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"Most of it releases creative energy," she said. "Quite often they have a message they're trying to get out, and it does satisfy something within them." Q. The school's biographical sketch of you says you work there because “the course is outstanding." Is that true?
A. Sure. It's outstanding because I guess it's the only one. So there you are. Can't catch me on that one.
COMMERCIAL TRADES INSTITUTE, CHICAGO
Bold black letters in the brochure tell you that you can do it yourself; You Can Build Your Own House.
The course conjures up a picture of mailmen across the country staggering along city blocks and pastoral lanes, buckling under a load of bricks and twoby-fours.
Well, not quite. But let Bruce Troob, a salesman for Commercial Trades Institute (CTI) explain how it works. "The course enables you to become a contractual estimator." In short, you receive a batch of blueprints and the course tells what kind of subcontractors you need to do the work.
Although the construction industry is in a sharp decline, Bruce is very high on the $495 course-even plans to take it himself. "I want to build a housethat's the reason I'm getting the course. I'll have my choice of house, colonial or cape or whatever. . . . The course will save me $3000, $4000, $5000, just because I'll be hiring guys to build various parts of my house."
Ironically, the head of CTI, Kenneth Lotsoff, has his doubts about being able to handle construction of his own house, even though the school's brochure says knowledge of simple arithmetic is enough and many graduates "have only elementary-level education."
Q. Do you really think someone who was not in the industry could learn from a mailorder course how to build his own house?
A. Gee, I'm really not equipped to answer that question . . I myself can't turn the key in an ignition. I really would not know what I was doing when it comes to something like that.
(Lotsoff is president of CTI, a subsidiary of Montgomery Ward, which offers several types of correspondence courses.)
Like his counterparts in the industry, salesman Troob refused to say precisely how many finish the course and get a job, retreating to the safety of a nebulous never-never land of obfuscation.
As usual, a dropout has only himself to blame. "If one of our guys enrolls a guy that takes six lessons and quits, then I'll find out why. Maybe the guys enrolled are not really interested in bettering themselves."
Pressed on the school's claim that "you can build your own house," Troob said: "Yeah, you're building it. It's not going to make you an electrician or a plumber. It's like a doctor doesn't make his equipment, but he knows how to use it. You'll take bids on each part of your house and you'll know exactly what kinds of questions to ask . . . There's nowhere else you can go for that kind of knowledge. The courses just aren't around."
BUREAU OF CARTOONING, COLORADO
The stick characters blurting banalities drawn in minutes by a Globe reporter, were christened Hippie the Hippo and Berty the Bird for no particular reason and shipped off to the Bureau of Cartooning school in Colorado for appraisal. Only the reporter was confident he would be "accepted" by the school, even though he knew left-handed scrawling by Globe cartoonist Paul Szep had already been discarded as "too good." His colleagues did not share his optimism. But the reporter was positively cocky, coyly implying he knew something no one else did. He even began to muse about national syndication.
Finally he revealed that along with his test, he had also enclosed a downpayment check.
After his acceptance into the $400 course (a more expensive one is available to veterans with G1 benefits), he reluctantly gave up the school's overpriced 13-by-19-inch drawing board, T-square and two triangles and interviewed the head of the school, E. R. Powell.
The director was told that the best a fulltime cartoonist for a local daily would say of the work was that it was "putrid."
Undeterred, Powell laughed it off and said, "I'd tell you not to listen to him so much because he doesn't sound like a friend to me. . . . Stop straddling the fence and get to work on those cartoons right away."
Powell rated Hippie the Hippo's quality "right in the middle" of the school's current class caliber and reatnrmed that the student was on his way to a career as a professional.
"I think you can do it," he said. "Otherwise, we would not have accepted you. We have graduates making $15,000 to $25,000 a year who were showing less talent than you have shown me when they started."
Earlier, Powell had stressed the opportunities in newspaper cartooning work— probably the tightest job market in the country, with only a handful of persons making a good living at it.
"When you finish," he said, "you can walk into any newspaper in the Boston area and fill out an application form to get the job."
Q. Couldn't I do that now without spending all the money on this course? A. That's right, but wouldn't you like to have the calling card of the Bureau of Cartooning? That's going to open up a few doors.
Right, E.R. All exits.
FAMOUS WRITERS SCHOOL, CONNECTICUT
In 1970, a free-lance writer named Jessica Mitford was received warmly by the late Bennett Cerf in his "wonderfully posh office" at Random House's headquarters in New York City.
Cerf talked about his role as one of the more prominent literary members of the "guiding faculty" for the Famous Writers School.
By the end of the interview, he had just about put the school out of business single-handedly.
Ms. Miftord did some famous writing for The Atlantic Monthly magazine in which Cerf confided to the self-described "governessy" journalist that he knew "nothing about the business and selling end and I care less. I've nothing to do with how the school is run."
But the Connecticut-based school used his name and others to sell its courses. Asked how many books of Famous Writers' students Random House had published, Cerf said in the 1970 interview, "Oh, come on, you must be pulling my leg—no person of any sophistication, whose book we'd publish, would have to take a mail-order course to learn how to write."
Ms. Mitford charged the school had a "staggering dropout rate" due to "rapacious salesmen who sign up semi-illiterates and other incompetents."
The article had a devastating effect on the operation, which ultimately went into bankruptcy.
But Famous Writers School is back, and sales manager Bruce Toy was in Massachusetts recently recruiting commissioned salesmen ($125 maximum, monthly quota of at least 10 sales).
Since Massachusetts law does not provide for regulation of out-of-state correspondence schools, the revived operation is free to sell here as soon as its salesmen receive perfunctory licensing by the state Education Department.
In fact, some apparently don't even bother to do that. One salesman, who identified himself as Roger Daunais, 29, of Connecticut, arrived uninvited and unlicensed at a Globe reporter's home in February. He left shaking after being informed he may have broken a criminal law.
So, the same school is back using the same courses with the same "guiding faculty"-even though two of them-Bennet Cerf and John D. Ratcliff-are deceased.
Another Globe reporter discussed a job opening with Toy in late November after Toy had just signed up an Attleboro man. The sales manager explained the firm had a new president with a "financial background" and had formed a new board of directors.
Q. I was a little put off on the company after the Atlantic article.
A. Don't worry. That only had a small circulation. The public didn't know much about that.
UNIVERSAL TRAINING SERVICES, FLORIDA
A special paper ribbon is placed across the toilet seat for the purpose of: (A) advertising; (B) giving the maid her instructions; (C) assuring the guest of cleanliness; (D) holding the seat up while cleaning.-from lesson nine, Universal Motel Schools of Florida.
The $795 course in motel training, one of six offered nationwide by Universal. also includes some resident instruction, but you have to pay your own way and then $14 a day to work free in a motel in Florida or Las Vegas. Food is also extra.
Charles Calareso, a Universal salesman with an expired license, sold a Globe reporter the course. It took two letters and six telephone calls to get a refund after canceling a contract that appears to violate Massachusetts law.
Calareso has a motto he carries on a card. He read it to the reporter: "I fully realize you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize what you heard is not what I meant."
UNITED STATES GIVES MILLIONS, REQUIRES LITTLE OF CAREER SCHOOLS
(NOTE. This is the seventh in a series by the Globe Spotlight Team on the profit-making vocational education industry. Today's article examines the performance of the Federal regulators of the industry.)
The private vocational school business has mushroomed into a multibillion dollar industry, thanks largely to the government's massive financing on one hand and its lack of regulation on the other.
While taxpayers' money flows smoothly into many dubious profitmaking schools, Federal and Massachusetts regulatory agencies have proven to be chaotic failures in protecting frequently abused students.
The system is geared to the flawless dispersal to the schools of millions of dollars and nothing more. A four-month Globe Spotlight Team investigation has found that state and Federal governments are headless monsters that simply have no idea of what the public has been getting for its money and lack even a method of finding out.
Government officials responsible for policing the schools wait passively in remote, private offices for consumer inquiries that rarely reach them. They have a standard line: "Except for a few bad apples, everything is fine."
This was pointedly contradicted by one of the handful of experts on the subject of private vocation schools. "The officials just don't want to know what's going on in the industry, because if they did, they'd have to go on such a headhunting expedition to clean it out that few of the schools and fewer of the officials would be left standing," a financial consultant to a national network of the schools told The Globe.
An in-depth investigation by The Globe has found that a shocking number of vocational schools are operated primarily to make money, with the student's welfare a fleeting afterthought at best.
Poor performance by the official agencies responsible for protecting the public has allowed the situation to continue. The Globe investigation found:
The Veterans Administration and the US Office of Education, two agencies which have pumped more than a billion dollars into the schools in less than ten years, admit they have no control over what the student receives for the money. The two steps-licensing and accreditation-that a school must take to open its doors for the glut of Federal programs are vastly overrated and provide virtually no protection for the public or the student.
In Massachusetts two harried officials rubber stamp licenses to operate with few of the intended safeguards fulfilled.
Nationally, accreditaiton of a school to qualify for the flood of Federal dollars is determined by industry-dominated associations that even their supporters admit are little more than self-serving, fraternal organizations.
Recent efforts to make the hulking bureaucracy more responsive to the student and public have been effectively opposed by the industry's two Washington lobbyists. Where congressional contacts failed, sheer official incompetence has nearly always stepped in to benefit the industry at the public's expense.
The agencies researched in The Globe Spotlight Team investigation were:
The title of the Federal report was to the point: "Most Veterans Not Completing Correspondence Courses: More Guidance Needed from the VA.”
The little-noted findings of the General Accounting Office (GAO) report were explosive three out of four veterans whose Federal benefits were paying for their correspondence course were dropping out of the course before completion; a staggering 94 percent of the veterans had not reached their objective of gaining employment from the course; and most astonishingly, a vast majority said that if the VA had provided them with counseling, they would have never taken the course.
The Spotlight Team's findings paralleled the GAO report. The VA, the third biggest spender in the United States government, is unable to determine how much money has gone to each individual correspondence or resident training school, and it has no central office to handle the growing number of complaints regarding the schools.
Inquiries into the VA by a Globe reporter were invariably met with either stony silence or a bureaucratic shuffle. Officials evaded pointed questions by either handing out a VA pamphlet or referring the reporter to another bureaucrat down the hall. A Boston VA official protested being interviewed by saying, "How did you find me? Who said you could call me?"
The implications of the GAO report were clear: veterans and servicemen have not been getting the education and training promised by the correspondence school industry. The $390 million the VA has given to the correspondence schools in veterans' benefits since 1967 has been virtually wasted.
The VA's first response was to check out the validity of the GAO's indicting report. A six-month study of the 1.3 million veterans and servicemen who had taken correspondence courses came to the same sad conclusion. However, the VA's findings were couched in neutral terms and never summarized for ready reference, The Globe found.
Despite the reports, the problem is growing. Last year alone, the VA spent $119.7 million on correspondence courses, almost twice as much as in 1971.
However, the VA's Washington headquarters, stunned by the critical findings on the correspondence school industry, followed two recommendations in the GAO report. It advised that the veteran be counseled personally on what he would be getting out of the mail course and also be told what were the course's graduation and job-placement rates-figures the schools had been unwilling to give out on their own-so that he knows his chances of success.
The stark figures, which had to be ferreted out of the VA by The Globe, have had, no impact on the money spent for the demonstrably inferior product. The information has never filtered down to the veteran who needs it most.
Last May, the two recommendations were included on the back of the new veteran's-benefit applications sent to the VA's regional offices throughout the country with the VA's watered-down bulletin on the perils of correspondence education.
As far as the Boston VA office was concerned, the recommendations could have been written in Sanskrit.
William F. Connors, Boston regional director, was unaware on first being contacted, of either the bulletin or the new recommendations. "I'm the director of all trades and the master of none," he said.
On locating the bulletin showing high course dropout rates a week later, Connors said he was wary about disclosing the figures to either veterans or The Globe: "We're cautioned by Washington about giving out the dropout information. Those figures could be misleading." Connors recommended contacting his head counselor to find out how Boston-area veterans seeking advice on correspondence education are "handled." It didn't take long.
"Correspondent students do not need personal counseling," Walter Dray, head counselor, said. "They just sign up and send in the forms. They request the benefits and they get it." Asked if he had seen the VA bulletin recommending veterans seek counseling before signing for such courses, Dray said, "What bulletin? We get an awful lot of bulletins around here."
The VA has paid more than a billion dollars in the last seven years to the resident career schools for educating nearly a million veterans so they could find jobs. But there were indications, as in the correspondence field, that the money was being squandered.
In a bulletin to all its state agents in charge of approving the schools to train veterans, the VA directed the institutions show "substantial placement" of its graduates in jobs before being cleared.
In Massachusetts, VA Approval Agent, James E. Burke said he "just never received the bulletin" and approved 130 schools without checking for substantial placement.
Veteran's complaints persisted and in May 1971, the VA sent state agents a second bulletin, again requiring information from the schools about jobs obtained. Burke got this bulletin and "immediately implemented it by requiring 50 percent placement."
Burke's records show, however, that he misrepresented the VA directive, completely nullifying its effect. Instead of requiring a school to show that half of its entire graduating class were placed in related jobs, Burke only asked the
school to submit the names of half the graduates who had found jobs. This sometimes meant that the names of three placed graduates won approval for a school and, even then, the school's word was taken on faith.
U.S. OFFICE OF EDUCATION
The under-paid clerks in this Federal office were the first to notice the multimillion dollar problem. Most of the defaults on federally underwritten loans made to students to pay tuition were coming from the minority of students attending profit-making vocational schools.
But the problem, which has cost the Federal government more than $50 million in seven years, is baffling the upper-echelon executives in the Office of Education.
Like the VA, no one has an overview, and there is no handle on the big picture. The department does not even know which correspondence and resident vocational schools are responsible for the high rate of student loan defaults and they have no constructive program to deal with it.
"Right now we have a massive computer problem trying to sort out which defaults are coming from which schools," said David C. Bayer, until recently acting director of the Federal-Insured Student Loan Program (FISL). "That's our first order of business. After that I don't know where we'll go."
The FISL program, which has insured more than $6 billion in loans to help six million students attend public and private post-secondary schools, is imperiled by the defaults.
Although officials claim the default rate for the student loans is 5.7 percent, a Bank of America vice president told The Globe that judging from his bank's experience the figure is closer to 20 percent.
One thing is certain: 75 percent of the defaults in the Federal program are coming from the 30 percent of the students taking out the federally-insured loans to attend proprietary correspondence or vocational schools.
Globe reporters posing as prospective students found several correspondence and resident vocational schools using the insured loan program as a selling tool to solicit students.
All too often, the only recourse a student has, once he finds his training to be deficient and his promised job nonexistent, is to default on his loan. But the school is safe. It already has its money, and the defaulted loan is paid off by the Federal government.
The government then begins its chase of the delinquent student-another area where The Globe found taxpayers are taking a beating. During 1973, a year when the Federal government paid off more than $52 million in defaulted loans, the education regional offices throughout the country recovered less than $2.8 million.
Although officials see a distinct correlation between a school's high default rate and the inferior quality of its program, they are presently unwilling to cut funding to these types of schools.
The New York Higher Education Assistance Corp., a state agency that banned two profit-making schools from the insured-loan program several years ago because of a high number of defaults, was sued and had to reinstate the schools. The situation still rankles the agency's officials.
Also nettled by the default problem is the Massachusetts agency which operates the program. Helge Hoist, president of the Massachusetts Higher Education Assistance Corp. (MHEAC), said: "The less said about defaults the better. The more publicity we get the more defaults we get."
A novel but effective approach to the default problem has been used by the privately-sponsored United Student Aid Fund in New York. Alarmed by the high number of defaults being logged by profit-making schools, the Student Aid Fund last April decided to make these schools financially responsible for their defaults. Any profit-making school with a default rate above five percent was asked to sign a contract making the school itself and not the fund liable for the defaults.
"This way we make the proprietary school responsible for his students,” Robert C. Sinnaeve, vice president of the Fund said. "If the school is just giving out the loans to get bodies in their classes, then it'll show in their defaults."
The steps have worked, but curiously, the Office of Education is quick to debunk the approach for the Federal program. "Congress would never accept our cutting the program," acting director Bayer said. He may be wrong.
Congress has become increasingly alarmed over the rising number of defaults. "We want to know what schools are responsible for these defaults and what