Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Act Two: It Starts...

 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?


Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, no matter your position on Ashford, we all agree (I think) that what's needed is COMMUNICATION. Honesty. Transparency. Ashford, and Bridgepoint, need to start talking. They need to address the VALID concerns of the students. Address the WASC report and not just say "we're appealing it". They need to take some ethics classes and learn fair business practices. You have the CEO committing securities fraud, employees being fired with no warning, lawsuits, investigations, accreditation issues. The time for messing around has passed. They had their fun, made their money. Now they need to either COMPLETELY revamp the way they do EVERYTHING (I dont honestly know if they can or will, given the cost and time constraints involved in something like that) or close up shop. And let's not forget that if Bridgepoint folds, Ashford isnt the only school affected. There's University of the Rockies, as well. Time for some OWNERSHIP. They messed up, so now they need to 'fess up and fix it. Anything less in UNACCEPTABLE and insulting to all of the students who poured their time, money, effort, and trust into this school.

Anonymous said...

I would get some sort of satisfaction from ranting and raving about the dishonesty of the adjoined companies but why even waste my breath on such a dirtbag of a company. Here I am, fully equipped to have "changed lives" with a beyond noteworthy degree in the field of education and counseling only to be reprimanded on meeting "expectations" at the end of the days spent with these people. What have my efforts gotten me you ask? A fancy document that practically begs for me not to point a finger at the corporation and some half-assed well wishes via a random HR rep scared to drop the layoff bomb behind a podium to hundreds of dedicated workers. I had a family to support and freaked out in the midst. However, I think I'd rather eat Top Ramen for dinner regularly and be humble to idea of financial struggle as I reclaim my worthiness in the workplace than ever be a part of their fraudulent hiring mill ever again. Shame on them for requesting we re-apply for openings after the fact but it'll be shame on me if I ever lowered my standards and morals to work for them again.

Anonymous said...

Send your complaints to HLC and WASC. HLC is deliberating on whether they should maintain Ashford's accreditation. They will decide in FEB. So it is imperative that you contact HLC...and WASC too.

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that two Denver directors were fired due to unscrupulous behavior. This is no suprise. Crap rolls downhill. Just look at the top players.

Anonymous said...

Ashford University Sexual Harassment--Gee! why are we not suprised?!?
Lawsuit filed alleging human resources worker 'pulled a Filner'

SAN DIEGO - An employee of San Diego-based Bridgepoint Education says she and others were sexually harassed by the last person one might expect: the woman in charge of implementing the policy on sexual harassment.

According to a just-filed lawsuit, the incident occurred at a luxury Four Seasons Hotel in Denver, the site of a 2011 corporate retreat for human resources employees of Bridgepoint Education, which owns Ashford University.

Wendy Young, an executive assistant, says the group was hanging out at a hotel bar when Rebecca Magnuson sat down next to her. Young says Magnuson was at the time the director of learning and development, in charge of implementing the sexual harassment training.

A lawsuit describes what happened next -- as "pulling a Filner."

"She (Magnuson) grabbed the back of my hair with her left hand, grabbed my breast with her right hand, pulled my head back and tried to stick her tongue in my throat," said Young. "I was in shock. I couldn't believe it."

Young says she talked to another alleged victim who said Magnuson made similar moves on other women that night. Young says when she went to her boss, Charlene Dackerman, the senior vice president of human resources, her boss laughed it off.

"She said Becky was just trying to find herself … and drunk," said Young.

Young says while Magnuson was later promoted, she endured daily anguish at the hands of her boss, who sent her on demeaning errands and called her names.

"I was called a b****, a stupid *****, a skinny ***** and a dumb *****," said Young.

Dan Gilleon, Young's attorney, told 10News, "It must be terrifying for people at Bridgepoint to know the person they're supposed to will not only brush it off, but retaliate. It sends a signal to everyone below … that sexual harassment is not only going to be tolerated, in some ways, it's condoned."

Young's lawsuit comes two months after an employee of Ashford University filed suit, alleging sexual harassment by a manager.

That suit prompted Young to come forward.

"My message is people do not have to put up with this harassment," she said. "They need to speak up."

In a statement, the company said, "Bridgepoint Education believes the lawsuit is without merit and intends to vigorously defend against it. The company maintains stringent standards for ethical and professional behavior by its employees and has zero tolerance for violations of its policies."