LARGO, Fla. - Editor’s note:
This version corrects facts related to Ms. Ortega’s degrees and amount of debt.
For years the I-Team has been reporting about problems involving for-profit colleges.
Now, one of the Bay area's largest for-profit colleges is for sale as federal officials investigate alleged academic and financial irregularities.
A former administrator at a local Everest University campus is speaking out exclusively to the I-Team about what went wrong when she worked there and what it means to students.
"This is where it all happened,” said Mamie Andrews, returning for the first time to the Largo campus of Everest University, where she once served as the Academic Dean.
“When you're back where it all happened, it's like revisiting the pain,” she said, choking back tears.
Andrews worked for a total of four years at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. campuses before she quit in late 2011.
Corinthian is the parent company of Everest University.
“They sell hopes, they sell dreams and they sell promises. And they don't deliver on any of it,” Andrews said. “It was all about the money. It's never really about the education. The education is just a byproduct.“
The U.S. Department of Education is forcing Corinthian to sell its Florida campuses, as the department investigates faulty job placement numbers and inflated grades and attendance claims.
“There have been people who have graduated from Everest who could not read and who could not write,” Andrews said.
Andrews says recruiters went after anyone who qualified for federal government grants and loans, just about anywhere.
“Anywhere you could recruit a person, you went there, whether that was a base, under a bridge, in front of a welfare office,” she said.
She says many of those students ended up saddled with massive amounts of debt.
“I liken it to a noose around their neck,” Andrews said.
Dianne Harrell completed a paralegal program at Everest University, but never got her diploma.
“They're horrible. I wouldn't recommend anyone to go there, ever,” said Harrell.
She contacted the Florida Attorney General's office to dispute Everest's claim that she owes them money.
Her complaint was one of 127 received since 2011.
The AG’s office has not taken action against Everest and says the cases are under investigation.
The company tells the I-Team that those complaints represent a "miniscule portion" of their total student population, which has averaged 8,000 students at Florida campuses each month since 2011.
Corinthian officials say an additional 30,000 take courses from the online division, which is also based in Florida.
Aileen Ortega attended Everest, where she pursued associate and bachelor degrees.
She now owes tens-of-thousands of dollars in debt that she has yet to repay.
“It was the worst decision ever for me,” said Ortega.
“This is a school that's getting over a billion dollars a year in federal funding and the government's getting no return on its investment whatsoever,” said Tampa attorney Jesse Hoyer.
Her firm represented Mamie Andrews in a whistleblower lawsuit against another for-profit college not affiliated with Corinthian Colleges, Inc. where Andrews worked several years ago.
The Hoyer firm will not say if it plans to file suit against Everest.
“She can put a face to what's actually happening. And we should all care. It's all of our money. It's everyone's tax dollars,” said Jesse Hoyer.
Despite the agreement to sell by January, Everest University is still recruiting students and staff, which they are allowed, under the terms of the agreement, to do.
“It needs to stop. No one else needs to be hurt,” said Andrews.
Andrews says she can only pray future students get that message.
“I want the best for the people who go there. I want the best for the people who work there. And what they're getting is not the best,” said Andrews.
Corinthian tells us that their schools offer students a quality education and professional skills that lead to employment in their fields of study.
If you have a complaint regarding a for-profit college, here is a form you can use to contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office :
You can also call that office at 1-866-966-7226.
To find out more about paying for college, this website from the U.S. Department of Education is a great resource: http://collegecost.ed.gov/
Here is another site which will help you select the best, most cost-effective option for you: http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/