This is the story of a system failing, but it is also the story of a man failing to fulfill his moral obligation, a man who let the system chew up students and spit them out $30,000 in debt, with little hope of decent employment or having transcripts accepted anywhere. It is the story of an educational empire built off students mortgaging their future.
On a minor scale, this is my story and how I acquiesced to a system and failed to do the right thing.
On a broader level, looking back, I can understand how ENRONs happen, how people do not step forward when they should, when they must.
In my case, very little was at stake, a few hundred a week, bad health insurance and a whiff of respect. What would I have done, if millions of dollars were at stake, if I were the CEO of a major corporation ?
If I had little to lose, the students had everything to lose. I could have stepped forward to stop years of pain and financial hardship for the students.
But I didn’t.
Perhaps what keeps me staring at the wall at 3 in the morning, is the question that begs for an answer – what does it take for a good man to step forward and do the right thing? In today’s society, is it too easy for any of us to sell out for a hint of security ?
And on another level, what I am about to relate, makes you worry about the proliferation of “for profit” educational institutions. It makes you worry about colleges that exist to “make a buck.”
Because when you exist to turn a profit, does the student become just a customer, does education become just a commodity, is the student shoved aside for profit margins and the bottom line? I suspect the answer is yes.
I have chatted with the owners of “for profit”” colleges and rarely do they discuss the quality of education. Rather they are fixated on enrollment numbers and profit margins.
And education does suffer. To achieve your financial goals, you reduce salaries, student facilities and maximize the money you spend on marketing, television and internet ads, all designed to keep students coming through the tills, paying tuition, keeping the quarterly returns high and the education level low.
If possible, you push as many students as you can to “on-line” classes and get rid of building and maintenance and lab expenses.
In short, low overhead is designed not to help students, but economic performance.
“If you look at career colleges, they’re renting space in a strip mail and running bare-bones operations,” said Gary Meers, professor of career and technical education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
But enough of this philosophical dribble, this wallowing in “woe is me”. Let’s move onto the main fight card.
The main event is about students getting ripped off for $20,000 to $30,000, earning credits that transfer nowhere, program heads that lied to accreditation committees, students warned not to talk to accreditation committees and instructors ( I admit I was one) who were totally unaccredited to teach. It is also about businessmen financing educational empires off of student loans.
I am highlighting my experience at the Minnesota School of Business, a “career college”, but I suspects the sins I am about to reveal, exist at numerous other “for-profit” institutions.
First, a true scenario. And it happens time after time and not a damn thing is being done about it. A student attends the Minnesota School of Business. Receives an AA in Business Administration. Spends $20,000 to $30,000 earning a two year degree. And then finds out that he cannot transfer anywhere.
“I applied to the University of Minnesota,” says Ryan Ihrke, a recent graduate of MSB, “and they told me my degree was worthless. Not one credit transferred.
“So, I am in debt and am beginning all over at the University of Minnesota.”
“I gave up applying to colleges, no one will accept my transcripts,” says Jocelyn Schnell, another former student. ” My mother is so mad that when a MSB commercial comes on television, she yells at the television.”
Another student fumes, “Credits don’t transfer at all. I talked to one girl who was promised a computer lab that was critical to her graduating. They never got it, never got it.
“So she quit. She tried to transfer her credits to Hennepin Tech where they had the lab she needed and she was told that none of her credits would transfer. She had to decide to go deeper in debt at MSB or start over and go into debt at a real school where credits transferred.”
“I was told that colleges would accept my AA degree, ” another student says. ” “But colleges accept an Associate of Arts degree, not an Associates of Science Degree. The admissions rep just say AA degree, AA degree and never tell you the difference.”
“I was a kid just out of high school”, says Ihrke, ” and my parents never went to college. They sold us a bill of goods and we thought a college was a college. We had no idea that college credits would not transfer.”
“Maybe what they do is legal, but it sure isn’t ethical”, says Ihrke.
Where does the blame lie?
Not with the University of Minnesota.
“We have never told anyone that we accept credits from the Minnesota School of Business, says Paula Brugge, associate director of admissions at the university. ” “Students at MSB are taking courses that are not applicable to a degree at any University of Minnesota campus.”
And it appears that the University of Minnesota is not alone in enforcing this policy.
“I wanted to stay in the Twin Cities, ” says another student, ” I had no choice, I work 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart and I called the U of M, Corncordia, Hamlin and Augsburg. Not one college accepted my credits.”
As one student succinctly put it, ” My admission officer lied to me worse than my Navy Recruiter”.
But do MSB recruiters lie? Do they intentionally sell students two years of a business administration degree that leads nowhere ?
The answer appears to be yes. I sent a recent high school graduate to the MSB admission office who bravely listened to two hours of the song and dance they give perspective students. Then my undercover student asked the key question.
He said ” I want to go to Normandale Commmunity College or the University of Minnesota later. Will my credits transfer? ”
The answer he received was confusing at best. Instead of a straight- forward honest NO – he heard, ” They don’t all transfer at once, but then they transfer in bunches.”
After the student reported back to me, I called the Admission officer back and directly asked , ” Do the credits transfer to Normandale or the U of M.”
The answer was “Absolutely’.
This had to be a mistake. I asked again.
Again the answer was, “Absolutely, with no problem.”
Gee, great – where can I sign up and give you $25,000 for lying to me?
This small breach in MSB’s ethics collectively costs students millions of dollars.. And the stories continue to be heart breaking.
A single mother told me, “I wanted to get out of poverty, wanted to be something, someone. I fell for their TV commercial and two years later I have an AA degree in Business Administration, with credits that won’t transfer anywhere.
“The worse part, they drove me deeper into poverty. I now owe $30,000 in student loans and am applying for jobs at Walmart and Walgreens, jobs I could have gotten without the degree.
“And I still struggle to feed my kid.”
Yet, the owner of Minnesota School of Business has no trouble feeding his kids.
A note of explanation here, for this article, I did want to hear MSB’s side of the story. I called them, but they wouldn’t return phone calls. I emailed them a specific list of questions. Again, no response.
One question I asked – “What was the average debt a student had after two years of attending the school? “
It wasn’t hard to figure out. I interviewed over 20 students, all whose transcripts had been rejected by college after college. And each student was $20,000 to $25,000 in debt. And every one of them had to start all over at a new college.
As one student put it, “Credits are $350 apiece at MSB. The same credit is $65 at Normandale or MCTD. And the $65 credit transfers. I figured it would cost me an additional $60,000 if I wanted to finish my Bachelors at MSB.
“This sucks, I wish I had never started at MSB.”
But student debt is good for the owner of the Minnesota School of Business, Terry Myhre. He realized early that he could finance an educational empire off the back of students. They took out the loans, they had to pay them back and this gave him a source of interest-free loans.
So with the help of student contributions, i.e. student loans that he was not responsible for paying back, Myhre built an educational empire including MSB, Globe College, Duluth Business University, Minnesota School of Technology, Utah Career College and several other educational institutions.
And while students struggle with credits that do not transfer and paying off 20 -30,000 in loans, according to the magazine Minnesota Business , Myhre’s empire is geared to rake in $140 million by 2008.
Of course some of Terry’s profits go back into marketing his schools. They help to print MSB glossy brochures that proclaim ” Students learn skills that are in high demand by employersÃ¢Â?Â¦”
However, student after student spins the same story. They took a career development class at the end of their stint at MSB. And, after paying $1,000 for the class, they were advised to cold-call WalMart and other retail stores.
As one student put it, ” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out I could have applied for these jobs without spending $23,000 at MSB.”
And I feel worse for the Music Business majors I had in class. I should have stepped forward and said – Hey, This is Minneapolis. You want to be in music, move to Nashville, Los Angeles, New York.
But I didn’t. And a former music business major said to me the other day, ” Not one, not one person, I graduated with, even got a job in music.”
I could have predicted that. Yet I brought into the conspiracy of silence that their degree would help their lives, help them fulfill their dreams. But hey, it wasn’t “my job” to discourage students.
But if you look long enough, you can find the truth. It is buried on the MSB website.
A prospective student must go to the MSB homepage, click on About Us, click on Accreditation and then have the sense to click on Licenses, something few students would have the time or patience for.
Click on licenses, you find this terse paragraph, vaguely worded about credits transferring anywhere.
“Minnesota School of Business and Globe College are licensed as private career schools with the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Licensure is not an endorsement of the institution. Credits earned at the institution may not transfer to all other institutions. The educational programs may not meet the needs of every student or employer.”
May not transfer? May not meet the needs of an employer?
MSB knows this all too well and is used to treading on shaky legal ground. In fact many students, unwittingly, signed arbitration agreements with MSB when initially registering as students. It doesn’t quite match a warm handshake and a hearty “welcome to college” as a greeting, but from the first day that a student signs up, MSB puts in legal roadblocks to protect itself, when upset students threaten lawsuits.
However in a perverted way, it is good for MSB that courses do not transfer. In fact, it is an example of marketing brillance.
You invest two years and $25,000 in courses that transfer nowhere. You want a Bachelor’s Degree. You guessed it, you can stay at MSB, go further in debt and earn a Bachelor’s Degree there.
It is the old “keep the suckers coming back” version of marketing.
Now, let’s say you earn your Bachelor’s Degree at MSB. And you want an MBA. Except your courses do not transfer and you cannot enter any MBA program. But if you turn in a circle three times and click your heels together, magical things happen. That’s right, although no other university will accept your credits, you can earn an MBA degree online from MSB.
Students, not as well versed in marketing as the experts at MSB , are slowly get ripped off.
Sadly, this philosophy of “money is king” permeated the entire academic structure of MSB. I often had students in my class that quite frankly, if they were in high school, would be receiving free special education help. But at MSB, when a student struggled with a class, no such help was forthcoming. But MSB was glad to line struggling students up with a tutor for $8 an hour.
And it was this “money is king” attitude that made me feel like standing in front of a class and screaming. “Run, run now as fast as you can, from this classroom, from this place before you end up owing $30,000.”
In a half-assed way, I tried; during a class, I would ask students ” Do you know if your credits transfer to a regular college.”
They all said , “Yes”.
I would say,” No, they don’t”.
Then, students would call St. Thomas, or the University of Minnesota, or a local community college. Next day, they would drag in, and say, ” You’re right. No one takes these credits.”
And finally, the last two quarters I was at MSB, I asked every single class , every single student if they knew their credits did not transfer. I asked over 800 students and not one suspected their courses would never transfer.
And the longer I did nothing, how many students a semester were getting screwed.? How much did my failure of conscience cost students?
I made weak attempts. I talked with the Dean of Faculty, with the Head of the Business Programs. I sat in their offices, said I was “bothered” that we were offering students courses that transferred nowhere. We merely left them dangling at the end of a $30,000 thread with no prospects of a decent job to pay their massive student loans.
I should have persisted. Kept digging, kept pestering. But every conversation with anyone in any position of authority ended with “We are working on getting courses accredited for transfer.”
In my over three years at MSB, that became the standard answer and I accepted it. Yet, while they “were working on it”, they had no problem charging students over $300 a credit hour for courses that would not transfer.
All it takes is enough good men to do nothing Ã¢Â?Â¦.
But I digress. Let’s look again at why students are stuck with courses that don’t transfer.
Brugge, with the University of Minnesota, pinpointed another reason why MSB credits don’t transfer. MSB courses are being taught by unaccredited faculty
I was one of those faculty
I should have suspected that something was amiss, when Minnesota School of Business hired me to teach math, but I have no college math credits and I last took a math class in high school over 30 years ago. And, barely passed it.
Yet, there I was, teaching class after class of Fundamental Math, at not one campus, but several.
It got worse. I taught Interpersonal Relations . This was frightening as I only took one psychology course in college and earned a D in it.
And then , all of a sudden, I was teaching Business! I was multi-talented. Quarter after quarter, I taught Marketing, Small Business Management, Introduction to Business, Advertising, Consumer Behavior, Strategic Marketing – heck I was a second Donald Trump. I taught a vast array of business courses.
You guessed it. I had no academic training in business. No MBA. I took two basic business courses in college and bailed out as soon as I could. It was amazing that I could teach such a variety of courses with an MFA in creative writing.
I even went to the Dean of Faculty. Gave her a copy of one of my books. How to Write a Damn Good Speech. I said ” Hey, I was a corporate speechwriter. I have written books on business communication. I can teach communications.”
But that’s not how the system worked. They had a lawyer teaching business math, they had me teaching Math and Business, they had women with degrees in poetry teaching Business Communications. It got worse, students checked the Biology’s instructor credentials. She had no college degree and certainly no graduate degree in biology.
Yet programs at MSB kept getting accredited.
How? An ex-employee confessed to me. “It was blatant. I lied my head off to the accrediting committee.”
And apparently, students are warned away from talking to the accreditation committees.
“The accreditation people came at the beginning of the quarter”, a student remembers. “Linda F. was on a mission the week before!!! She came into our class and talked to us like we were a bunch of retards. She tried to make sure that if we had any issues with the school that we wouldn’t talk to the accreditation people. She fed us the biggest load of BS I have ever seen at that school. “
And the lies apparently were told to students and the accreditation committees.
Another ex-employee said, “We told students and the accreditation committee there would be a full-fledged Vet Tech program at the MSB Richfield Campus. We knew there never would be.
“We knew that was a lie. In fact, Richfield does not even offer a Vet Tech program anymore.”
Unaccredited teachers, credits that don’t transfer, students mired in debt, accreditation committees and students lied to, prospective students lied to. And meanwhile, Terry Myhre merrily builds a financial empire off the back of students and the loans they get stuck with.
What was I thinking ? Why would I participate in that? Yet, I did.
It is all very sad when you consider MSB’s slogan. Bright futures start here. If only they did.