*NOTE: This was moved from my other blog because this is important to me. I want as many people as possible to read this and arm themselves and their friends and families with the knowledge that my experience gave me.*
Recently it came to my attention that ITT Technical Institute is being sued by the federal government for “predatory loan practices”. Basically what this means is that it came to the government’s attention, via mountains of unpaid student loan debt, that an exorbitant amount of money was owed by students of “for profit colleges”. Upon further investigation, a troubling trend was discovered.
Targeting Low Income Applicants
Yes, the college recruiters for ITT, and likely other for profit schools as well, target applicants who are deemed as “low income” and preferably already receiving some form of public assistance. This makes it easier for them to sweet talk the applicant. People like me, who wanted to get a college education but did not want to go to the local community college, or perhaps lived in an area where they had no access to a campus. People like me who wanted that education as a means to open a door to a new career and, at long last, financial independence. Alas, where there is someone trying to get a leg up, there is someone standing nearby to take advantage.
When researching online schools, I came across ITT Tech. Like everyone else in the country since at least the turn of the century, I had seen the commercials on TV with the testimonials from alumni raving about how ITT had literally changed their lives. Online courses made it super convenient to better oneself from the comfort of their own home and at their own pace. Degrees could be earned in the same amount of time as a regular university, but all without worrying about leaving home. For young families, this would seem like a dream come true. Moms and dads could stay at home and be with their children while opening the doors to their future! That is how they got me at least. I signed up, after several long conversations with the recruiter/”student adviser” where they explained to me how easy it would be and how the field I had shown interest in was in such “high demand” that I would be virtually guaranteed a position after I received my Associates. They told me that student loans were easy to get and that I would not have to even begin paying them back until 6 months after graduation, well after being established in my new career with the help of their student services department.
I bought it. Lock, stock and barrel. I signed up and I was thrilled when they told me that I qualified for a scholarship of $6,000. All I needed for loans was $20,000 altogether in subsidized and un-subsidized loans. They told me that it would not cause a problem with my public assistance because I could just have the financial aid checks sent to the school instead of myself, therefore skirting the need to report any extra income since I would not be receiving it. I agreed to this, not knowing any better. I started school a few months later, online at home. I received brand new, still in the plastic, books each semester and never had to worry about having to order those for myself.
After my first year I began to question what I was even learning. I had signed up for an Associate’s Degree in Information Systems Administration, I was learning all about computer’s and their components, which was great. But I was not learning very current information about networks and operating systems and software. The courses I was taking in those areas were focusing on things like Windows 98, 2000 and ME, which were way beyond obsolete by 2010. I told myself it was fine, that you had to learn the old stuff, the basics, before you get into the really new stuff. But then time progressed and by the time I got near the end of my second year I realized I was not going to learn more about current software than a four week course on running Windows Vista. What good was learning about things that no one used anymore going to do me in today’s technological job market? None that I could see. But I went through all the way to the end. I received my degree in the mail about a month and a half after I graduated and I was so proud and excited when I got it! I felt like I had really accomplished something and I had this new college degree to show for my efforts. I was optimistic and excited to get a new job in my field.
That never happened. I began my job search with the “:student services department” at the ITT student and alumni website. There were three positions listed there, and not a single one was even in the same region of the country. I contacted them anyway, inquiring about relocation assistance, as advised. As a newly graduated mother I had no financial means to move to another state AND find a place to live there. I had heard about relocation assistance from my “student adviser” and put in the inquiries. None of the three positions offered such assistance, so I left that site alone for a while and searched other job engines. My luck was no better in that area. I found many positions in my field, but not for anything less than a Bachelor’s Degree and, again, none of them anywhere near where I could even commute to.
Two months passed in this way, and I periodically went back to the ITT career page, only to see the same three listings and none added each time. I began once again putting my resume around the internet and low and behold! I got a phone interview for a manager position at a local gas station chain store. Granted it was not the area I had studied in, but I wanted a job by that point and I was willing to apply back in my original area of expertise, retail, if I had to. During the interview, I was asked where I went to school. When I told them, with pride, that I had graduated recently from ITT an awkward silence was all I received in response. Then the person told me that ITT was not a real school and I may as well have a Google degree! That was the first blow to my hard won pride in my education. A few more months passed in this vein, finally I gave up even looking. I had been told that my “gap in work history” couple with my dubious degree made me a poor candidate for most jobs I applied to, if I even received a reply at all.
When I spoke to my :”student adviser” for the last time I asked him why I was having such a hard time finding employment in my field. He told me to try their “student services/career services site”. I told him that the site was a joke, it was never updated and the three positions listed their were not a possibility for me. He told me to “keep trying” and in the mean time I could do two MORE years with ITT, racking up even MORE debt of course, and earn a Bachelor’s because THAT would be what would really help me change my life. I saw where it was going of course, by this time I was completely jaded about the whole thing. I told them I would think about that and then proceeded to never answer the phone when they called me again.
That was in the late spring of 2013. I am still unemployed, still on assistance because no one will hire me and still dodging bill collectors for student loans that I never should have wasted my time on in the first place. Interestingly enough, about the time that the government launched their lawsuit against ITT Technical Institute I stopped receiving letters and phone calls about paying my student loans. But hey, I have a college degree right?
Where Did The Money Go
After discovering that the government was looking into these predatory recruitment and loan practices I decided to sign myself up for the list of students trying to receive full debt forgiveness, since we were completely taken advantage of because of our humble circumstances. I also decided that I was sick and tired of looking at massive stack of books that were completely useless to me. I decided to sell my old college books, thinking some of them might still be worth something, they were brand new when I received them after all. No. Even when new, the whole lot likely did not cost the school more than $500 because several of them were obsolete before I even started classes. All told, if every single one sells for the price I deemed reasonable based on Ebay list prices, I will get about $200 BEFORE whatever shipping fees I must pay to get rid of them once and for all.
So where exactly did $26,000.00 go? I got about $500 worth of textbooks and software and access to a student website. The education I received was worthless and the material I studied was no longer in use before I even started studying it. So what should access to a website cost? Let’s be generous and say that two years of access should cost $2,000. That still leaves $23,500 completely unaccounted for. Most students use their student loans to not only purchase books and materials but also pay a portion of their bills or housing or what have you. I never saw a single penny of that money. I even had to spend my own money on a new computer halfway through my first year because my computer broke and I needed a new one to continue my education. Does any of this seem right to you, reader?
What Did ITT Do For Me?
Ruined me. Please, pass this story along. We need to stop these for profit schools from ruining people’s lives, and as long as people are naive enough to sign up it will never end. A large portion of the national debt is defaulted student loans! Not only does this ruin individual lives, it is ruining our country as a whole as well.