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Some schools concentrate their sales drives almost exclusively in poor neighborhoods, where they foster hopes that success can be purchased on the instal
Others seek the teenage high school dropout, who is no match for the salesman's polished pitch.
"I would try to get him to believe the reason he has been such a failure lies within himself," one former salesman said in explaining his approach. "You try to degrade the kid in his own eyes. Once you've done that, you try to make him see that the school you are selling can offer him the gateway to a profitable future. He'll buy it every time."
Commissioned salesmen at some schools who are skilled in the negative sell are rewarded for lucrative enrollments with large cash bonuses or gifts such as stereos and leather chairs.
Predictably, the stock in trade of such salesmen is deception-practiced all the more effectively and forcefully in the intimacy of a prospective student's home. In such a setting, the Spotlight Team found, anything goes.
DEAD-END TRIP ON RATTLETRAP TRUCKS
On a windswept abandoned air strip in Quincy, dozens of young men sit in their cars for hours each day awaiting their turns to drive run-down tractor trailers.
They are there largely because a salesman from New England Tractor-Trailer School promised modern training equipment and individualized instruction. Instead, they sit and smoke and talk bitterly about the school.
For most, the "road to prosperity" depicted in school literature will be a dead end.
Those who eventually receive their truck drivers' licenses-and former students estimate that about half the graduates pass the license test-will likely face years of toil as delivery truck drivers or dock workers.
Only a few will become well-paid long-distance drivers.
Moreover, graduates who find jobs are likely to get them on their own, for the school's "placement service" consists of distributing names of local trucking companies to the students.
And when they enroll in the $800 four-week course, prospective students do not expect to wait up to six hours they spend behind the wheel of a decrepit, sometimes unsafe truck.
Nor do they expect to be told by their classroom teacher, Fritz Heller, that "trucking is the lyingest, cheatingest business you could ever get into, and if you're not ready to lie and cheat then don't get into it."
But these and other experiences have been described by former students of New England who are bitter and angry about the school. "They don't really give a damn about anything except the money they're pulling in," said one graduate. About a third of the students are veterans. At least one veteran, a former student is disenchanted with the Veterans Administration for allowing GI Bill benefits to be used at the school. "I thought to myself, being VA approved it must be a better school," he said. "That couldn't have been less true."
Former students also complained about the equipment and instruction at New England. While the school used some good trucks, the students said in interviews, they had driven trucks without brakes or clutches, with faulty steering, bald or flat tires, fuel leaks, broken transmissions, windows and heaters. One graduate said the brakes on a truck he had driven were so bad that one of the school's mechanics rammed it into a wall trying to drive it into a garage. "The equipment is extremely ratty," he said. "I know you can't have beautiful equipment for guys who are just learning to drive, but this equipment is terrible."
Arlan Greenberg, the school's president, conceded his school was "not perfect," but he argued that he had "no incentive" to correct its problems. "If we're going to do it, let everybody do it," he declared. "We don't mind. If we have to follow them, we'll change our ways."
Salesmen for New England, which calls itself the largest such school in the region, do not include such sobering assertions in their spiels to prospective students.
In addition, the Spotlight Team has found that the school apparently has violated state laws in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and Greenberg ap
pears to have lied to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which licenses New England.
In his tape-recorded interview with The Globe, Greenberg also made a number of demonstrably false statements and misrepresentations about the school. Three years ago Registry inspectors examined the school and found defective trucks and filthy conditions. They described the equipment as being "in very poor condition" and "in rough shape."
It still is. A list of school trucks filed last March with the Registry showed the average age of the tractors to have been 10 years, while the average of the trailers was 17 years.
During its 1970 visit, the Registry made another discovery. When inspectors asked a school teacher to produce his instructor's cerificate, which is required by law, he said he had left it at home. That was false; he did not have one. Last August the Registry conducted a second inspection of the school. This time two more men were found teaching without required certificates. "This has been a common practice," a Registry examiner concluded.
The Registry heal a hearing on the teachers, and Greenberg and scall manager Richard Grassette admitted having violated the law. They were given a warning, although the infraction could have cost the school its license.
In an interview with The Globe, Greenberg maintained that no uncertified instructor had ever taught at New England.
Greenberg intimates his school is highly profitable. One reason for its success-and one way in which it appears to violate the laws of at least two statesis its practice of collecting a $200 "nonrefundable" deposit from applicants.
Under the laws of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, school contracts must contain a specific cancellation clause permitting full refunds in certain cases where students have enrolled in their homes. Greenberg contends New England's contracts contain both the cancellation and "nonrefundable" provisions. He refused to show a copy of the contract to a Globe reporter.
In fact, it appears his salesmen have not always used such a contract. The Globe has in its files copies of contracts signed recently in the homes of students from both states, and none contains the refund-cancellation provision.
In Massachusetts the penalty for violating the cancellation law is imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to $500 or both. In New Hampshire, violations can bring a $1000 fine, one year in jail or both.
The Registry supervisor responsible for licensing tractor-trailer schools, William Mitchell, said he had been assured by Greenberg that New England's contract had been "cleared" with the attorney general's office. Greenberg repeated the claim in his interview with The Globe.
An official in the attorney general's office denied the assertion and said contracts are not cleared by the office.
Dubious claims were made by other school officials. Richard Grassette, New England's manager, in trying to enroll a Globe reporter posing as an applicant, made a number of contentions that former students strenuously disputed.
The former students were especially incensed at his claim that the institution gives each student 10-20 hours of open-road driving practice and sends information on each student to potential employers. Grassette also claimed falsely that no student who wants a license leaves the school without getting it.
A major student complaint is overcrowded conditions at New England. One former student calculated he had not received eight hours of actual instruction in more than 100 hours spent at the school.
(Such practices are not confined to New England. Vito Augusta, a salesman who worked briefly for Andover Tractor-Trailer School, assured a Globe reporter acting as an applicant that despite the "one or two Registry examiners who are really strict," 99 percent of Andover graduates pass their licensing tests. ("There are certain days we go when you get the . . . (examiners) who bend a little," Augusta said. We know what towns they go to, what days, so you'll get the good guys. You won't have any problems.")
In a sworn statement, he said instructor Fritz Heller had told his class how to "get around" U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) safety rules and also had "related personal experiences regarding such evasions."
The graduate recalled Heller telling the class not to become truck drivers unless they were ready to lie and cheat. Heller later provided him and other students with the answers to the DOT safety test while they were taking it, he said.
The former student's observations were corroborated by three other former students. Heller refused to be interviewed by The Globe about his teaching.
Greenberg was critical of state efforts to regulate truck driving schools, but he was openly disdainful of the license under which he operates New England. As he put it, “I don't think the license means anything . . . It's like a fish peddler's license. If you want to sell fish on the street you've got to have a health department license... It's the same thing.”
ABILITY TO PAY IS ONLY APTITUDE NEEDED FOR COSTLY COMPUTER COURSE
Salesman John Everson was nonchalant about the prospective student's nearfailing performance on the "qualification" test given by Electronic Computer Programming Institute (ECPI).
"Although your test doesn't show it," he calmly assured the applicant, "I'm sure you can do the work here. You've got to stop guessing."
When the applicant-actually a Globe reporter-denied he had guessed, Everson became annoyed. "Don't worry. Just listen to what I say. You can do the work."
At the Boston branch of ECPI, located above a bar in Kenmore square, aptitude tests apparently are used not to weed out untalented prospects but to enroll them. Everson's applicant, deliberately giving wrong answers, scored 54 percent on the test.
ECPI, part of a nationwide chain, offers courses in computer programming and security services costing $1850. Until two years ago it was owned by a steak house operator and his headwaiter.
To evaluate ECPI, The Globe hired Alan Taylor, a consultant with years of experience in the data-processing field. Taylor found serious deficiencies in the school, including its use of the test as "a selling tool," a practice he sharply criticized.
Taylor concluded that the school appeared to be providing a course substantially different in content than the one it advertised, and he found ECPI to be distorting the purpose of its course.
While the student is led to believe the school will train him for a career in computer programming, he noted, ECPI actually regards lower-paying computer operator jobs as successful job placement.
During a tour of the school, Taylor found serious weaknesses in its method of instruction. He observed that the computer used by ECPI had extremely limited capability for teaching students the fundamentals of computer programming.
Two ECPI officials refused to be interviewed about the school. Sidney Neely, director of the Boston school, refused even to state his own professional qualifications, while William Kalaboke, vice president of the company that owns the school, requested that questions be submitted in writing and then would not answer them.
Their reticence in understandable. Aside from its questionable educational value, the school gives its salesmen free rein in their sales techniques, which were frequently deceptive, The Globe found. Two ECPI salesmen made a series of false claims to a Globe reporter acting as a would-be student.
Everson maintained the school had placed 80 to 90 percent of its graduates in programming jobs, a claim that one knowledgeable former employee said was preposterous. The former employee estimated that no more than 10 percent of ECPI graduates get "decent jobs" in the computer field and said the school lost at least 50 percent of its students before graduation.
(By contrast, Blue Hills Regional Technical Institute, a Boston-area public school, reported that 82 percent of the 135 students who started its data processing programs over the past three years completed them, and 95 percent of the graduates were placed in jobs.)
Salesman John Stolos falsely said ECPI had "several" computers and confided, "Listen, if you can type on a Royal typewriter you can type on anything. Don't worry about the machines." In fact, ECPI has only one outmoded computer. The competitive urge at ECPI apparently leads to excesses that surpass the fanciful claims of its salesmen. Perhaps the most serious was committed by director Neely himself.
On Oct. 9, 1973, director Neely wrote to an official in the state Education Department stating that "effective immediately" his school would not be "interviewing or enrolling students in their homes," according to a copy of the letter, which is in the Spotlight Team's files.
Because of Neely's assurances, ECPI salesmen were exempted from the state licensing requirement.
Just one week after Neely's letter, a Globe reporter was enrolled in his home by Everson. The next day, Oct. 17, the newly enlisted student visited ECPI and spoke to Neely, who was told several times that the contract had been signed in the home.
The penalty for violating the licensing law is up to six months in jail, a $1000 fine or both.
One former salesman said he and his colleagues knew of the licensing law but just did not bother to obey it. At ECPI, he said, student enrollments came first and successful selling was rewarded with expensive bonuses selected from a Gold Star Coupon book. He received a stereo set, a leather chair and a movie camera for high production, he said.
The school's primary market was high school dropouts and underprivileged youths, the ex-salesman explained, and television advertising was found to be "the perfect way of getting leads."
Salesmen used the negative sell to "break down" the prospect psychologically until he believed "the only friend in the world he had was the school sales man," he said. Applicants who asked tough, probing questions about the school were hastily abandoned.
Schools like ECPI have recently focused attention on the questions of professionalism and ethics in the computer training field. "This is a major problem for our profession, and it is degrading to us," said Homer Cates, president of the Boston chapter of the Society of Certified Data Processors.
Cates was especially critical of ECPI's claims about what it can teach its students.
"It is virtually impossible for the best of MIT's students to learn this araount of instruction in a year, studying eight hours a day with use of all their machines," he asserted. "To think that an ECPI student can do it in 42 months with the use of a single Univac machine for four hours a day is simply ludicrous."
"It could be hilarious except that they are getting away with misrepresenting the course this way, and students are being misled."
MASSACHUSETTS RADIO-FALSEHOODS HELP SELL ELECTRONICS COURSE
A drawing of a rat running on a treadmill flashed on the television screen, followed by an unbeat voice: "Getting no place fast? Contact Mass. Radio and Electronics School. Join the change-of-pace people . . .”
A call to the school brought a quick response from one of the "change-of-pace people." His name was Maurice Sadur, and in a home interview with a reporter posing as an applicant he combined a tone of relaxed candor with a sale spiel filled with exaggeration and falsehood as he tried to sell a $1014 electronic technician course.
"We classify ourselves as a little MIT," he declared. Here are three of his more egregious assertions:
"We place you with a major company." (The state trade school rules prohibit such guarantees.)
"All my students pick up $50 to $100 a week doing part-time work." (This claim is contradicted by the school director.)
The school is "endorsed by the state Education Department." (This false claim is an apparent violation of the state trade school rules.)
Sadur, a Dorchester High School graduate, is the school's "top salesman,” according to Russell Heiserman, its director, who estimates Sadur enrolled about 200 of the school's 380 new students last year. There are two other sales
Public funds are a major source of Mass. Radio's income. About 35 percent of its students are veterans, whose tuition is 90 percent paid by the Veterans Administration. Moreover, the state Rehabilitation Commission sent 41 students to the school last year at a cost of $29,500.
When Sadur's applicant visited the Boston school at its second-floor 271 Huntington ave. location, the commissioned salesman warned, "You can't approach this like a college campus." It was sound advice. The front windows were filthy and several were broken. The halls and classrooms were dirty as well.
Less criticism of Mass. Radio was voiced by its graduates than by graduates of other schools about their own education. However, the school is not the "model institution" its parent company depicted in its annual report.
"I like it OK because I was older and applied myself, said Edward DeCosta of Rolindale, "but for half the kids it was a case of the school taking their money and running." DeCosta said he would have to take a cut in his current salary to get a job using what he learned at Mass. Radio.
Other students were critical of the school for accepting applicants they regarded as unqualified or unmotivated.
Apart from such criticism, Heiserman concedes he has had problems.
In an interview, he admitted two apparent violations of the state trade school law. Two instructors taught for months before their qualifications were submitted to the Education Department as required, and Heiserman "forgot" to submit his television ads, he said.
Heiserman also took six weeks to refund a deposit paid by a Globe reporter acting as a would-be student. He confessed he was unaware of the state law that requires such refunds within 10 days and carries a possible penalty of six months in jail, a $500 fine or both.
Mass. Radio's most serious problem appears to be its dropout rate of nearly two-thirds. Heiserman downplayed its importance, insisting the figure was inflated by an estimated 20 percent of enrollees who failed to appear for even the first class-one likely consequence of a high-pressure sales campaign.
HARD-NOSED SALESMAN FLOUT STATE LAWS, DECEIVE APPLICANTS AT CAREER ACADEMY
"Train for a rewarding career!" urged the quarter-page advertisement in the 1973 Boston Yellow Pages. "Exciting courses prepare you for one of the many good-income jobs available."
This appeal and others like it by Career Academy have lured hundreds of young people to the school near Kenmore square.
Only after enrolling, however, did they learn that Career-with a haphazard "placement service" and deficient curriculum and facilities-cannot deliver what it promises.
Located above a lounge and bowling alley, Career appears to have waived its students' welfare and given the run of the school to what one knowledgeable source termed "head-hunting" salesmen.
Its salesmen are masters of "the negative sell," a technique of breaking down applicants psychologically by creating anxiety and insecurity about whether the school will accept them. Among these salesmen, the Spotlight Team found, deception is canon and the negative sell veritable scripture.
Under Douglas Springmann, until recently the school's director, a hard-nosed sales force armed with Federal loans and grants was unleased on a market of high school dropouts and underprivileged youths to compete for commissions as high as $275 per student.
Moreover, Springmann hired as his "admissions director" Judith Saperia, a former Playboy Bunny with no record previous experience in the education field. About 50 new students are enrolled at Career each month, Springmann estimated, and about a third of them are members of minority groups.
The school offer resident courses in broadcasting and medical and dental assistance that cost $1700, as well as a $2300 drafting course and a $1270 correspondence course in hotel-motel management. Career's faculty, like that of many private vocational schools, has a high turnover and is paid about half what the school's salesmen earn.
In its zeal for more students, the school has flouted at least two state licensing laws designed to protect the public from unscrupulous sales practices: at one point, three unlicensed Career home salesmen were enrolling students.
Although Springmann claimed no salesmen had been guilty of "dishonest misrepresentation," Globe reporters posing as would-be students were told innumerable falsehoods by all of the Career sales representatives.
In the midst of the Spotlight Team's investigation, the hierarchy of the school resigned.
Joseph Maher, president of the Milwaukee-based chain, admitted the Boston school had "problems" and said he was pondering whether to comply with a request by The Globe for placement and dropout statistics. He provided no information.