ATI Career Training Center's jobs claims questioned; Dallas trade school doesn't deny paying homeless to impersonate students

auto mechanic

The prolonged economic downturn, coupled with generous stimulus money and education funding, has sent college enrollment in the U.S. to its highest rate in four decades

Just as with used cars and used homes, though, opportunists sometimes await demand at colleges, universities and trade schools. Kaplan, University of Phoenix, DeVry University and others have become fixtures.

WFAA in Dallas shines a light on an outfit called ATI Career Training Center, a trade school chain with locations in four Sunbelt states that offers programs that include heating and air conditioning, massage therapy, business administration and health services.

The story is compelling not as much for what it finds out but for what ATI refuses to divulge.

From the story:

“ATI claims that thousands of its graduates get jobs every year, based on numbers the [Texas Workforce Commission] sparingly releases. News 8 asked ATI what percentage of its graduates get jobs. The school did not respond to that question, except to say that it 'exceeds the standards set by both accrediting and state regulatory bodies.'"

ATI did not answer a number of very pointed written questions from WFAA. ATI didn’t deny recruiting students at homeless shelters, nor did it deny that it had paid homeless people to impersonate students.  And it declined to give its placement rate in North Texas – different from its graduation rate which it must give by law.

The story also speaks to the oversight efforts of the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), which we wrote about in July after the Houston Chronicle reported it was counseling employers how to prevent unemployment claims. 

This also from the WFAA story:

“Career colleges receive billions of dollars from the federal government based on their job placement rates.

If an ATI graduate, for instance, gets a job as an auto mechanic, ATI files a record with his name and where he's working. The record goes to the TWC.

Despite the millions of dollars involved, the TWC only verifies a tiny fraction of the records. ... When News 8 asked the TWC for the job placement records of two large for-profit schools under the TPIA, the TWC refused to release the files, saying the graduates' names are protected under federal law.

TWC spokeswoman Ann Hatchitt says her agency's job 'is to protect students and businesses in Texas.'”

Following an investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, TWC sent out a letter to the state’s trade schools in September informing them of numerous violations of the state code policing the colleges. Among the infractions: Failure to disclose graduation rate, coaching perspective students to lie in order to obtain a student loan and promising that a degree would increase a student’s salary.

 

While the GAO report did not mention the specific accused schools,  "ATI came forward to let us know that one of the campuses was theirs, but debated the findings," Hatchitt told Texas Watchdog.

 

New rules regarding the regulation of these trade schools and for-profit colleges have been discussed by lawmakers in Washington. Other trade schools and for-profit colleges have been the subject of complaints over the years including Kaplan.

 

ATI and other trade schools and for-profits have a presence in Austin in Career Colleges and Schools of Texas PAC, which has donated $12,000 to Gov. Rick Perry since 2000, as well as a number of mostly-Republican lawmakers. ATI is also represented in Austin by Frank Hammack, who spent 7-plus years as a program specialist at the TWC before becoming ATI's associate vice president of state compliance.

 

ATI vice president Ernest Hurguyand and CEO Arthur Benjamin have given money to the PAC. Benjamin outlines the benefits of ATI here.

 

For five years, ATI was a highly touted investment of Riverside Company, an international mergers and acquisitions firm. ATI was let go by Riverside early this year.

 

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.


Photo of an auto mechanic by flickr user JSmith Photo, used via a Creative Commons license.

 

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