Students who say they were preyed on by for-profit college companies that gave them a “worthless” education and didn’t prepare them for the workforce are hoping to push these schools to shut down for good.
There is some momentum in this area. This week, the predatory for-profit college company ITT Educational Services announced that it will suspend its academic operations, a move that will affect 40,000 students. The news follows a similar decision last year from the for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges, which shut down all of its campuses.
It’s unclear whether the for-profit education giant EDMC, which runs the Art Institutes, will join the list of fallen for-profit college chains. The company did announce last year that it would gradually shut down 15 of its 52 campuses. In the meantime, however, former Art Institute students are pushing. Activists continue to demand loan forgiveness and legal remedies.
For-profit colleges tend to target low-income students and veterans who will bring in federal student aid. Former students of these schools say their recruitment practices take advantage of their insecurities and misrepresent the outcomes they should expect as graduates in their respective fields. EDMC, for instance, has been accused of giving inaccurate information about accreditation and misrepresenting job placement rates.
EDMC went private in 2014, a decision that’s been criticized as an attempt for the company to avoid scrutiny. For that reason, it’s unclear if EDMC is financially healthy enough to avoid the fate of other for-profit colleges.
“Now that EDMC is a private company, we have no visibility into its indebtedness or financial health,” said Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.)
The company has already reached two major settlements that required big payouts, one with several attorneys general for $102 million and one with the U.S. Department of Justice for $95 million. But EDMC also received an agreement that none of the findings associated with the DOJ settlement can be used to hold EDMC accountable in the future — a decision that may protect the company’s bottom line and that was harshly criticized by lawmakers like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) who have worked to rein in predatory for-profit colleges.
“It certainly is in a better place now that it managed to get so many entities investigating it to waive liability,” Miller added. “But that may mean nothing more than moving from extremely financially unstable to just barely getting by. The substantial number of campuses it has closed certainly suggests to me that it’s not out of the woods yet.”
Former students of AI schools — who have gathered documents showing the ways they claim the chain misled them and testified to the Department of Education about their experiences — continue to protest against the companies they say sold them worthless degrees.
On Wednesday, former students of the New England Institute of Art — one of the campuses that’s closing down soon — went to the school to confront the administration. The students are part of the group NEIA Collective.
The students came with a list of grievances and demands, as well as a poster of the character Ned Stark from the HBO show Game of Thrones reading “The Lawsuit is coming.” You can watch the full video below.
When the former students confronted John Lay, who was named president of NEIA last month and has worked in the school for 16 years, Lay told them they needed to leave and shouldn’t be on campus since they were no longer enrolled there. He also defended the college’s educational offerings.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job… I’ve always felt good about what I do,” Lay told the protesters in reference to his work at AI. “And you can look incredulous and all of that, but there are plenty of students who are doing well out in the field… Overall, I feel good about the school. I feel very bad that it’s closing, obviously.”
When a former student asked Lay why he thought the school was closing, he responded that it was because of the “regulatory environment.”
This isn’t the first time former AI students have returned to their campuses to let administrators and students know about their complaints. Last fall, former AI students protested on AI campuses and handed out materials about the issues they’re facing in the workforce to warn prospective AI students.
They are also working with The Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School on a potential lawsuit. The center recently sent NEIA and EDMC a letter asserting that students have a right to sue under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act because the NEIA arranged loans for students that “trap a borrower under an unmanageable debt load that she has no realistic hope of repaying” and this qualifies as an “unfair practice” under the act.