Deceptive or Completely Questionable' Practices
Presenting the findings of the GAO investigation was Gregory D. Kutz, the office’s managing director of forensic audits and special investigations at the Government Accountability Office. In testimony made more powerful by the brief undercover video clips that punctuated it, Kutz detailed “deceptive or completely questionable” practices at all 15 institutions.
The colleges the GAO visited were not a totally random sample, Kutz said, but they were not institutions where his office or the Education Department were already aware of fraud. “It gives you an indication that this is much more widespread than a few bad actors.”
Colleges Visited by GAO Location University of Phoenix Arizona Everest College Arizona Westech College California Kaplan College California Potomac College District of Columbia Bennett College District of Columbia Medvance Institute Florida Kaplan College Florida College of Office Tech Illinois Argosy University Illinois University of Phoenix Pennsylvania Anthem Institute Pennsylvania Westwood College Texas Everest College Texas ATI Career Training Texas
Though Kutz’s written testimony didn’t identify the campuses the GAO examined, he did, at Harkin’s request, release a list of the institutions. They included campuses of the University of Phoenix in Arizona and Pennsylvania, Kaplan College in California and Florida, Everest College in Arizona and Texas, as well as privately held institutions including ATI Career Training and Medvance Institute.
Manny Rivera, a spokesman for Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix, said the company has “strict policies in place to protect students during the enrollment process and throughout their tenure with the university, and when we discover any violation of this policy, we take immediate and decisive disciplinary action up to, and including, termination of the employees involved."
Jacquelyn P. Muller, vice president of public relations at Education Management Corporation, which owns Argosy University in Chicago -- one of the institutions visited -- said that “every employee within our organization is held accountable for upholding the highest moral, ethical, and legal standards at all times.”
Kutz said that though corporate leaders may try to dismiss his investigation’s findings as problems with individual employees, “I expect anybody who would have walked in... and that was trained a certain way in marketing was going to the same script.” Institutions may say “‘that was a rogue employee,’ but I suspect in some of these cases that is absolutely not true."
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), reinforcing what has become Republicans’ standard way of addressing problems uncovered at for-profit colleges, said: “I know we’ve got people doing bad things, but I know we’ve got a lot of people doing it right and they’re going to be under a cloud unless we begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
Joshua Pruyn, a former recruiter for a Westwood College, who testified at the hearing, said he didn’t think the kind of dishonest behavior that he saw and was encouraged to emulate while working at a Colorado campus resulted from a few “rogue” employees violating his institution’s code of ethics, but rather a pattern of behavior encouraged by corporate leaders.
Harkin, too, said he believed the encouragement to aggressively and dishonestly pursue students came from higher up. Showing a recruitment training PowerPoint slide from the University of Phoenix with the header “Creating Urgency: Getting Them to Apply NOW."
Harkin said he thought inducements to recruit aggressively were coming from company executives. “That doesn’t come from some employee,” he said. “That comes from the top.” . . . .