Editor's note: Sanford Brown was not one of the schools on the list of schools GAO investigators visited in their undercover operation.
By Farrah Fazal
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - It is high school graduation season. Many of the new grads are among the 1 million people who will walk into a so-called "for-profit school" like Sanford Brown. As NewsChannel 5 I-Team reporter Farrah Fazal discovered, they may walk out with a piece of paper that is worthless.
The Government Accountability Office says enrollment at for profit schools climbed 236 percent in the last 10 years. The schools get $32 billion of your tax dollars to run their business and they target low income students and military veterans.
G.A.O. investigators went undercover, pretending to be students at 15 for-profit colleges across the country, including Illinois. Most for profit colleges get nearly 90 percent of their operating money from federal student loans and grants.
Gary Burger is a lawyer who represents 16 students who attended Sanford Brown. He says, "The folks at these for profit schools use strongly pressures sales tactics to attract people to get people to enroll."
"The students were promised that they would obtain certain levels of salary," says Burger.
Burger says 16 of his clients told him the same story. We talked to other students at for profits who told us they were tens of thousands of dollars in debt for diplomas and degrees that were not transferrable to public universities and colleges. They also told us they were promised jobs they could get after college but say those jobs did not exist.
Burger filed a lawsuit for his clients against Sanford Brown for making claims the company could not live up to. He is now negotiating with the company.
A Sanford Brown spokesman told us the company is closing down its schools in St. Louis next year because of, "enrollment levels at each campus, financial viability, community need and employment opportunities for graduates within the local market."
The New York Attorney General investigated Sanford Brown. The AG said "The company admitted that placement data for multiple campuses had been falsified."
Sanford Brown told us they're working with the A.G. to fix the issue. They have already set up new guidelines and hired more staff to help students find jobs.
Zakiya Johnson tells us she went to Sanford Brown for nursing. "I was conned into going in the anesthesia technologist program," says Johnson.
Johnson is a single mom and was the first person in her family to go to college. Johnson says, "We were told doctors ran the program. We never had a doctor for any teachers. We barely had teachers. Nobody from the field."
Johnson says the anesthesiology lab at the Hazelwood campus was outdated. She says she never got hands on experience until she did a clinical internship at a hospital.
"I was just ripped off. It hurts. I really does," says Johnson.
Johnson says she is in the hole almost $50,000 for a certificate that is not accredited.
Alan Byrd is Dean of Admissions at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "We don't accept many of their credits. The students end up in a bind," says Byrd. "I see students who are not satisfied with their experience or they realize they can't afford to continue."
Byrd says students from for profit colleges do not have the basic education they need to get into a college or university.
Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and his committee investigated for-profits for two years. They found more than half of the people who go to for profits do not walk away with a degree or diploma. They don't often find work in their fields and for profits recruit heavily at military bases and high schools.
Julie Kampschroeder is a counselor at Pattonville High School. "Some 60 to 70 per cent are first-generation college bound students," says Kampschroeder. "For-profits market to low-income, first-generation kids. They spend more on marketing than on instruction."
She says many of her students come from low income homes. She says she tells students about the same programs at community colleges and explains to students they can get grants and student loans to pay their way. "You're talking about a two-year associate degree at $50,000 to $60,000 versus $5,000."
Kampschroeder reminds seniors that student loans are full recourse. They do not go away with bankruptcy. "They will go after your Social Security, your paycheck, they will not stop," says Kampschroeder.
The Pattonville School District does not allow for profits to recruit on campus. Kampschroeder says the cost to students is high debt in the long run. "Students put off buying homes. They put off getting married. They put off having children, saving for retirement. They will take a job they don't want."
Kampschroeder is one of the few high school counselors in the country who lobbies lawmakers in Jefferson City and Washington D.C. to pass laws to regulate for profit companies.
Former St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon blew the whistle on Sanford Brown after the company fired him from his job as president of the Hazelwood campus. He says, "For profit schools make a tremendous amount of money and they use a lot of it to lobby the Congress."
Harmon says his former company was driven more by dollars than delivering education. "Not once was student achievement mentioned as a goal and if that don't slap you upside the face..." says Harmon.
He says he knows why for profits target low income students and military veterans. He says, "That's where the money is."
The government committee investigating for profits found 96 percent of students who go to for profits got student loans or grants. Most of them were deep in debt if they did graduate. Students at for profits make up half of all student loan defaults. They usually can't get other student loans to go to a community college. They could spend their lives trying to pay off that debt.
For more information on for-profit colleges, visit the National Association of College Admission Counseling website.