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Orlo M. Jackson, director of management of personnel for the Federal Forest Service, criticized the school for using "misleading advertising" and said he had complained several times about it to the school without much success.
Jackson gave this characterization of North American's ads: "The stuff is right out of the 1920s-the rugged frontiersman who lives off the land and the romanticized stuff about nature and fishing and hunting. Today you need a specialized technical education to do this kind of work.
"Besides, there are not that many jobs available, period. Even on the professional level there's 300 applicants for every position."
North American doesn't see it that way.
In chatty, "howdy" letters from a man pictured in a cowboy hat, prospective students are told North American offers "the special training and skills you need . . . and the proof is in our graduates." The letter carry the picture and signature of a man who died several months ago.
Ironically, the school refuses to discuss its graduates and students, except to guess that about half finish the course and most get jobs.
However, a 1971 stock prospectus obtained by The Globe shows a stark dropout figure of 74 percent for all North American courses, which include other types of instruction.
North American's disregard for a student's job potential is illustrated by the fact it seeks employment and education information from students who sign up by mail only after they're enrolled and indebted to the school.
A Globe reporter who enrolled indicated he was an unemployed 31-year-old high school dropout who was color blind and partially paralyzed and wanted to be a forest ranger. A Federal expert said the description made "any outdoor job impossible." The school simply took the student's money and welcomed him aboard.
Despite an early contract cancellation, the reporter got nothing but increasingly hostile letters for more money-even though the school at one point was sending him the wrong person's bill and was informed about it.
In sharp contrast with the folksy letters from the dead conservationist, the school's executive vice president is the embodiment of corporate slickness. He refused to answer any questions about North American's faculty, course completion, job placement and financial structure. Most questions were in line with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommendations to students who want to "get the facts."
ADVANCE SCHOOLS-SELF-PROCLAIMED INDUSTRY SAVIOR
Advance Schools, Inc., of Chicago is the self-proclaimed savior of the homestudy industry, sitting at the right hand of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), high above the charlatans wallowing below.
"You won't find our ads in girlie magazines and matchbooks," one sales executive said. "We're in Time and US News."
Yet Advance appears to be the Elmer Gantry of the trade, using some of the dubious sales techniques and misleading claims it condemns. All of this is done under the appropriated seal of approval of the FTC.
Even as the FTC was investigating the school for possibly unscrupulous practices, one of Advance's sales managers, to the FTC's consternation, was claiming the school works "hand-in-hand" with the regulatory agency in cleaning up the industry.
In an interview with a Globe reporter posing as a would-be student, William A. Thurston, who managed a hamburger stand before joining Advance, was in high gear: "We're the so-called guys in the white hat. We're the shining example for other schools to follow. . .
"We're working with the FTC. They've got a big push on now to clean up the home study industry . . . They're using us as an example to follow because of the type of contract we have, the quality of our programs and our high graduate rate. . . The FTC and the VA and anyone else concerned with education is very much pro Advance Schools."
Herbert Ressing, director of the FTC's consumer education division, was stunned by Thurston's assertion: "What can I say? That's outrageous." He said a current FTC educational campaign was directed against "just this type of misleading claim" and he had seen "no evidence" of Advance's ballyhooed cooperation.
The school's president and founder, Sherman T. Christensen, is a man who likes to appear above the venality of politics, but, in fact, he has his own lobbyist in Washington and other powerful friends there. He is also a dominant figure in the industry's fraternal accrediting body, based in the capital.
Christensen is a friend of former US Rep. Roman Pucinski of Illinois, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1972 against Charles Percy. Christensen denied doing any more for the Pucinski campaign than buying two tickets to a dinner for "20 bucks," but Illinois records show he donated $1000 to Pucinski, (Christensen also denied making any political contributions other than at a local level, disdaining the process because of "what Watergate has shown us." But, again, records show he gave the Committee to Reelect President Nixon $1000).
Pucinski, now an alderman in Chicago, has long been an ebullient advocate of home study, calling it the "wave of the future." He has described himself as a consultant to the industry, but rejects the term "lobbyist."
In a public relations coup, Christensen was recently featured in Fortune magazine as the lone ranger of correspondence education.
"Christensen began cleaning up his own company's practices in 1967," the article states. "When he switched his salesmen (who had learned every trick in the book') from commission to salaries, 61 of 62 quit."
What Christensen did not say is that the reform is a matter of semantics. He initially claimed that his salesmen receive salary only but, under questioning, admitted they also receive substantial bonuses per sale and expense money. Christensen, 64, started the family business in 1937 and now runs a nationwide corporation that expects to take in about $40 million in sales from 21 separate courses in 1974.
He told Fortune magazine last October he was "so pleased" with an FTC pamphlet warning prospective students about unscrupulous practices that he ordered 50,000 copies for distribution to his salesmen.
Or did he?
FTC education director Ressing said: "This has not occurred yet. In fact, I just sent Christensen a little note asking why this has not occurred,"
Advance, like other large-scale correspondence schools, is highly dependent on government subsidies for its students and appears to be one of the foremost users of GI benefits.
VA records show that as of last October about one out of every seven veterans using benefits for home study across the country were students at Advance, It appears that the VA underwrites at least half of Advance's tuitions.
It is not surprising, then, that Advance was in the vanguard of an industry move to stop a reduction in GI benefits for vocational education, which dropped tuition coverage from 100 percent to 30 percent.
Advance even flew in some well-rehearsed students in 1972 to ask Congress not to make the cut, which Advance claimed would be ruinous to the industry and unfair to veterans.
One of them had his prepared statement taken away from him abruptly by an attorney for Advance, who told him to give an impromptu account. His written statement contained an admission that he had also attended a resident state-run trade school while taking Advance's 500 course in air conditioning and refrigeration.
"There's something I should tell you" the student from Fern Creek. Ky sheepishly told the Globe "I went to a trade school at the same time. It cost me $22.50 and had all the ermipment and top teachers,
"Even though Adrape Schools gives pon (equipment) kits. It doesn' Éve you everything yom Late to hate so I went to this orber shoul That's how I got my real knowledge"
Here's what he told Congress: "I corld bare gone to a trade shod and paid the minimum charge and made money to the TA), but my far the drudg it was impossible for me to go to another sávol I got $71 the help I could
possibly need from Loruz and I guess that's all I have to way.”
After assuring a prospective student that the material for a travel-agent course was prepared exclusively by the school's "experienced staff," he was shown a section of the school's textbook that matched up exactly with a section of a standard tour handbook used widely by travel agents.
Here's the play-by-play:
Q. The course material is prepared and packaged by the school itself. Correct? A. Yes, that's correct.
Q. Is the so-called travel agent's handbook used as part of the course?
A. No. Your lessons won't come from that.
Q. Are you sure of that?
Q. May I show you something? (School text and handbook material are the same.) You said no lessons would come from the handbook and here they match up perfectly. What's the difference between the $8.50 handbook and the $740 course material?
A. No difference. It's the same thing.
Murray Geberer went on to say there were many other things to learn from the course "a little history of the business, a little geography"—but ultimately conceded the handbook material, which deals with the nuts and bolts problems of booking passengers, is a "significant portion" of the course.
Lafayette Academy was formed in 1969 by some young Turks from LaSalle Extension University, with headquarters in Providence and heavy selling concentration in New York City. It now has branch offices across the country.
Stuart Bandman, the operation's prime mover, is a 37-year-old former salesman who jumped from La Salle and is now chairman of the board of a rival school that offers the usual wide array of instruction.
The move has paid off handsomely. He is paid a maximum of $75,000 in salary, has lucrative stock options, and lives in the posh bedroom community of Stamford, Conn. When the company offered its stock to the public, Bandman appears to have reaped about $300,000.
The firm's 1972 stock prospectus, under the heading of risk factors, revealed that seven out of 10 students do not finish the course. This starkly contrasts with Geberer's claim that 80-90 percent complete the courses.
Bandman, who cut short an interview when questions began to cut close to the bone of his operation, claimed 40 percent of the students graduated and 40 percent of those got jobs in the field. This means only four out of 25 who enroll get a job, according to the head man himself.
Informed that his answers were at sharp variance with claims made by one of his salesmen, Bandman ended the interview. "Let me tell you this. We are an accredited school. I refer you to the National Home Study Council. We're getting into an area where it's best that they handle these questions."
In January, the FTC cited the school in a proposed complaint containing a litany of deceptive sales and advertising practices. An FTC official said negotiations with the company could take years.
Meanwhile, it's business as usual.
LASALLE THE NATION'S LARGEST
Just about dusk on a cold, gray Saturday, Samuel Ellison knocked on a suburban door and asked the little woman if the man of the house was interested in bettering himself at LaSalle's Extension University.
Ellison arrived-without any advance notice because a reporter mailed in a request for information on a correspondence course. Instead, he got an unlicensed salesman at his door.
Contacted later by telephone, Ellison reeled off a long list of "careers" available through LaSalle Extension University, a subsidiary of MacMillan Publishing Co. The courses, ranging from bookkeeping to diesel mechanics, take in an estimated $70-$80 million a year, making LaSalle the biggest volume homestudy operation in the country.
The school retains its leading position despite the fact it nearly had its accreditation withdrawn in 1969 by the usually docile industry-sponsored National Home Study Council. (The council, which backed off when threatened with a suit by MacMillan Co., refuses to give the reasons for the censuring action.) Ellison, in an interview, made several serious misrepresentations and managed to make two false statements in answering one question.
Asked if he had a license to sell correspondence courses as required by state law, he said: "Yes, I do. All LaSalle representatives have to be licensed by the state. Even though we are salesmen, the state positions us as guidance counselors."
At the time of the statement, Ellison was unlicensed and months later, still does not hold a license, according to records of the state Department of Education. Moreover, the state does not transform salesmen into counselors, and appropriating the title runs counter to the Federal Trade Commission Act and Massachusetts consumer laws.
Pressed for an explanation of why the state had no record of his license, Ellison referred the matter to regional manager James Davies of Dedham.
The telephone interview with Davies took a bizarre twist when Ellison called him on another line and held a conversation with Davies overheard by The Globe. It went like this:
DAVIES. Mr. Ellison is in the process of being licensed.
GLOBE. There's no application on file.
DAVIES. Did he come to your house? (Other telephone rings). Excuse me.
Hi, Sam. I know. He's on the other phone now. This is hairy. The only thing we can do is, I don't know, man. See, he already checked and found you weren't licensed....
Davies went on to falsely state that Ellison only "checks out" a prospective student's "qualifications" and then turns over the student to a licensed LaSalle representative for enrollment.
Ellison, like all LaSalle salesmen, is trained in the "art" of negative selling, where students have to convince the salesmen they're good enough to give them their money.
An instructional booklet, given to salesmen and obtained by The Globe, outlines a five-step sales pitch "to take you right from the prospect's door . . . to an enrollment. It answers most of the prospect's questions before they are raised."
Success, according to company guidelines, means the applicant "has been trying to persuade you that he is qualified."
The booklet starts the salesman at the door: "Mr. last year the university enrolled only 15 percent of over 500,000 interested people. Wouldn't you be interested to see if you qualify?"
Moving into the living room, the key, according to the booklet, is to extract— by repeated questioning-a confession of dissatisfaction with the prospect's current job and standard of living. "Are you happy? . . . Is this the job you want for the rest of your life? . . ."
The climax of the negative sell is sheer gall-given the specious nature of the school's "selectivity." It's called the summary question. "Now, Mr.
can you give me one final reason why your application should be accepted?" The booklet advises the salesman to wait a minute or two for an answer if necessary.
Ellison, in the best tradition of tenacious home-study salesmen, was undeterred by the dispute over his unlicensed status, which could bring a fine of up to $1,000. Contacted the very next day by a second Globe reporter, he snapped at the chance for a sale. "You called the right person. Now what's your address?" He did not even blink when the prospect capriciously changed his mind at the outset and decided that he'd rather be a lawyer than an accountant. It only disturbed him when he was later questioned about his license.
In a classic oration, Ellison made multiple misrepresentations about LaSalle's four-year law course. They all paled before one overshadowing fact: the course, according to company policy, cannot be offered in Massachusetts or any other state except California, which allows some correspondence students studying law to take its bar exam.
To do otherwise is viewed as misrepresentation by LaSalle itself, according to its corporate general counsel.
Ellison, after enrolling the second reporter, was again questioned about his license. He went on the offensive this time, questioning the student's “whimsical lifestyle." He ultimately informed the school the prospect had decided not to take the course.
GLOBE. Now that I've signed a contract and asked about your license, you don't think I have the right motivation?
ELLISON. My not being licensed doesn't have anything to do with that. I'm simply asking you-do you really know what you want to be in life?
(Ellison later was fired for "breaking company regulations" that his superior, regional manager Davies, apparently knew about all along. Davies falsely told one applicant that Ellison was licensed.)
One former LaSalle salesman told The Globe he quit the firm largely because he didn't like what he was becoming. Even his friends said his personality was changing.
Lawrence Kiggins of Newburyport said: "My job was just a big con game.” He was broken in by a salesman who told him to use whatever works. So, Kiggins began introducing himself as "Prof. Kiggins of La Salle University." "Actually," he said, "I was taught to be nasty. By being so aggressive you'd overpower some people. You'd force your way into their home, and I was doing things I didn't think I was capable of...
"I was degrading people. I was told by my friends that I was changing. By being so overbearing and gruff, it changed me as a person.
A MacMillan Co. spokesman refused to allow the Globe to interview the head of the Chicago-based LaSalle on the telephone "because nobody likes that."
In a written response, Warren B. Smith, president of LaSalle, ignored or only partially answered most of 18 questions. He also failed to substantiate several advertising claims and made at least three apparent misrepresentations of fact, concerning sales quotas for representatives, the total number of LaSalle salesmen and the use of salary figures in advertisements.
[From the Boston Evening Globe, Mar. 28, 1974]
CAREER SCHOOLS BULLY STUDENTS TO ENROLL
NOTE. This is the fourth installment in a series by the Globe Spotlight Team on the profit-making vocational education industry. Today's article examines three resident training schools in Massachusetts.)
Brushing up on his lines like an actor before his entrance, business school salesman Charles Ahern mumbled to himself in preparation for the interview. Suddenly Ahern stared sternly at the uncomfortable applicant seated across the kitchen table from him. "Why doesn't she care about you?" he demanded scornfully.
"Why doesn't who care?"
"Your wife. Where is your wife? If she doesn't care about your future, why should I?"
The question, which the prospective student thought both presumptuous and irrelevant, had its purpose. It was part of a potent sales technique known as "the negative sell." Employed by high-pressure salesmen, it puts the applicant on the defensive, debases him and evokes a groundless fear of rejection by the school.
Yet the Spotlight Team found the negative sell to be but one of many practices that lead past and present students, teachers, and school officials to speak of the profit-making, or proprietary trade school industry with bitterness describing it as an unregulated shell game in which the only loser is the student.
An estimated 150 proprietary schools operate in Massachusetts-and some 10,000 nationwide-selling courses that purport to teach everything from tractortrailer driving to fashion merchandising, repairing televisions to assisting physicians. They cost from $500 to $4000 and last anywhere from four weeks to two years.
During The Globe's investigation of these schools in Massachusetts, Spotlight Team reporters posing as prospective students observed flagrant and repeated flouting of the law, both by salesmen and by school administrators.
The most frequently violated law was the Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive practices. Among salesmen of profitmaking vocational schools in Massachusetts, such techniques appear rampant.
Sampled schools were also found in apparent violation of state laws and rules regulating advertising, refunds to students, the licensing of salesmen and state approval of teachers. The laws carry criminal penalties.
In addition, several schools were found to have misrepresented the training they offered, which had little practical value, high dropout rates and dismal placement records.
Many schools exist, The Globe found, by virtue of expensive, high-powered marketing campaigns and systematic exploitation of Federal grant and loan programs created to help veterans and underprivileged youth.