LA TIMES: Is Corinthian typical of the for-profit college industry?

Career College Central Summary:

  • Corinthian Colleges Inc. was once one of the nation's largest for-profit college chains, enrolling tens of thousands of students in career programs as the recession displaced millions of workers.
  • Now the Santa Ana company is almost out of business. On Sunday, Corinthian announced that it would close more than two dozen of its remaining schools, leaving 16,000 students scrambling for alternatives.
  • Corinthian's downfall came after the U.S. Department of Education began investigating whether Corinthian had falsified job placement rates, which it used to recruit students. The chain's collapse was set in motion last summer, when federal education officials cut off Corinthian's access to student loans, crippling the company's cash flow.
  • On Monday, The Times sat down with Ted Mitchell, the Education Department's undersecretary, who oversaw most of the Corinthian investigation.
  • Let's start at the beginning. Bad news has been spilling out about the for-profit college industry for years. What made your department focus on Corinthian?

    • The Corinthian problem really started out as a data problem. We'd heard all of this stuff bubbling up, and we wanted to develop systematic evidence, one way or another, to either support their claim — or to support the claims of students and graduates, who were saying they weren't getting what they thought they were getting. So we worked to collect data specifically on placement rates, and later on grades and attendance. We found that Corinthian couldn't produce the documents that we needed, and so we went back and forth with them for a number of months about our demands to actually get the information.
  • Did they just not provide anything, or did they not provide what you were looking for?

    • A little of both. At first they weren't providing information and said they couldn't find it. Then they would provide information that wasn't responsive. So it was at that point that we decided we needed to press the case. We put them on heightened cash monitoring, in order both to get better responses to our data requests, and to signal our level of concern over their operations.
  • Is Corinthian an isolated bad actor, or are there systemic problems in the for-profit college industry?

    • As we look at the potential impact of our [new] regulations, the modeling we're doing suggests there are hundreds of programs that will fail to demonstrate that they have provided students with opportunities to improve their economic circumstances. The department will continue to be very aggressive in making sure that career colleges live up to what they say they're going to do for students.

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