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Colleges are for sale but they continue to recruit on bases

Jul. 18, 2014 - 12:40PM   |  
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Their college campuses are for sale and they’re under attack from federal regulators, but that hasn’t stopped a pair of for-profit schools from recruiting new students at military bases.

The actions raise questions not just about the schools’ military marketing strategy but also about the trustworthiness of service education fairs.

Recruiters from WyoTech and Heald College manned tables at education events at four military bases in California this week alone, encouraging active-duty and separating troops to sign up for classes this fall. School representatives said they have no plans to curtail their new-student enrollment efforts for military and veteran students in days to come.

But exactly what those schools will look like this fall remains to be seen. Their owner, Corinthian Colleges Inc., has agreed to sell off 85 of its 97 U.S. schools — including all of the WyoTech and Heald campuses — after the Education Department restricted the company’s access to federal student aid.

That came in response to the company’s failure to turn over records concerning enrollment and job placement data, and allegations that the schools were using fraudulent data in marketing claims to prospective students and altering students grades.

Most of the degree programs take at least a year to complete, but Corinthian officials have agreed to work to find a new buyer within six months. Company officials said they plan a seamless transition for students, whether Corinthian remains in control of classes or turn them over to new management.

WyoTech offers degree programs in automotive and electrical trades. Heald is known mostly for its health care and business associate degree programs. Along with online class offerings, the schools have 16 campuses in six states, with the largest presence for both in California.

Corinthian spokesman Kent Jenkins said the company is optimistic it can find a buyer for the schools, citing the “high quality” of the schools.

All current students and recruits who sign up for classes are being required to sign paperwork asserting they have been informed about the impending sale and the Education Department allegations, Jenkins said.

But it’s unclear how much that information is making its way into marketing pitches to troops and veterans, who make up about 6 percent of Corinthian’s total students.

The company boasts about 80,000 students in the United States, 9,000 of whom are using GI Bill benefits to pay for classes.

Last week, the California attorney general unsuccessfully petitioned a federal court to require the company to warn students of the legal action and financial troubles in all marketing.

Phil Cataquiz, an education official at Naval Base Coronado who organized an education fair this week that featured both schools, said he was unaware of the legal and financial problems facing the schools, and received no extra notification from Corinthian officials about any possible disruptions in operations.

He said both schools meet Defense Department requirements to participate in on-base college fairs, and base officials don’t do additional vetting to avoid being seen as endorsing or condemning a particular institution.

A review of schools in good standing was last conducted in fall 2013, and would not cover any problems that have surfaced in the last few months.

Last week, officials at Student Veterans of America issued a release offering additional assistance to veterans or family members attending Corinthian schools, and urging the Education Department to find ways to allow those students to complete their degree programs.

In response to the schools’ participation at the military education fairs, SVA spokesman Will Hubbard said, “as veterans look to use their VA benefits to earn a post-secondary degree, we’re advising them to be cautious of institutions whose futures are uncertain.”

Jenkins said he believes any students considering the schools “should be confident in enrolling” because of the transition plans in place.

Meanwhile, another review of schools eligible to take part in on-base recruiting and education fairs is scheduled to be completed in September.

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