The following letter I wrote right after I left Ashford University. I had worked there for about 6 months. I had decided I could not take the atmosphere and attitude of this "higher education" establishment. I shopped it around to a few different publications and two of them were interested. Unfortunately, it was never published and now I feel the time is about right to finally release it into the wild. Especially, after Ashford University lost its recent bid to be accredited by WASC.
March 23, 2011
Why I Left Ashford University
A week ago today I resigned from Ashford University as an Admissions Counselor, a position I held for a little over 6-months. I’m actually surprised that I stayed there for that long. The position was nothing like I had expected. All through our two-week training when I first started, and even after we hit the floor, we were told the position was “about the student.” That was what I wanted to hear. I came from working with at-risk youth in low income areas, so this was a position I was really looking forward to. I wanted to help people get their education and help them better themselves.
Once I hit the floor I knew I was in for something completely different. If you aren’t producing the number of applications per week that management wants, you start feeling the pressure. I get it, it is a for-profit college and we were there to enroll, or as they called it, “changing lives.” That phrase in itself makes my stomach turn every time I hear it. I finally realized that changing lives was right and I strongly feel that most of the time I was changing lives, but for the worse.
Once you start struggling or not “changing lives,” you realize it is about the students’ money and not the student themselves. Your job as an “AC” revolves around enrollments. The higher the enrollments of new students, the better it went for us. Keep in mind that the job, as they kept telling us, was not about numbers, but about focusing on the student. Yet, as a manager told us during a daily meeting, the first two hours and last two hours were about “pounding the phone” and if an enrolled student were to call us during that time we were not to answer their call because we had to be especially focused on getting new students during those hours. If you weren’t hitting certain numbers (250 calls per day, 2 schedules per day, 1 appointment per day, or the equivalent of at least1-2 applications per week to “meet expectations”), you were looking at getting written up for things like, “lack of communication.” The negativity was abundant when the team I was on was underperforming. Day in and day out we were having meetings in which we were being blasted for how bad we were doing. The manager would lay into us and constantly remind us as to how bad we were. This is the same manager I overheard tell a co-worker that 80% of our students are “dumb.” At one point we were told that it would be a good idea for us to start looking for new jobs. We weren’t “meeting expectations.”
I had a manager who told our team that if we hit 15 applications in a week as a team (completely submitted) she would buy us breakfast, if we were to hit 20 applications she would get us a catered lunch, and it even got to the point that, if we were to exceed that amount, she would have looked into getting us a paid day off. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well there was a catch. We were also told that if we did not reach our goals, we were to expect disciplinary action i.e. be written up. This was from a company that “was not” incentivizing the enrollment of students.
The mentality of the majority of the people there on the sales floor, and I call it that because that’s exactly what it was, was about money. Making the university money so that you can keep your job. It was either get people enrolled or get a new job. And believe me, they too used scare tactics on us. Telling us how bad the economy is, how everyone is out there looking for a job, and we would be struggling to find a job that pays as much or offers the same benefits as Ashford. In January they laid off about 150 people. They are planning another round of layoffs soon. They told us that the bottom 10% will be cut this summer. Also, I think it’s funny how we were being audited for accreditation purposes just a couple of weeks ago and we had to get rid of everything on our cubicle walls that “tracked” our numbers/students. Every single day there is about numbers, not education.
A co-worker told me one day that, “I cared too much.” All because I wanted the prospective student I was working with to know, as much as I could tell them, so that they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. I was told by the same co-worker to use “round about” figures when describing tuition and technology fees. To emphasize how much they could be eligible for in Pell grants. This is the same type of co-worker that our manager told us to sit with, learn from, and “pick their brain”. This is the type of person they wanted us to be like. Keep in mind that to go to Ashford University for 4-years and receive your Bachelor’s degree, you are looking at $52,000+. To go to an online university and pay that much is a travesty to me. We were supposed to highlight how much Financial Aid they could possibly get and how it was affordable to go to our school.” We were told to tell each student how much a degree would help them in finding a career and how much more marketable they would be. That might be “affordable” in a sea of for-profit college tuition, but last time I checked $52,000+ of student loan debt is not “affordable.”
As I did more and more research on for-profit colleges, I came to find out about the many investigations and lawsuits filed due to violations being committed across the country. These schools are getting billions of dollars a year in federal aid funds. 45% of student loans being defaulted on are from for-profit colleges and these schools account for 10.7% of college students enrolled. The drop out rates at for-profit schools is ridiculous. The government is providing this aid to students to obtain an education. If these students cannot get a job to repay the loans after the completion of the program because these programs are not academically adequate, the government then loses out on millions of dollars a year. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that online education can benefit people in certain situations, but I strongly feel that the majority of people attending an online college are being taken advantage of. According to a Bloomberg article, “Students at for-profit colleges are more likely to be unemployed and earn less in the six years after graduation than their peers at community colleges, according to a study by Harvard University researchers.” There needs to be stricter regulations on for-profit colleges.
Two months ago I knew that I needed to leave Ashford University. I was asked a question that made me want to walk out of the building as soon as I heard it. A co-worker of mine asked me, “Do you care more about ‘Shaniqua’ or do you care more about your paycheck?” I was shocked to be asked that question. I didn’t answer back. Keep in mind that this was one of the people that management wanted us to be like. All I could say in reply was, “did you really just ask me that?” She replied with, “what?” She looked at me puzzled as if I was the crazy person, as if I was the one who had just said something extremely insensitive. I sat down quietly and just stared at my computer screen.
I chose and will always choose; “Shaniqua”, “Juan”, “Frank”, or anyone else for that matter that I honestly believe is being taken advantage of, over a paycheck any day of the week.
I decided to write this because I felt inspired by Greg Smith’s Op-Ed about his resignation from Goldman Sachs. He inadvertently used a term I had been mulling over in my head and had been thinking of using when departing Ashford University. His use of “morally bankrupt people” really struck a chord in me. Money is not everything. Ashford believes more in monetary gain than an actual education, as do many for-profit colleges. Being financially successful means nothing when you are “morally bankrupt.”
p.s. Part II
p.s. Part II