Kids, do you want to grow up and design video games for a living? Adults, do you want to quit your chumpy job and realize your dream of being an animator or a chef? You might have been tempted by ads like this one.
This ad provides a rare insider's look at the workings of professional game designers, who apparently create games through stilted conversation while working on a TV screen, with another player, using XBox controllers.
Through game design school, you too can learn to participate in brilliant collaborative discussions like these that are no doubt buzzing through the offices of Valve and Blizzard daily:
Designer A: So where do you think this guy should move?
Designer B: I'd say... this way.
Or if games aren't your thing, maybe you're tempted by this ITT Tech ad which offers computer security training at a school that apparently thinks identity thieves usually steal information off their own computers, or work out of cars in empty parking garages.
But whatever. Cheesy, stupid ads don't necessarily mean the product is no good, and an easy ticket to making Halo games is something it wouldn't hurt to check out, right? So why not call?
You might as well walk around downtown LA at night waving $40,000 in the air. The end result will be about the same, except with more brochures and slightly fewer knife wounds.
#1. The Admissions Office / Auto Showroom
The first person you'll talk to is a recruiter, or "enrollment counselor". The recruiter is less like a college admissions rep ("Why should I let you in?") and more like a used car salesman ("How can I get you to walk out of here today with a shiny new student loan?") They are literally trained to use your deepest fears and weakness against you. You know, the same technique Batman uses against criminals.
"Prospective students are a superstitious and cowardly lot."
In an interview with Frontline, one former counselor said: "I didn't realize just how many students we were expected to recruit. They used to tell us, you know, 'Dig deep. Get to their pain. Get to what's bothering them. So, that way, you can convince them that a college degree is going to solve all their problems."
They literally operate like a car dealership, with your salesperson sometimes going back to their manager and coming up with a "new offer" if you're reluctant to sign the regular contract, as one military vet found out when signing up at ITT.
As for what's pushing the recruiters to be such assholes - their back office sounds less like a school office and more like Glengarry Glen Ross.
"Coffee is for closers, Batman."
At some schools, recruiters are pressured to meet a quota, and threatened with firing if they didn't. Other schools have been sued for basing recruiter pay on how many students they signed up, including University of Phoenix.
#2. Selling Your Soul
Considering these schools cost an average of seven times more than community college (or more, with $493 per credit hour at a Dallas ITT compared to $41 at the local community college), you're probably not going to be able to pull that $40K tuition from your pocket.
I hope it's going to solid gold laptops for every student.
But that's cool, because they've got loans. Their financial aid office is extremely good at hooking you up with loans, even loans you don't actually qualify for. That's how good they are.
"Just check 'African-American' right there."
Supposing you're lucky enough to not get caught up in a government probe into student loan fraud, however, you still have to deal with the actual loan. Will you be able to pay it off?
Well, that depends who you are talking to - a sane person or an admissions representative. Despite schools claiming that it's against policy for recruiters to make promises about future pay, forums everywhere are full of ex-ITT Tech students (for example) all saying the same thing: they were promised they'd make more than enough money to pay off the loans.
In a 60 Minutes story on for-profit schools, one of Career Education Corporation's former admissions reps admitted it: "We're selling you that you're gonna have a 95 percent chance that you are gonna have a job paying $35,000 to $40,000 a year by the time they are done in 18 months. We later found out it's not true at all."
An applicant at WyoTech was sold on a 90% placement rate and $50-$70K a year and is now making $12/hr weatherizing houses, which actually makes him better off than hundreds of other ex-students posting complaints across different forums and consumer complaint sites and news accounts.
Some of the many exciting career opportunities your trade school education opens the door to.
So what are the actual job placement rates? How many graduates have found their way to cushy game chairs at EA? Nobody knows. The only ones keeping track are the schools and they don't seem to want to make it public except in cryptic riddle form in the fine print of giant ads.
But there's clues here and there. As of 2009, for-profit students (9% of all post-secondary students) represented 44% of all student loans defaulting within 3 years, hinting that perhaps graduates of these schools don't quite have the earning power they were promised.
#3. Working Hard Or Hardly Working
Well, what with the economy and all, it's not their fault the school can't control the job market. At least they're doing their best to give you an education worth your money, right?
They'll sure act like it! Part of the game (the game of Let's Pretend We're Quality Education) is making it look like the school is selective and tough. Before you're even in, many recruiters will pretend to grill students for admission when all they really need to test is whether you have a pulse. As one counselor said, "They were enrolling people who don't speak English, who tell you they have a very serious learning disability. It's like, 'Yeah, uh-huh, can you sign up for a loan? Then you're going to school.'" Accounts from for-profit schools across the board mirror this one, including ITT Tech and DeVry.
"Stoner, you're in. Chimp with a hat, you're in. Recently unfrozen caveman, you're in."
A 60 Minutes reporter went undercover to apply for a medical assistant program to see exactly what it would take to not get admitted. She presented terrible grades, admitted to prior drug use, said she "had a problem with blood," and flunked the test (7 out of 50). They gave her a second test to take (14 out of 50) and said, Welcome to the program!"
... what kind of problem with blood?
Then once you're in, they won't let you leave, which is flattering until you realize they just see you as a money fountain they can't let walk away. There are two ways to retain students - offer tutoring and other services to help them out if they're in trouble, or the easy way: just give them passing grades no matter what, like ITT.
One student at California Culinary Academy, possibly mentally or learning disabled, was passed through class after class until he reached his final semester without being able to boil water. I haven't been to chef school and I've already almost mastered that.
#4. Escape Attempt
One red flag that might come up during your recruiting session is that after the rep has told you how perfect the school is and why you'd never want to get out, they suddenly turn around and promise you can get out whenever you want, by transferring to a regular college. Kind of an odd thing to say, but okay, sounds like you're safe either way.
Unfortunately it's a lie. The biggest, most unanimous complaint against ITT Tech specifically (and other schools in general) is that students were promised by recruiters that credits would transfer to public universities. They don't. Even ITT's website says so.
Also in fine print
ITT of course claims its recruiters would never promise students that, so all we have are hundreds of accounts of students claiming they were in fact told that, like this one. Once they wise up and realize the school isn't for them, they get a nasty shock when they try to transfer to a state school and realize they just wasted a year or more of work and tuition.
"Aww, we only take credits from real schools, sweetie."
The credits don't transfer because most trade schools have "national accreditation" which sounds like it's better than "regional accreditation," when ironically enough, it's the regional kind that schools like Harvard and University of Ohio and your local junior college have - and accept.
National accreditation is actually a joke. A Department of Education official likened it to the way credit rating agencies work on Wall Street. If you've been living in a cave for the last three years, that's not a compliment.
#5. Beware the Puppet Schools
So you've escaped from a for-profit school, maybe wasted some time and money you'll never get back, but lesson learned. You'll never get hoodwinked by one of those scams again. This time you're going to apply to a real school that's been around a while.
Or has it?
DUN DUN DUN
The for-profits have one more trick up their sleeve. Sometimes, instead of starting new schools, they just buy an existing school in financial trouble. Maybe an existing school with regional accreditation. ITT and other for-profit education companies have bought 16 "real schools" for their accreditation since 2004. They keep the name and promise to continue business as usual, which really means ITT business as usual.
Career Education Corp. one-upped them by not only buying out the prestigious but financially-troubled Calilfornia Culinary Academy but also negotiating a deal with the famous French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu, where they pay the Frenchies $14 million a year year to put the Cordon Bleu name on their shitty schools.
A quick Google search reveals that "cordon bleu" means "stuffed with ham and cheese," which is an important quality in a school.
If you've heard of the California Culinary Academy, the recruiters will find you suitably impressed by its alumni and tradition. If you've never heard of the CCA, they'll tell you about the Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris and maybe show you some clips from Ratatouille, and soon you'll imagine yourself cooking pate de foie gras instead of helping your classmate boil water.
So let's just leave it at this:
No matter what the name of the school is or what it used to be, if the admissions rep is trying to sell you the program in the same way Crazy Pat tries to sell you a used pickup truck, you should probably get out of there and go pick up a community college catalog.
Read more of Christina in The 5 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Comic Strips and The 6 Biggest Badasses Who Lived As The Opposite Sex.