Telemarketing -- that's how enrollment at Lehigh Valley College often begins.
Recruiters must make 125 calls and schedule five appointments a day, and enroll 10 applicants a month. Top performers get vacations to the Bahamas. Those who fail to sign up enough applicants are asked to resign.
Many students of LVC, which changed its name from Allentown Business School this year, say they get hooked by slick sales pitches. Once enrolled, some find reason to doubt the promise of access to jobs and careers. By then, transferring to another school is rarely an option; LVC's credits are no good at most colleges.
Some graduates find themselves either unemployed or in low- paying jobs with little relation to their fields of study. They are overwhelmed by their student loan debt.
Such is the product of an academic institution obsessed with money, according to former LVC faculty.
Instructors complain of pressure from administrators to go easy on poor-performing students so they'll stay in school and continue paying tuition. Former night dean Deserie Harper said she quit LVC because she was expected to soften up tough-grading instructors.
"Everything is a numbers game with them, it's not about education," she said.
An investigation by The Morning Call has shed light on the business of for-profit education. It included interviews with more than 20 LVC students and graduates and a dozen former LVC faculty and staff, including two deans; documentation from the federal and state education departments; five complaints filed to the state Education Department; and internal LVC documentation acquired by The Morning Call.
Key findings include:
Aggressive and sometimes misleading sales tactics are at the center of LVC's recruiting. School officials give prospective students inaccurate or incomplete information.
The college's expensive tuition leads to massive debt. LVC is five to seven times as expensive as local community colleges that offer comparable degrees. LVC students are more likely to be unable to pay back their student loans than students of other colleges in the area.
The college's fixation with the bottom line compromises academic standards, according to students and instructors, who say the school turns a blind eye to failure and cheating.
The college's job placement services fall short of its sales pitch. School officials boast of job placement rates in the 90th percentile. But inadequate placement is a chief complaint among graduates.
Some of the findings mirror allegations against and criticisms of Career Education Corp., LVC's corporate parent, which has become the subject of a dozen lawsuits and investigations by the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Education Department and the U.S. Postal Service.
Among the claims in a class-action shareholder fraud suit: Career Education routinely exaggerated enrollment and graduation rates; one of the company's schools in Montclair, N.J., graduated students who did not complete required course work; and another school, in the Midwest, boosted enrollment by recruiting special-needs students, as well as "felons, homeless persons and drug addicts."
Like many LVC graduates, Deborah Snyder, 42, of Bethlehem, takes measure of the school and its parent company in personal terms: "It was not how it was presented to me when I signed my life away."
The computer networking student said she had been led to believe she would receive advanced training that would prepare her to pass the test for an industry-required certification. Instead, she said, she was stuck in classes with remedial students and she was nowhere near ready to take the certification test upon graduation.
Today, Snyder owes the government $21,000 for her LVC student loans.
"I'm paying a little mortgage," she said. "I guess they were good sales people, and I was a sucker."
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