About a year ago, I looked into allegations that Globe University / Minnesota School of Business was using deceptive marketing tactics to lure prospective students.
That was also around the time that Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa had concluded an investigation of for-profit schools throughout the country. The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which he chaired, looked into similar claims of deception, as well as complaints of things such as poor graduation rates and skyrocketing tuition.
Globe wasn’t one of the schools the committee investigated. But when I read its report and compared it to what I’d found from talking to more than a dozen former Globe employees and students, I wrote this:
Globe and Minnesota School of Business may look better than many schools in the Harkin report when it comes to student-loan defaults and reliance on federal money for revenue. But some of the former recruiters’ allegations of bad recruitment behavior – such as the harassing phone calls, emotional manipulation and misleading language – read as if they came straight out of the reports on the largest, most aggressive national for-profits. Former staffers who spoke to MPR News describe a fine-print culture in which the schools regularly obscured important details behind emotionally manipulative sales pitches.
Earlier this month when I covered a whistleblower lawsuit against the schools, I revisited the HELP report to see how the lawsuit’s claims compared with Harkin’s findings.
Former Globe Dean Heidi Weber and her attorney, Clayton Halunen, accused the schools of engaging in only some of the problematic or unethical practices listed in the HELP report.
They focused on the information that Globe gave — or failed to give — prospective students.
Her testimony focused on three main areas:
- Globe-MSB failed to inform students it was changing to a less stringent accrediting agency;
- It didn’t warn them that it didn’t have enough of the externships required for graduation; and
- It didn’t adequately inform students that a felony could bar them from becoming a medical assistant.
Weber also said the schools inflated job-placement rates and starting salary figures for their graduates, and didn’t warn adequately warn them that other colleges would likely not accept their credits if they transferred out.
Such claims echoed findings in the HELP report:
“… Many companies used tactics that misled prospective students with regard to … the job placement rate of other students, the transferability of credit, or the reputation and accreditation of the school.”
Specifically, the HELP report mentioned a complaint that one for-profit school, The Bryman School of Phoenix, didn’t have enough externships because its health program had a bad reputation among hospitals in its area.
That sounded similar to Weber’s statement that Allina Health stopped hiring Globe medical-assistant externs and graduates because of concerns over their professionalism and the accreditation of the program.
The HELP report also mentioned an instance in which a recruiter for the Apollo Group — parent company of the well-known national chain University of Phoenix — told a prospective student that a felony would not prevent her from becoming a pharmacy technician. That echoed Weber’s claim about Globe’s failure to warn medical-assistant students.
Except for the closing arguments, the trial rarely if ever put Globe in the context of the national for-profit debate or the findings of the HELP report.
Globe attorney Matthew Damon argued in opening statements that jurors should ignore any references to that debate. He said that unlike the high-profile offenders in media reports, Globe has been run privately by a family in Minnesota for more than four decades.
Yet throughout the trial, attorney Halunen did paint the jury a picture of a company that put profits above students’ welfare.
He said Globe was out to “sell dreams” of a better future to low-income people who had “little hope” and had often failed out of other schools. Its admissions counselors, he said, were glorified recruiters who were encouraged to make sales.
He showed jurors examples of the Globe-MSB training manual for admissions reps and pointed out a number of passages that taught admissions representatives how to “sell education.”
The HELP report found a similar focus in many of the schools it investigated.
Locally, for example, it found that Capella and Walden universities had a “sales culture” or “enrollment-driven culture” that may have influenced their approach to recruiting. The report noted that Capella recruiters were told to “dig deep” into prospective students’ needs, and that Walden had received complaints that its recruiters had misled them in the recruitment process.
In general, the HELP report noted that across the country:
“Recruiting materials indicate that at some for-profit colleges, admissions representatives were trained to locate and push on the pain in students’ lives. They were also trained to “overcome objections” of prospective students in order to secure enrollments. Additionally, companies trained recruiters to create a false sense of urgency to enroll and inflate the prestige of the college.”
Halunen suggested several times in his questioning of Globe officials that the company’s rapid expansion meant greater revenue for its owners — a general point noted repeatedly in the HELP report.
(Halunen said Globe’s desire to open campuses rapidly prompted the school to choose a more lenient accreditor, and suggested that was the reason the school did not tell students about it.)
Unlike Harkin, Weber’s case didn’t get into for-profit colleges’ high use of part-time faculty and adjunct instructors. She said only that by her estimate, the faculty in her program had an associate’s degree or less, and many had never taught or received any training in how to teach a class.