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His reluctance was understandable, for Career has a dismal record in the one facet of vocational education that matters most-job placement.
A former instructor in Career's broadcasting course in Boston said that of the 300 to 400 students he has taught, he could think of only four graduates who held jobs with a future.
Another knowledgeable former employee told The Globe that a recent survey by Career had disclosed that about 70 percent of graduates of the school's medical and dental assistant courses and about 95 percent of broadcasting graduates had not found employment.
Somber facts like these are seldom divulged in a Career salesman's spiel. On the contrary, favorable statistics are often invented.
Salesman Agammenon Topoulos told one applicant Career had a 15 percent dropout rate and found jobs for 85 percent of its broadcasting students and 100 percent of its medical and dental students.
Salesman Charles Ahern claimed all but one of the last broadcasting graduating class had gotten jobs, and "we could have gotten the last fellow a job, but he wanted to work in just one city."
(Ahern, who was unlicensed, later enrolled a Globe reporter in the broadcasting course in apparent violation of a law carrying a penalty of up to six months in jail, a $1000 fine or both. He subsequently resigned.)
Such assertions might be dismissed as predictably hyperbolic salesmanship were it not for their effectiveness in enrolling young men and women-especially the deprived—with little chance to succeed in the fields they study.
"They were really poor souls who had been taken advantage of," said G. Michael McKay, one of Career's few successful broadcasting students.
"They fooled around with the equipment, listened to tapes and records and took pictures of each other on the tape machine, but you knew they weren't going anywhere," McKay said. "They would never find a job. I don't know why the school ever accepted them. But I guess there's no law against trading on people's dreams."
Abuses in selling the broadcast course have been manifold. A former instructor said he had a student with a harelip and a lisp whose voice never fell below a high, squeaky pitch. One salesman even enrolled a woman student who could neither read nor write, and she was taken out of the class only because the teacher threatened to quit, the former instructor said.
This "turn no one down" policy was followed with a Globe reporter who applied at Career. The reporter, however, brought to his "audition" a professional broadcaster whom he introduced as his friend.
After reading three short paragraphs into a microphone, the reporter received a nod from Robert Patterson, a broadcasting teacher later elevated to acting administrator of the school.
"I could tell you knew how to speak from looking at you," Patterson remarked, "but I had no idea you were going to be that good." The reporter's "friend" was less enthusiastic. "You were terrible," he said, adding that even with training the reporter had little future in broadcasting.
The school's medical and dental assistant courses have little more to commend them than the broadcasting course.
The dental course is not accredited by the American Dental Assn.-a signifi cant liability for graduates-and Springmann admitted he did not know whether accreditation was important.
Besides being unaccredited, the courses are extremely expensive, costing $1693. By contrast, regional public schools offer the same courses free to area residents and at nominal cost to outside students. Even local private nonprofit schools are considerably cheaper.
While Career refused to provide placement and completion statistics, nearby Quincy Vocational-Technical School gladly disclosed its record. Of 55 students who began the dental assistant course in the past three years, 51 finished and 50 were placed in jobs, the school reported.
One former Career teacher attributed his school's dismal record to three factors: Springmann's insistence on admitting anyone from whom a salesman could extract a check, a badly organized curriculum and infrequent placement service.
Mary Staton of Dorchester, a medical graduate, is angry about her experience at the school. Before enrolling, she said, a salesman extolled Career's "placement" service.
"They told me there was no sense spending all those years studying to be a nurse when I could get a good paying job as a medical assistant, and they
would find me a job," she said. "What lies. I spent $1200 of my hard-earned money on that course and got nothing out of it." She is still looking for a job as a medical assistant.
Even some salesmen are disgusted by what they do for a living. A former salesman for Career and other schools told The Globe: "To be a salesman at these schools you need a rugged conscience. You've got to dangle that dream in front of those kids, knowing full well that it's a hopeless dream, and seldom have a second thought about what you are doing."
Salesman Agammenon Topoulos, one of Career's top sellers, personifies this philosophy.
In a home interview with a Globe reporter posing as an applicant for a drafting course, Topoulos made these false assertions: Career sends each graduate on four or five job interviews; Topoulos himself was a salaried "associate manager" of Career; and the school's "enrollment application" was not a contract.
In reality, the school did not routinely arrange one-let alone four-job interviews; Topoulos is a commissioned salesman; and the "application" can legally bind the student.
Topoulos falsely claimed to be licensed. Admissions Director William Taylor, asked whether Topoulos was licensed, took the offensive: "I don't think it's really important as far as your career is concerned, is it?" (Taylor later resigned.)
Besides working for Career itself, salesmen also sign up students in mailorder courses offered by a subsidiary. Robert Burns, a portly, middle-aged salesman who improperly identified himself as an "education counselor," enrolled in a correspondence course a Globe reporter acting as a would-be student.
Burns, also unlicensed at the time in apparent violation of state law, engaged in the traditional Career charade outlined in a "confidential qualification form" that comprises the heart of the school's negative sell. The Spotlight Team has obtained a copy of the form, which includes the following questions and parenthetical notations to salesmen :
"Were you using the crutch of procrastination and future plans as an excuse for doing nothing until now? . . . Also a lack of self-confidence? (If yes, selfconfidence must be given at this point to prospect) . . . Do you want to remain a dreamer or do you want to become a doer?.
Salesmen were not the only Career personnel found to have committed apparent violations of law. In a tape-recorded interview, Springmann admitted he had violated the legal requirement that the school's advertising be approved before it was used.
"I confess I have not done that," he told The Globe. "I know its a violation." The school itself consists of one upstairs floor at 70 Brookline av., Boston, paneled almost entirely in imitation wood wallboard and decorated with in-house "awards" to previous classes.
Plaques on the office wall recently identified the school as a member of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. In reality, Career belonged to neither organization. It's membership in the BBB expired in 1969, and its Chamber membership ended in 1971.
In this setting, a Globe reporter who had enrolled earlier was escorted by Ahearn on a grand tour of Career.
Putting a final deceptive touch on the transaction, Ahearn stopped at a drawing of a building that hung in the corridor. Informing the student that the sketch depicted Career's planned new school in Boston, Ahearn pointed proudly to a window at the top of the building. "That's were my office will be,” he explained. Springmann said later that the sketch was merely a drawing by a Career drafting student. Apprised of what his salesman had said, he just shook his head and murmured, "Oh no. Please, no."
[From the Boston Globe, Mar. 30, 1974]
INSIDER SAYS BELL & HOWELL USES ITS NAME TO "HUNT" STUDENTS
(Anyone can sell with our leads and our deal. It's the best around and those here for a free ride will soon have an awakening.-Bell & Howell bulletin to a salesman.)
A rare inside view of one of the largest big-name correspondence schools in the country reveals it to be a fast-buck operation with little regard for its students.
A former regional manager of the nation's second largest seller of home-study education-Bell & Howell-claims the school bullies its sales force and gives its students short shrift, with the "annual revenue figure the only thing that counts."
For several months in 1973, Wallace C. Ralston was responsible for overseeing a network of 15 salesmen in New York and New Jersey and was intimately familiar with the New England district, which brings in "a minimum of $4.3 million a year"-making it one of the top sales areas in the firm.
Ralston rose to the managerial level with Bell & Howell despite a tainted background that the company apparently knew about when it put him at the helm of one of its sales regions.
About three years before he was hired, Ralston was arrested in Saigon carrying the seafaring papers of a dead man. Federal agents were waiting in San Francisco to interrogate him about a stolen stock scheme that involved some underworld figures.
Once a well-to-do insurance executive, Ralston returned home a penniless soldier of fortune.
Ralston eventually turned state's evidence and received suspended sentences for charges of receiving stolen goods. He had been "duped" by the pros, according to himself and the prosecution.
He tried to get back into the job market in 1971. It was not easy. "I tried everything to get work. The only industry open was home study. I hated selling, but I had no choice."
He started as a salesman for the Famous Artist Schools, but within two years held executive positions with the International Correspondence Schools of Bell & Howell.
Ralston was appointed regional manager for Bell & Howell in 1973-about one week after pleading guilty in Suffolk County for his part in the stock case. A company executive confirmed Bell & Howell "cleared" Ralston for employment after his background was checked.
Ralston said Bell & Howell is one of the "big three" in the industry with course sales of at least $63 million a year.
Ralston's experiences offer an incisive view of how a big name in the correspondence industry operates.
"The major schools all use a fairly standard sales approach that boils down to this: the prospect is put in a position where he has to convince the school he's qualified and then perhaps he'll be recommended for acceptance. It's a farce. Just about everyone who's willing to buy can qualify," he said.
"Bell & Howell has the added dimension of having a well known name which it uses to the hilt. It tries to disassociate itself from being just another school and make you think it's like dealing with General Motors or something."
Bell & Howell's admitted "bestseller" is a $1595 course known as home entertainment electronics; Ralston calls it the "free TV gimmick" where salesmen seek out former servicemen who are willing to use their GI bill benefits to "buy" a 25-inch color television set that costs Bell & Howell less than $500. It retails for about $650.
Ralston claims the sales force is directed to look for prospects who are on what the trade terms the "mooch list-those veterans who will buy anything as long as the government is paying."
While the Veteran's Administration, by law, allows payment only for vocational courses that can lead to employment or job advancement, the requirement is flouted throughout the industry. One Bell & Howell executive admitted that a substantial number of veterans take the courses as a hobby or "up-dater." The school's manual exhorts salesmen to develop their own lucrative veteran leads by checking draft boards for recently discharged men and purchase names "at a reasonable price" from local American Legion and Veteran of Foreign War posts.
Ralston's contention that the "free TV" sells the home entertainment electronics course was borne out in an interview with Bell & Howell salesman Joseph Sigwarth of Marshfield.
A Globe reporter, posing as a prospective student, described himself as a veteran who was definitely "not interested in becoming a repairman. I'd just like to get the color TV."
Sigwarth, who is also licensed to sell for one of Bell & Howell's competitors, responded: "I understand."
Q. I don't want to use it for anything. I just want the TV.
Q. You don't think I'll have any trouble with the VA on this? I mean I'm not training for anything.
A. That's no problem. There's lots of people that take training just for personal benefit.
The Bell & Howell name, the prospect's natural desire to appear assertive and the fear of rejection combine into a potent selling tool that earns some salesmen more than $50,000 a year.
The irony is that anyone willing to buy is nearly always accepted. Ralston said immigrants speaking broken English were enrolled in fairly sophisticated electronic courses. One of them, a Filipino living in Somerville, said: "I paid $200 and wanted my money back. I wrote a letter but instead school says I owe more... They took advantage of me because I am not from this country. I was in a hurry to learn so I try this."
The Bell & Howell manual states: "Almost invariably, the prospective students who contact us requesting information . . . can qualify for at least one of the programs." Indeed, the TV course, which accounted for eight out of every 10 sales in 1973, requires but an eighth-grade education.
In a signed statement, Ralston disputes the school's claim of excellence. Based on documents or discussions with sales executives, he claims:
Only 12 percent of those who enrolled in Bell & Howell courses actually graduated.
The school division is knowingly lax in licensing salesmen and frequently lets them sell courses during a trial period before paying fees to register them in states, like Massachusetts, that require licensing.
Salesmen are discouraged from having detailed knowledge of course content, but rather are briefed mainly in answering questions that resist a sale.
Some high-powered salesmen use a so-called "bird-dog" network in which persons in technical industries provide names of prospects and receive about $25 per enrollment. This appears to circumvent the licensing requirement in Massachusetts.
Ralston said pressure from the Chicago-based operation for increased productivity and blind acquiescence to company policy was unremitting.
At a meeting of regional managers last year, Ralston said, blank resignation forms were distributed to be signed at any point the manager disagreed with announced policy.
Another memorandum, from Stuart Cohen, vice president in charge of sales, ordered salesmen to work through last Labor Day weekend or be cashiered.
The salesmen were directed to sell 20 courses a month-with at least one third from self-developed leads. Failure, it was strongly implied, could result in dismissal.
Such tactics result in a staggering personnel turnover. Cohen admits that at least half of Bell & Howell's sales force change jobs each year, but contended "the rest of the industry has a 100 percent turnover every year."
Cohen, the man in charge of sales output, professed to have no knowledge of specific facts that vitally affect his volume. "That's for student services . That's a field question . . . Our accountant would know . . ." He denied all of Ralston's allegations and even claimed that Bell & Howell did not use the negative sell "because there is nothing negative about our product."
Cohen erroneously claimed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cleared the operation last year after Bell & Howell made some "minor adjustments." The FTC, according to Consumer Education Division Director Herbert Ressing, is still investigating the company.
While Cohen maintains Bell & Howell takes a highly sophisticated approach with its sales force, he frequently uses banal selling contests as production incentives.
Last May, he offered what amounted to normal traveling expenses for most salesmen as prizes.
"There are three treasure chests buried in your region," he wrote, referring to varying amounts of free gasoline, tires and auto insurance.
"Here's a modern day's buccanneer's bounty that you certainly should dig. . . . Swing your treasure-hunt to E (for enrollments) . . . Good hunting." It was signed Stu "Captain Kidd" Cohen.
George P. Doherty, president of Bell & Howell schools and corporate vice president, was asked for the specific date Cohen declined to provide. Doherty claimed a 45 percent completion rate and a 70 percent job placement rate. (He later said only half the graduates get jobs.)
Asked to document his assertions, Doherty said, "I don't know how to document that. I've never been asked to before. . . .
"But let me tell you a couple of things about home study. Most are already employed and they're not high school graduates. The need for placement is not high. Most take the course for an update in the field...."
Ralston has a radically different perspective on the industry. "It's a real whore business. The salesmen and executives move from one similar firm to another like nomads. The salesmen don't know or care about what they are selling and executives only talk about quotas. That's education?"
Ralston has now "burned his bridges" in a business he claims "sells education like vacuum cleaners to people who can't use it and can't afford it."
At 48, he's taking courses at a state college and hopes to become a social worker. "There's got to be something better than I've known," he said.
TAKE YOUR TIME BEFORE YOU SIGN
Prospective vocational students can protect themselves from bitter experiences by taking a few precautions in selecting a school. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Consider public vocational schools in your field. You can get names from the state Education Department.
Shop around for a school. Don't sign up with the first school salesman who comes to your door.
Be wary of salesmen who are paid by commission. Some will say anything to get you to enroll.
Beware of these sales tricks: binding contracts disguised as "enrollment applications," rosy pictures of employment opportunities and pressure to convince the school "you are good enough for us to accept."
Demand written and signed evidence of completion and placement figures from any school you are seriously interested in. Keep a signed copy-it could help you prove misrepresentation, if need be.
Visit the school, sit in class, talk to your future teacher, and some current students.
Demand names and phone numbers of some recent graduates in your field and some dropouts, and call a few of them for their opinions of the school.
Look in the Yellow Pages for names of employers in your field and call a few for their opinions of the school.
Don't be persuaded by the fact that a school has a "placement service." You may find later that means nothing.
Don't be persuaded by the fact a school is "accredited" or "licensed." This often means little.
File any serious complaint about a school with the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division; licensing officials at the State Education Department or (for driving schools) the Registry of Motor Vehicles; the regional office of the Federal Trade Commission; the Better Business Bureau; and any professional group in the field of your school. Prod them to act.
THE THINGS THEY SAY TO MAKE A BUCK
The Globe Spotlight Team interviewed more than 100 school salesmen or executives during its four-month probe of vocational education.
Their sales chatter is replete with the nonsequiturs and inanities of anxious men determined to sell you something or defend themselves, even if it means resorting to doubletalk.
In the interviews that follow, the executives were questioned by The Globe and the salesmen were talking to reporters posing as prospective students. Douglass Springmann, former director of Career Academy in Boston:
Asked about misrepresentation by his sales force, Springmann said, "I'm not the person to talk to on this."
Globe. Who is?
A. William Taylor.
Q. Well, when can we talk to him?
A. You can't. He's no longer with us.