These changes shook up the industry. The old generation of trade schools gradually died off and were replaced by a new breed of for-profit colleges-mostly huge, publicly traded corporations. The largest, the Apollo Group, owns the University of Phoenix, which serves more than 400,000 students at some ninety campuses and 150 learning centers worldwide. Others include the Career Education Corporation, which serves 90,000 students at seventy-five campuses around the world, and Corinthian Colleges, which serves 69,000 students at more than 100 colleges in the United States and Canada.
Not only did these companies promise that their schools would be more responsive to the needs of students and employers than the previous generation, they also said they would be more accountable to the public because, as publicly traded companies, they were heavily regulated. We’ve seen a fire across the prairie, and that fire has had a purifying effect, Omer Waddles, then the president of the Career College Association, told theChronicle of Higher Education in 1997. As our sector has weathered the storms of recent years, a stronger group of schools is emerging to carry, at a high level of credibility, the mantle of training and career development.
In reality, the new breed of schools had quite a bit in common with their predecessors; in some cases, they even operated out of the same buildings and employed the same personnel. What’s more, rather than making them more accountable, the fact that they were publicly traded created a powerful incentive for them to game the system. After all, to keep their stock prices up and investors happy, the schools had to show that they were constantly expanding, which meant there was intense pressure to get students in the door and signed up for classes and financial aid.
In the case of proprietary colleges, most of the large publicly traded chains forged arrangements with Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student loan company
With so much at stake, these schools quickly found ways to skirt the new rules. To get around the caps on student loan default rates, for instance, many of them began hiring agencies to help former students get forbearances or offering lines of credit so alums could make their student-loan payments-but only during the initial two-year window, when defaults were counted against the school by the Department of Education. After that, students were left to wrestle with the debt on their own. As for the rule requiring schools to get at least 15 percent of tuition from nongovernment sources, it had some unintended consequences.
Rather than, say, enrolling people who could afford to pay some tuition out of pocket, many schools started pushing students to take out private student loans
Previously, this kind of loan had gone exclusively to graduate and professional students pursuing careers in high-paying fields like law and medicine. The financially needy students who attend for-profit institutions couldn’t qualify for them because of their less-than-stellar credit records, their lousy graduation rates, and their spotty record of finding work in their field. But this began to change around 2000. To fill the gap, financial aid officers started cutting deals with lenders to bring in private loan money. (Once a quasi-government agency like Fannie Mae, it became entirely private in 2004.) In exchange for pots of private student loan funds that they could dole out at will-meaning without regard for students’ ability to repay the debt-the schools gave Sallie Mae the right to be the exclusive provider of federal student loans on their campuses. Lenders Mount Hope payday loans no credit check vie fiercely for this privilege because federal loans are guaranteed by the government, meaning the Treasury pays back nearly all the money if the borrower defaults. Thus lenders get to pocket generous fees and interest and bear almost no risk.