleblower
argosywhistleblower

TO my Attorney: Before we go any further, I wanted to make sure you both know a little about me and how vital my experience was with Argosy. I wanted to take a moment today to clarify something about my case. Something I neglected to mention. I wanted to mention the true victims of this fraud. I want to spend a moment telling you about my Patients. I want to tell you both how much they meant to me and how deeply wounded I am as their Doctor to no longer be able to reach out my hand and offer hope. I can't express in words how life giving it was to be a Therapist and Evaluator. Every day of my life since departing my field I have wondered how they faired. I wondered if anything or anyone came along and gave them the tools they needed to move forward with their lives. I wondered if anybody stopped to make sure they were being cared for. I sat at home and wondered. I said goodbye to psychology in 2009. I wanted to try to reach people with my words. I chose writing and have nine bestselling Kindle books. But, I always wondered what might have been. I left my field reluctantly. I left because I felt like my voice had been silenced. I felt like I could never escape the clutches of my graduate school and the insurmountable debt it left me in. I thought the only way I could ever hope to reach out to help those in need was through my writing. I thought maybe I could help that way instead. I am happy to report success as I have sold thousands of books (3,284 last year). But, I always dreamed of what might have been had I stayed. I began therapy in 2007 and go once a week. I have tried to practice what I preached to those in pain. And, I am happy to report success. I have moved on to other ventures. I have been developing a Carcinoid cancer charity since 2011. I have posted 360 videos to raise awareness for this rare cancer which my Aunt suffers from. I plan on transitioning to this endeavor permanently. But, I always wondered what might have been had I stayed. I wondered about them. My Patients. And, to find out the school I trusted to guide me to helping those people in pain was a fraud is the most shameful, humiliating, and painful revelation as one could ever imagine. I want to tell you that no matter what happens with this case, I will never let them have the joy, hope, and promise I tried my best to impart to those under my care. They may hide behind clauses and laws but they can never touch that part of me. They may ruin me financially and shame me to my colleagues. But, at least, I will retain that joy from reaching out with hope to those in need. Respectfully, ArgosyWhistleBlower

argosywhistleblower
argosywhistleblower

Update: launched facebook page today. Less than four hours later, I have spoken to seven students. One from Maine, one from Arkansas, one from Arizona. All online students. Seems like they have it worse than those of us who had a campus to go to. They are given the run around. Confirms my resolve. Get at us on facebook: "Argosy Whistleblower" or twitter @AUfraud or email me argosywhistleblower@gmail.com We also need former professors/staff/recruiters willing to testify.

argosywhistleblower
argosywhistleblower

Correction- In lieu of being deemed uneducated, I hereby correct my typo. I am a Neuropsychologist, former Neuropsychology Fellow. Okay, now that I've clarified my training, let me tell you about my chat with Argosy President Dr. Garrison. I informed Dr. Garrison that I will be pursuing my legal rights to which he replied, "Can I confirm your mailing address to send the copy you requested of your student file?" In other words, he bypassed discussing my tenure at Argosy. I also spoke with Rep. Kriseman of Florida for over an hour. I then spoke with two local Consumer Fraud lawyers. I am happy to report my decision to find and assist ALL Argosy victims. If we can join forces, we can do something. So, if you know anyone who got duped, have them contact me.

argosywhistleblower
argosywhistleblower

Attention ALL Argosy students/grads: if you would like to discuss your eligibility for a class action suit contact me at argosywhistleblower(at)gmail(dot)com I am a former Neuropsycholgy Fellow & grad determined to recoup our costs. For all others, please know the Bay Area campus wears the crown in terms of ripping people off. I was a clinic Supervisor at Argosy for four years. I was made to complete THREE practicums! The lady profiled in the article only had to do two & she is headline news? Look no further than Alameda if you want to see corruption in action.

trubluamerican
trubluamerican

It's so disturbing, that these vicious schemes to defraud hardworking citizens, are being created by members of society's elite, who have powerful political and economic connections at the highest level,  of both political persuasions.

wakeup
wakeup

Wake up Kiddos!  It's time to put down your electronic toys and push out those in Congress who made it illegal for you to walk away from student debt, while protecting the degenerates profiting from your basic right to an education. 

If a student agrees to pay the price for an education, then at the very least, demand that educational institutions provide, a quality education that meets industry standards.

notstupid
notstupid

 @wakeup Are you proposing that taxpayers bail out students who did not practice due diligence in deciding to what school to send their money to?

argosywhistleblower
argosywhistleblower

@hollymarieperry On facebook "argosy whistleblower" on twitter @AUfraud by email argosywhistleblower@gmail.com

 
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