"Tom" wants two things: a police badge and a college diploma. After seeing numerous advertisements promising "a better career, a better life" at Everest College earlier this year, he met with admissions personnel at the school's Ontario, Cal. campus. He gushed to them about his dream, and they replied with an acceptance into Everest's two-year, $45,000 criminal justice program. He felt his investment, at one of the nation's largest for-profit schools, would catapult him into a law enforcement career.
"Tom," a 37-year-old whose identity is being withheld under privacy concerns, signed his enrollment agreement electronically because he does not know how to write in cursive. Because of a developmental disorder, he speaks falteringly and struggles to read books written for third graders, and he does not grasp that he will have to repay his hefty academic loans.
Laurie McConnell, a former librarian at the Everest campus, thinks the post-secondary institution is cheating "Tom," accepting his money without properly educating him in return. After witnessing him struggle with reading assignments one day, she began tutoring him one-on-one. While not qualified to teach special education formally, she believes individualized lessons are what the student needs – and just what most Everest professors are not providing.
McConnell suspects Everest wants "Tom"'s grades to sink so low that he would undergo academic probation and get disqualified from the program, which often takes a few semesters – and tens of thousands of spent tuition dollars – to manifest. Such processes would likely bring him rising debt and crushed dreams of police work.
"The entire campus knows he will be unsuccessful in his attempts at education and, ultimately, becoming a police officer," McConnell tells RepublicReport.org. "The outcome for him will be defaulting on his loans and the loss of any hope of getting his degree."
On May 21, McConnell emailed her concerns about "Tom" to campus president Richard Mallow. "I must tell you that he does not have the ability to read the documents he was asked to sign," her email states. "Therefore, he would have no idea of the ramifications of signing the enrollment agreement." Mallow did not answer McConnell's email.
The outrage drove McConnell to quit her job on May 27. The librarian cashed her final Everest paycheck, an act she likens to collecting blood money. Then she emailed California Attorney General Kamala Harris, stressing that Everest enrolled "Tom" "knowing full well that he is ill-equipped to handle the coursework." Harris has not yet replied to the message.
Everest's admission of "Tom" underlines the for-profit school's past of registering as many students as they can, often under false pretenses, in an effort to collect taxpayer money. In 2007, the California Attorney General's office nearly sued Corinthian Colleges, Everest's parent company, for paying companies to employ students during their first 30 days after graduation. This arrangement often involved businesses with high turnover rates, so other graduates could quickly replace them, thereby boosting job placement statistics and making the school more salable. The school system, which also operates Heald and WyoTech campuses, settled with the state out-of-court for $6.5 million in 2007. But the number fabrications continued at the school's Decatur, Ga. campus as late as 2011. Corinthian spokesman Kent Jenkins asserts that this practice has discontinued across all its platforms.
The school system's alleged recruitment and job placement practices, though controversial, have garnered ample taxpayer funding. In the past decade, Corinthian has received some $10 billion – 83% of the company's overall revenue – in federal funds.
"When students look at placement rates, it's because they want a job that won't last just 30 days," says National Consumer Law Center attorney Robyn Smith, who prosecuted against the company in 2007, as California's deputy attorney general. "It is up to state oversight agencies to have specific definitions of job placement, since they are closer to and more familiar with these schools."
Legal cases against Corinthian are blooming nationwide. Harris filed a lawsuit in October, charging the school operator with "false and predatory advertising, intentional misrepresentations to students, securities fraud and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements." Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley issued a similar suit in April against Everest campuses. Sixteen other state attorneys general have begun investigating the company as well.
Corinthian is also facing allegations at the federal level. The company received a subpoena last June from the Securities and Exchange Commission and a condemnatory letter in January from the U.S. Department of Education, each charging it with deceiving students and government loan distributors.
It remains unclear whether "Tom" would have applied to Everest had he known of its accused practices. But if he does not succeed in the criminal justice program – or if he expresses that the school dishonestly recruited him – he may get his money back, at least according to Jenkins. "We also have the ability to wave all tuition payments in unique individual situations," he tells RepublicReport.org. Only a small fraction of students, however, have received such treatment.