Act Two: It Starts…
by: Carlos Mendez
I believe in karma. I have a hunch that Andrew Clark and the rest of his cronies over at Bridgepoint Education have begun to feel it. When I left Ashford University 5 months ago I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I felt the burden of guilt and shame being lifted up from on top of me, like when Hulk Hogan lifted Andre “The Giant” (R.I.P) back at WrestleMania 3.
Fast forward to Tuesday July 10th, when a coworker broke the news to me about the bombshell that had just dropped regarding Ashford University. I use the term bombshell loosely because unless you live in San Diego, California or Clinton, Iowa, the institution Ashford University most likely does not mean that much to you. Upon reading the articles about WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) denying Ashford University its initial attempt at accreditation, I felt a sense of redemption. Without an accreditation from the region your school does business in, your programs basically hold no clout. I felt like someone had finally opened their eyes as to what Ashford University, Bridgepoint Education, and many other for-profit colleges/entities have been doing for years now. While working for Ashford University I found myself wondering how in the world a “school” could keep taking advantage of people, mostly low-income individuals. The majority of the people I would talk to daily when I worked at Ashford could barely afford to pay their cell phone bill, let alone $1,170 per course every 5 weeks, plus books. The amount of money I kept hearing that Andrew Clark was raking in was ridiculous. Even sadder is the amount of money (or lack thereof) that is being put back into the university to improve the education. The coursework definitely needs an overhaul; especially for the amount of money people are spending on this “education.”
Back in late February/early March, I was working at Ashford University when representatives from WASC were touring our offices. It was all a façade. We were made to take down any sort of paper with a chart, graph, or number pertaining to the amount of students we were enrolling. After all, Ashford University was not about numbers, it was about the student. We were told to dress in a shirt and tie, no jeans were allowed during the time that the WASC reps would be there. We had been directed to answer their questions in a certain way and that if at any time we did not know what to say, to direct them to a manager. It was all about putting up a front that oozed professionalism, when all that was really oozing was the mask of corporate greed coming out from closed drawers and locked doors.
I have heard people bring up the point of what would happen if Bridgepoint Education and Ashford University went under. What would happen to all of the people who would be left without a job? The fact is, Ashford employs many people in the San Diego area. How hard would it be for them to find a new job? I can sympathize with that argument and understand that many people could be out of a job if the Bridgepoint Education Empire were to crumble. What I would like people to think about, are the people who already have been, along with those who would be affected negatively if Bridgepoint Education continues to exist. What do I mean by that? Think about how many low income individuals are talked into believing a degree from Ashford University will “change their life.” Now, think about how many of these people are already in a bad situation and upon completing (if they are even able to) will be $50,000+ in debt for an online education, which more and more companies are now looking at as being inferior degrees. Will they be able to find a job that pays much more than minimum wage? How long will it take them to pay off their student loan debt? It has been widely published that students from for-profit schools have a higher default rate than their peers from standard universities or colleges. So not only are these students ruining their credit and financial situations, but this is also putting the United States government in a tough situation when the loans they gave out are not being paid back. Who has a better chance of finding a job, someone with a state college/university degree or someone with a for-profit online degree? It is heartbreaking for me to think about the people that pay the money to obtain these degrees, and are then subject to scrutiny by employers for attending a “diploma mill” of an institution.
To add more fuel to the fire, a couple of days ago a class action lawsuit was filed against Bridgepoint Education alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The lawsuit includes the following:
(a) the Company had failed to implement plans, procedures and practices to sufficiently assist students in staying with the programs they enrolled in and complete the courses; (b) the Company failed to align resources with educational requirements such that students were not benefitting from the resources available and were therefore not progressing to an acceptable level; (c) Ashford failed to maintain a sufficient core of faculty and programs to develop faculty, leading to poor teaching and poor completion rates by students; (d) Bridgepoint had inadequate review procedures such that shortfalls were not quickly identified and remedied; and (e) Ashford failed to maintain an empowered and independent governing board.
With all that being said, I will be watching closely as to what comes out of this. I hope that this leads to a major overhaul when it comes to what for-profit colleges are allowed to get away with. The greedy people perched at the top need to be held accountable for their actions behind the scenes. As of right now, the people who are suffering are the individuals that were strung along and suckered into believing Ashford University would “change their life.” Well, I guess Ashford University never really did specify whether the change was for the best or for the worst.
In the end, who will be paying the price for these greedy puppeteers at the top that turned higher education into a two-bit puppet show?