in Houston, Texas
Bill requires state to collect more data on for-profit schools
Friday, Jun 10, 2011, 02:34PM CST
By Kevin Lee
graduation cap

For-profit and career colleges located in Texas would be subject to the same data collection and transparency standards that state universities and colleges are held to under Senate Bill 1534 awaiting the governor’s signature, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

SB 1534 would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to include those trade schools on its online accountability system, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which reported on the legislation this Thursday. Currently, the system records information like graduation rates and research spending for state universities, state health institutions, state colleges, state technical colleges and community colleges. The bill also requires for-profit schools to post to their websites the names of any regulatory agencies that oversee them, and the process for filing complaints.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the new rules would help protect students:

Students "were getting stuck between a rock and hard place," Shapiro said, explaining how she was moved to act after watching a news report about investigations into for-profit schools. "There was nobody paying attention."

WFAA-TV in Dallas reported last year about a chain of for-profit trade colleges called ATI, whose students complained that they were promised well-paying jobs in fields such as welding and maintenance but were left with thousands of dollars in debt and dim job prospects. The Texas Workforce Commission later announced it had found ATI to be in violation of state rules governing job placement, the station reported this April. The state cut off a stream of state funding to the school and required the for-profit college system to submit records electronically and hire a third-party auditor to verify job placement numbers.

ATI and other trade schools and for-profits lobby Austin through their 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.

The federal government has clamped down on for-profit schools, which siphon off billions of dollars in taxpayer money through federal grants.

Institutions that provide career training programs would have to comply with new rules aimed at keeping student debt in check and finalized by the U.S. Department of Education last week or lose federal funding.

While the regulations would be applied to certificate programs across-the-board, the federal agency noted that while students at for-profit schools represent 12 percent of all higher education students, they represent 46 percent of all student loan dollars in default.

In 2009, for-profit college systems received $24 billion in federal support while their admission rates continue to swell, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last summer.

The GAO sent undercover applicants to 15 for-profit college systems to study admission standards. At four schools, school staff encouraged undercover applicants to provide false information in order to qualify for financial aid, the GAO said. The applicants also observed school personnel providing unclear information on fundamental matters such as tuition costs, program duration and graduation rates.

***
Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or news@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of graduation cap by flickr user Shoshanah, used via a Creative Commons license.

Complaints against for-profit schools kept secret by Texas Workforce Commission as lawsuits, investigations mount
Tuesday, Apr 05, 2011, 03:27PM CST
By Steve Miller
graduation cap

A for-profit chain of trade schools based outside Fort Worth, ATI, has been ordered by the state to undergo an audit on the heels of a revealing report on the colleges' dismal record for placing graduates in jobs.

 

According to this story from WFAA in Dallas:

The (Texas Workforce Commission) noted that a total of 300 graduates which ATI claimed to have jobs had no jobs at all. An additional 427 graduates were not employed where ATI said they were. The state also found that 5 percent of graduates — 34 of 750 — were listed as "employed" by ATI in a possible effort to pad the job placement reports.

It's enough to make us wonder, again, just how well the for-profit schools are serving students. But the Texas Workforce Commission has made it hard to tell, denying a public information request for complaints filed against American Commercial College, a Lubbock-based trade school with campuses in Odessa, San Angelo, Abilene and three other towns. The commission claimed release of the information could impede an ongoing investigation when questioned by the Abilene Reporter-News.

 

WFAA, which has done excellent reporting into for-profit schools, has taken on the commission for its handling of for-profit trade schools and criticized the secrecy around school records. From an October piece:

For-profit schools, also known as career colleges, are policed by the Texas Workforce Commission, the TWC. Schools file annual documentation with the TWC on students enrolled and placed.

News 8 asked for the information under the Texas Public Information Act and were denied access. The TWC contends that the names of students and their employers are protected under federal law.

The result is that no eyes — except those of the TWC — ever examine the outcomes of thousands of students at Texas for-profit schools.

A little verification couldn't hurt, since this is an agency with a track record of being pro-business, and disgruntled students even called us after we blogged on dubious graduation and job placement figures by ATI. Their complaints were similar to that of Rose King, whose beef with American Commercial College -- nonexistent training that left her saddled with debt and a useless piece of paper -- is detailed in the Reporter-News story.

 

It seems there would be no better public interest than providing consumer complaints against a business that is being investigated by the state. Finding any record of these investigations, complaints or reports on the TWC Web site is difficult if not impossible.

 

Disgruntled students have turned to the courts for help, filing a lawsuit against American in Taylor County. Other similar suits have been filed in Dallas County, including one against Everest Collegea chain that trains plumbers, dental assistants, and paralegals. Last month, a class action suit was filed in Los Angeles against Everest parent Corinthian Colleges, alleging fraud in its recruitment and admissions process.

 

***

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


Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeed, NewsVine and tumblr.


Photo of graduation cap by flickr user K. Sawyer, used via a Creative Commons license.

ATI Career Training Center's jobs claims questioned; Dallas trade school doesn't deny paying homeless to impersonate students
Monday, Nov 15, 2010, 04:44PM CST
By Steve Miller
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.

 

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeedNewsVine and tumblr.

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