Accusations of questionable recruiting and false job placement claims that left students in debt prompted the sale of Everest University last year.
As a part of an agreement with the federal government, former owner Corinthian Colleges sold Everest to a debt collection agency.
That agency turned it into a nonprofit university and promised major improvements.
But an insider is now speaking out to the I-Team, saying the college is still not giving students a fair deal.
“They're horrible. I wouldn't recommend anyone go there,” former student Diane Harrell said back in 2014. We interviewed her after she filed a complaint with the Florida Attorney General's Office regarding tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
She attended Everest when the university was owned by Corinthian Colleges.
“It was the worst decision ever for me,” said Aileen Ortega, who enrolled in associate, bachelor and master degree programs at Everest when the University was owned by Corinthian Colleges.
A former academic dean filed a whistleblower lawsuit in 2011, claiming Everest recruited and enrolled homeless, mentally ill and illiterate students, pocketing millions of taxpayer dollars through government loans that were never repaid.
The suit was later dropped after Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy.
“It was all about the money. It was never really about the education the education is just a byproduct,” Mamie Andrews, the former Academic Dean at the Largo campus told the I-Team in August 2014.
Last year, student loan debt collector ECMC Group bought Everest, promising lower tuition and better job placement rates.
ECMC formed the nonprofit corporation Zenith Education Group to operate the Everest campuses.
“There were a lot of things that were said about us targeting a different demographic, being a better school, having better or different programs,” said an employee, who does not want to be identified, but who worked for both Corinthian Colleges and Zenith.
“They're recruiting from the same pool of students. Pretty much everything is business as usual,” the employees said, stressing that government grants and loans are often Everest's biggest recruiting tool.
Nearly every student receives governmental financial aid for academic degree programs that can currently cost more than $70,000.
Zenith Education Group says tuition was reduced by 20 percent and students were offered more private scholarship money since the Everest campuses were sold to Zenith.
“They have no job, so they're looking at it as a source of income,” said the employee, who indicates most students are highly interested in using government loans, provided in the form or stipends, to pay bills.
This money can be used for purposes other than paying for direct academic expenses, like tuition and books.
“A lot of them mention paying rent, especially around the holidays, buying gifts for their kids or a turkey for Thanksgiving,” the employee told the I-Team.
“What else do they have? They can't go on reputation,” said Tampa Attorney Jesse Hoyer, who has also heard promises of stipends are used as a recruitment tool. “They can't go on numbers. They can't go on anything legitimate, so they say enroll in our school and here's a free $3,000.”
Hoyer represented former Everest employees who sued Corinthian Colleges before the company declared bankruptcy and sold 50 of its campuses.
She believes the new nonprofit school is using the same old tactics.
“They care about getting the student enrolled, maxing out the financial aid and then anything that happens from there, what does it matter to them?” Hoyer said.
Everest's Brandon and Lakeland campuses, which served 343 students, closed in March.
Zenith gave this explanation for the closure in a statement to the I-Team:
"Zenith chose to consolidate and teach out the campuses after conducting a thorough review of student populations, program completion and job placement rates. Additionally, Zenith will institute organizational changes that both strengthen and flatten the leadership structure and create a more development-focused organization, including establishing directors of student success at each campus. The changes enable Zenith to enhance the student experience while further reinforcing the stability of its schools. "
At the time of the closure, the Brandon campus was on probation from its accrediting agency for poor retention and placement rates.
Zenith officials attribute those poor rates to Corinthian's past practices.
Everest's own data from Tampa Bay area campuses shows 63 percent of its academic degree programs had fewer than 10 graduates last year.
In the remainder of academic degree programs, only about a quarter of students who initially enrolled ended up graduating and getting jobs in their chosen fields.
A Zenith Spokesperson said in a statement to the I-Team, “Our ultimate objective is to create a new nonprofit model for the career college space that truly helps students succeed.”
Zenith stresses the most recent low graduation and placement rates are still a result of Corinthian Colleges’ past performance.
Recent local data for trade programs, including training electricians, heating and air conditioning specialists, pharmacy techs and medical assistants, show better retention and job placement rates than for the longer-term academic degree courses.
Everest says it is also focusing more on its online program, where tuition is lower.
Here’s the complete statement from Everest’s Spokesperson:
Since acquiring the Florida campuses from the prior owner in February 2015, we have been working tirelessly to improve student outcomes through a quality education that arms students with the skills necessary to succeed in today’s labor market. Our ultimate objective is to create a new nonprofit model for the career college space that truly helps students succeed.
A few areas where we’ve made particularly substantial progress include improving affordability; updating, replacing or reforming our curricula; and creating student-centered admissions. Along with immediately reducing tuition by 20 percent for all of our Everest programs, we’ve awarded millions of dollars in need-based and non-need based grants and scholarships. In fact, as a testament to our commitment to our students’ success, we have in our first year awarded more than $100 million in tuition reductions, scholarships, grants and financial assistance across all Zenith campuses. Since launching, we’ve reduced student debt by 20 percent.
In addition to terminating or in some cases capping enrollment for programs with unacceptable student outcomes, we’ve also made great strides implementing a thoughtful and robust multi-year curriculum reform effort to help ensure skills being taught in the classroom reflect the real-time needs of employers. In admissions, we’ve completed field-testing and rolled out new assessment and financial aid approaches to help ensure prospective students’ career interests match our program offerings and that they understand the basic academic skills and financial investment it will take to successfully complete their programs before they enroll.
While we’ve made significant steps forward to improve the student experience, many of the data points and developments you have asked about illustrate that challenge. The most recent retention and placement data still reflects CCI’s management; the Fall 2016 retention and placement report, to be published in October, will be the first cohort to primarily represent Zenith management. Similarly, the probationary accreditation status you noted for the Brandon campus – which we are now consolidating with Everest University Tampa – stems from an evaluation period starting in 2013 in which all of the students would have been enrolled under Corinthian. While we anticipate improvement, materially advancing student outcomes is a multi-year, long-term process that remains at the heart of virtually every initiative we have undertaken to date.
We’re continuing to work across the board to advance ongoing initiatives aimed at promoting the long-term success of our graduates. Our job is far from done, and we’re as committed now as ever to transforming our schools into a model of what career school training is meant to be.
Enrollment and Recruitment
From day one, we have prioritized student outcomes over enrollment and have put several initiatives in place to strengthen our programs, improve placement and completion rates, and increase our value to current and prospective students.
For example, all prospective students now participate in a financial aid process, which includes financial literacy counseling, to ensure they make informed decisions about their education before they enroll.
In addition, students considering our schools participate in pre-enrollment assessments to ensure our programs are a good fit for their prospective career paths. Students also are assessed for academic readiness to ensure the coursework matches their skill set.
We want to make sure the students who enroll in our schools are the students who will benefit the most from our offerings. We expect enrollments will increase gradually over time as we strengthen our programs, improve our placement results and increase our value to students.
On the recruitment front, we’ve made it a priority to create a new approach to marketing and admissions — one that provides useful, timely and accurate information to help each prospective student make a quality decision about where to attend school. Our primary focus is on enrolling students who are likely to complete their programs and become employed in their fields.
We have begun the process of integrating our online and ground campus operations nationwide to provide students with the opportunity to participate in a blended learning model, with some courses online and some in person, so that they may choose a learning modality that works best for them.
We are looking to pilot a program that offers students flexibility, but also hands-on interaction with equipment and face-time with faculty.
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