Barbara Shelly

Another infuriating for-profit college story

Updated: 2014-02-09T01:03:57Z

By BARBARA SHELLY

The Kansas City Star

Reporter Eric Adler wandered into the Kansas City’s snowy neighborhoods and wrote a story that makes one marvel all over again at the needs in our community and the exploitation of the working poor.

He interviewed a dad who lost his job and had his utilities turned off three months ago. Imagine surviving this winter in an unheated house. He mentioned that more than half of school kids in Jackson County receive free or reduced lunches, and many go hungry when the schools are closed.

And — here’s the part that especially makes my blood boil — he interviewed a mom at the City Union Mission who had fallen into the for-profit college trap.

Her name is Shelley Riley. She is 38 years old and has two daughters. She explained to Adler that she had been working a part-time job while attending a for-profit college to become a medical assistant. After four years, she finished her training with $60,000 worth of college loans and no job prospects in a medical office. Then she lost her part-time job, lost her utilities and sought shelter at the mission.

I have heard this story repeatedly. Low-income single moms fall for the sales pitches of the for-profit “colleges.” The medical assistant courses seem especially alluring. The “admissions officers” (sales people, really) show prospective students how to apply for federal Pell Grants and college loans.

What they don’t tell them is how small the chances are of ever getting a medical assistants job. And even if a student gets lucky and lands a job, the starting salary isn’t likely to exceed, or maybe even reach, $10 an hour. You cannot pay off a $60,000 debt with a $10-an-hour job.

The schools that do this have nothing to lose. They get their federally backed payments regardless of a students’ prospects. They seem oblivious to the misery they leave in their wake. Why Congress and state attorneys general don’t crack down further on these schools is a mystery to me.

People, if you know someone thinking of enrolling in a for-profit school, tell them to look very carefully at the prospects for obtaining a job afterward and the market-rate salary. Don’t take the school’s word for it. And tell them they may find a much better deal at their local community college.

As for the medical assistant’s training, a social worker at Operation Breakthrough told me recently that she’d never seen a mom who landed a job after taking one of those pricey courses. But she’d seen plenty of women who ended up with a mountain of debt.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/bshelly.

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