Sleazy for-profit educator of the day, Bridgepoint edition

By Felix Salmon
March 10, 2011
Chris Kirkham has a fantastic story at HuffPo today about Ashford University, a small college in Iowa which was acquired for its accreditation in 2005 and is now the face of the billion-dollar for-profit education company Bridgepoint Education.

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Chris Kirkham has a fantastic story at HuffPo today about Ashford University, a small college in Iowa which was acquired for its accreditation in 2005 and is now the face of the billion-dollar for-profit education company Bridgepoint Education.

I’m reminded a bit of how Chris Flowers is buying banks for their national banking charter, except for that the situation with Bridgepoint is sleazier than anything Flowers could ever dream of doing.

The goal, employees say, is getting “starts”: students who fill out the paperwork for student loans and make it through at least four weeks of their first five-week course. That is the point at which the university is able to keep the student’s federal aid money, regardless of whether they continue their studies. After that, according to the Ashford employees, any form of counseling drastically drops off.

“There were numerous times when I enrolled students and thought, ‘All I’ve got to do is babysit them for four weeks,’” said a former leader in the admissions department, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because he is still employed at another for-profit university. “I’d be thinking, ‘Come on, this person is clearly not ready to go to school.’ But I’d call you, pump you up, keep you confident for four weeks, and once I knew you completed, you were forgotten. It’s easy when I’m counting the money.” …

According to the Ashford employees, the pressure drives recruiters to enroll students who they know have little chance of success: people who openly say they have no regular access to a computer or the Internet, despite the exclusively online course offerings, and even those who acknowledge they have difficulty reading.

Bridgepoint has among the highest withdrawal rates of any publicly traded school in the industry, according to a Senate report last year. Based on a pool of students examined between 2008 and 2009, more than 80 percent of those in an associate’s degree program had exited within two years of enrollment, and nearly 65 percent of bachelor’s degree students had left the company’s schools in the same timeframe.

Last year, Bridgepoint posted its best year ever: netting income of more than $127 million, almost triple the year before. The company spends about 37 percent of operating costs related to education; the rest goes to marketing, corporate compensation and overhead.

Kirkham gets former recruiters on the record about Bridgepoint’s practices: Kristy Smith recruited one 22-year-old with a learning disability, holding his hand through the first five-week term and making sure he got Cs and Ds before leaving him to his own devices. And Brent Park recruited one woman for an online course who didn’t know how to type in a URL, and who needed an hour of coaching just to fill out the online application.

Kirkham’s report comes on the eve of a Senate committee hearing into Bridgepoint, which with any luck will help convince lawmakers that something drastic needs to be done to fix the broken for-profit education system. Online learning is all well and good. But as a general rule just about anybody enrolling in one of these shops would be better off watching a bunch of Khan Academy videos for free. It’s weird, but the more you pay for an online education, the worse that education seems to become.

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9 comments so far

MIT offers quite a bit of free online course material:
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/

I looked at a few of the Khan Academy “videos” (the ones I saw are essentially blackboard images) and don’t understand the hype. You see and hear very similar things in any high school. Definitely value to being able to “replay” lessons, but perhaps we should just put videocameras on the teachers we already have?

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

I think the real value of Khan extends beyond the instruction materials themselves. The data tracking he showed in the video was pretty impressive. Having online problems frees up teacher’s from the time-sink of grading.

Transforming the classroom into an environment where students are encouraged to help other students is a great idea – I believe this idea corresponds with what research has shown about oldest children tending to have higher achievement (they teach their younger siblings).

The real trouble would be motivation, which is hopefully what the teacher can provide (for more than 4 weeks!)

Posted by djiddish98 | Report as abusive

There is a fantastic Frontline on the University of Phoenix and their business model. The amazing things are A) the dropout rates and B) the loan default rates. I don’t remember the figures, but I believe it was something like 20% or 30% of the loans to students at for-profits go into default.

Posted by GregHay | Report as abusive

While for-profits are definitely the leading edge of abuse, certain other schools can be just as bad — for instance, “lower tier” law schools. The model is upside down from what we are used to when we apply to, say, an Ivy League, which is mind bendingly picky about who is admitted, and finances lots of students without loans. The FP, and increasingly, professional school model for lesser programs, is to let anyone in, hit them with maximum loans and be completely indifferent to whether the student is prepared or capable of doing the work. I was told by someone that, depending on the program, 25-35% of students are simply not going to benefit from the course of instruction even if it is competent. This makes it difficult to get your arms around the problem: there are many students who can justly claim that they did receive substantial benefit from attending, and therefore oppose DoE regulations — but the business model depends on maximizing volume, and that leaves many students who can’t benefit. The issue is, should taxpayer guarantees be used to support a model that is so burdensome to so many.

Posted by rb6 | Report as abusive

It is ironic that the public schools have been pushed to “act like a business” over the last decade.

Now we find out that businesses are better at making money than at educating students.

Oops!

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

Nail on head TFF

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Some more food for thought:
http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/11/news/eco nomy/skilled_factory_worker_shortage/ind ex.htm

When I talk about “education” as a key for finding a job, I mean “learning useful skills”. Not necessarily a college degree. Many college degrees have little or no useful application. Others are in oversupply.

One of the key aspects of intelligence is the recognition that when a certain approach isn’t working, you need to TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT! If you’ve been unemployed for two years and are still taking the same approach you were when you started, then you are stupidly banging your head against a wall in the hope that somebody else will open a door for you.

At some point you need to step back and assess the alternatives. Find a way around the wall? Make a right turn and move in a new direction? Get a ladder to climb over the wall? Can cite examples where people I know have done each of the above. But more of the same doesn’t work.

Not sure how much help we give our unemployed in considering these alternatives?

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

Folks,
Please take a moment to view the bio of Bridgepoint Educations Founder, CEO, and President, Andrew Clark at the following URL.
bridgepointeducation.com/aboutus/andrew_ clark.htm
After you read his bio it is easy to see why Bridgepoint is the epitomy of a parasitic post secondary institution.
Andrew learned all of his business processes and procedures from universities that have well documented parasitic tendencies and who prey off the uniformed.
Anyone who has ever had any experience with any of these post secondary institutions who are well known in the industry for their predatory and parasitic practices have come away permantly scarred and wary for life.
Folks, please do the research, find out about the college or university before you invest your money, your time, part of your life, and your families future on the line.
Education is key to a successful future for you, for your family, the our country and for the world. These these types of universities primary concern is not education it is the money. They are famous for the prostitution of education. Is all they want is your money – end of the story. Their modus operendi is to bleed as much money from the unsuspecting innocent student and to them you are merely a vehicle to obtain more money in any manner possible.
I will not take the time to detail many of the horrible things that I have seen at the hands of parasitic post secondary institutions such as these.
In addition, I cannot stress enough – do the research. This is no small decision. Research, research, research. It is a tough world out there and we always have to remember carpe’ diem or let the buyer beware. RESEARCH.
Check the institutions accreditation (have they ever been put on probation?), dropout rate, reputation, the employment rate of graduates, their loan default rate ect.
It is your life, your future, and your familys future. Be wise, be informed, be careful, and take care of yourself.
Research and make decisions based on the facts not on slick advertising, fake promises from snake oil sales people, or on false promises.
Stay away from post secondary institutions that are parasitic.

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