Page images
PDF
EPUB

exam answers to hasten their progress.

Two years ago, the VA and Congress decided the GI Bill was making it all too easy for profit-seeking correspondence schools to sell their courses-and both taxpayers and consumers were suffering as a result.

A special General Accounting Office report showed 75 per cent of the veterans and servicemen whose GI Bill benefits had stopped were dropouts. Only about half of those who finished their courses and sought training-related jobs were successful.

One could wel conclude, though the GAO didn't say so, that there had been a massive waste of tax money in GI Bill subsidies to veterans who dropped out of their courses.

Though GI Bill benefits were supposedly covering 100 per cent of tuition at that time, the GAO found some 134,000 dropouts had paid an estimated $24 million out of their own pockets. This occurred because VA based benefits on lessons completed, while schools accredited by the National Home Study Council-as most werebased student charges on the elapsed time since they first enrolled.

Congress adopted a package of reforms. GI Bill benefits would cover 90 per cent, instead of the full 100 per cent of tuitions. A "cooling-off period" would require GI Bill students to reaffirm their intentions in writing at least 10 days after signing an enrollment contract. And servicemen would have to consult with base education officers before applying for benefits.

Congress also accepted the National Home Study Council's refund-policy reform for accredited schools, which would tie refunds to percentages of lessons completed.

The reforms took effect Jan. 1, 1973, and had a marked effect. VA reported that new enrollments in commercial correspondence courses during the first six months fell 27.8 per cent, from 130.937 a year earlier to 94.495. New enrollments by servicemen alone dropped dramatically, from 26.190 to 12,803.

"Somebody out there has been say ing something right to people about commercial correspondence courses." Col. John J. Sullivan, Pentagon adult education director. told a gathering of military-base education officers last tall in Dallas.

Problems Persisted

Serious problems, however, have persisted. Dropout rates have re. mained high. Even Bell & Howell, promoted as the "Cadillac" of correspondence schools, reported that at most 50 per cent of those who sign up for its courses actually complete them.

The Stars and Stripes articles, a recent Boston Globe series, and The Washington Post's own investigations confirm that sales abuses still occur.

And, in particular, the fact that GI Bill benefits for commercial correspondence courses remain pegged to tuition rates--even at 90 per cent instead of 100 per cent of those rates-helps perpetuate the program's heavy costs.

To the extent tuition rates cover marketing as well as instructional costs, the GI Bill subsidizes both.

A study funded by the Carnegie Corp. six years ago estimated mediumsized correspondence schools were spending 40 to 45 per cent of their budgets on sales and promotion, and less than half that amount-17 per cent-on direct instructional costs.

A Washington Post reporter mailed in coupons or letters answering the ads of some three dozen commercial correspondence schools to learn about their promotional methods. They responded with salvos of folksy form letters and elaborate glossy brochures.

National Camera, which runs a camera repair school based in Colorado, was the most prolific. It sent a total of 14 pieces of mail over an eight-month period in response to one inquiry.

Getting no response to its initial mailings, LaSalle Extension University wrote, "When you first inquired about the LaSalle course in motel/hotel training you had taken a positive step toward a bigger future. And now, for some reason, you have faltered along the way."

Eye-Catching Equipment

Many

companies promote their courses with a heavy stress on expensive or eye-catching hardware which they would supply with the lessons. They seemed to include such equipment as much to sell the course as to enhance its educational value. In extreme cases, they seemed to be selling equipment rather than education.

This seeemd most notably the case with Bell & Howell, Cleveland Institute of Electronics, National Technical Schools, International Correspondence Schools and others selling color-television technology courses in which they featured deluxe "build and keep" construction kits as well as assorted testing equipment.

Anyone can buy such kits by mail or der from the Heath Co. in Benton Har bor, Mich., which supplies detailed and readable manuals for step-by-step assembly. maintenance and trouble. shooting. Richard Shadler, Heath's contract sales manager, confirmed that his company sells "Heathkit" color television sets at volume discounts to Bell & Howell and severl other schools for them to use in their correspond

ence courses.

If you buy and build the $599.95 GR900 or $649.95 GR-2000 "Heathkit" sets from Heath directly, of course, you pay the full price yourself. If you're a serviceman or veteran and acquire a modified "Heathkit" through Bell & Howell's $1,595 correspondence course, however, the GI Bill will cover 90 per cent of your total course cost.

Bell & Howell's Doherty conceded someone could sign up for the course under the GI Bill more to get a 25inch-screen color television set at a government-subsidized bargain than to get an education in electronics. But there were obstacles, he insisted: the 170-lesson course was difficult and

time-consuming. GI Bill ebnefits were paid only for lessons completed, and students received their "Heathkit" components only in the last quarter of the course.

In addition, the GI Bill is supposed to subsidize only veterans and servicemen whose studies have an educational. vocational or professional objective for which they are not already qualified-and they must state their objective on the benefits application form. Courses with a "recreational or an avocational purpose" aren't supposed to qualify for benefits.

Local Residents

Nonetheless, Washington Post telephone survey of local residents taking the Bell & Howell course under the GI Bill turned up Pentagon civilians and military officers, business executives, airline pilots and even dentists who said they had enrolled for a hobby, to acquire a new television set, or to learn to repair sets they already owned.

"We don't require them to take a lie detector test," a Veterans Administration official commented.

Aside from $600 television kits, other companies offer a variety of valuable if less glamorous hardware. National Radio Institute included a "handsome window air conditioner that serves as a training unit as well as a welcome ad. dition to your home" in one of its

courses.

Belsaw Institute's $275 locksmithing course included a $125 Belsaw Machinery Co. key machine-code cutter and other tools and supplies-total retail value $215, or 78 per cent of the tuition.

The North American Correspondence Schools, owned by National Systems, spiced up their courses with a $129.50 adding machine for accounting, and "three big drafting kits" for drafting.

True, anyone taking vocational or technical training learns more effec tively with access to the tools and equipment giving "hands-on experience." Students who attend classes at a school get that access in the school's labs or shops. Correspondence students can't do that, so the schools instead mail them what amounts to their own individual laboratories.

It can be argued that since the schools can't control what happens to equipment in the hands of farflung correspondence students, it makes sense to let the students keep what's sent to them.

"We don't want to go all over the country recovering TV sets from all our students and then have a massive repair operation," Doherty said in explaining why Bell & Howell has correspondence students "build and keep" their color televisions.

Students taking a comparable course through on-site training at one of Bell & Howell's DeVry Institutes of Technology use school equipment instead and don't get sets to keep. "A couple of resident instructors are watching

over the students." Doherty said, "and the amount of damage is held to a minimum."

There are, however, exceptions to the build-and-keep" approach in correspondence courses. National Camera mails tools. test instruments and camera components to its correspondence students on temporary loan-requiring refundable cash deposits as high as $233.10 in various phases of the course.

"Their cost, if you had to pay for each item," National Camera informs its students, "would nearly double tuition fees. To keep tuition cost at a minimum, this equipment is loaned to you."

Diamonds Loaned

Likewise, the non-profit Gemological Institute of America loans out on the honor system a series of diamonds worth up to several hundred dollars apiece for students in its appraisal course to grade and mail back.

Even Bell & Howell itself, according to Doherty, makes an exception in one of its other correspondence courses, on electronic communications. Because one piece of equipment costs $1,000 and is needed for only one phase of the course, he said, the company loans it out under a $100 deposit rather than letting students keep it and pay extra tuition cost.

Some schools padded their offerings with less expensive but less essential paraphernalia which would still add something to tuition costs.

The North American School of Travel. for instance, embellished its travel-agent course with a Rand-McNally globe, wall map and atlas plus a set of Holiday Magazine guidebooks.

Modern Upholstery Institute, an unaccredited California school stateapproved for GI Bill students, showed how fuzzy the line can be between edu. cational essentials and non-essentials in correspondence study.

The school started out offering a $255 course, which veterans could take with 90 per cent GI Bill subsidies. The course included more than 125 lessons, upholstering tools, and six kits of materials to make an ottoman, boudoir chair and other furnishings.

Failing to make a sale, the school then offered a "compact" upholstery course in which students would grade their own lessons. The compact course, no longer qualifying for GI Bill benefits, cost $150 with only four kits (no boudoir chair or club chair) or $124 without any kits.

The school claimed that the compart course allowed it to slash costs without reducing its instructional value in the slightest degree." Ultimately, the school came up with a "Streamlined" course for only $76 in which all the lessons-and a set of tools would be mailed in "one giant package." Still, it claimed, "not one single vital bit of information has been omitted!")

Bonus Discounts

North American schools were among the front-runners when it came to of

fering bonus discounts up to $150, or gifts, to students mailing in enrollment contracts by certain deadlines. Their gifts included a "deluxe travel bag" from the School of Travel and a pair of binoculars from the School of Conservation.

Cleveland Institute of Electronics offered up to 17 "free gifts" worth a toelectronic tal $165.25-including an pocket calculator-for prompt enrollments. And Technical Home Study Schools in New Jersey, also for prompt an 18-volume enrollments, offered

"Encyclopedia of Good Decorating" from its Upholstery and Decorating School, and more than 100 key blanks from its Locksmithing Institute.

Still another come-on which several companies used involved opportunities for post-graduate training. Students who could afford their own travel and living expenses could take advantage of the opportunities without extra tuition.

North American School of Conservation offered "a thrilling week, or more" of lectures, field trips and "leisure fun" at its "summer camp in Wyoming's breath-taking scenic beauty."

Environmental Center

Its rival outdoor-careers school, the National School of Conservation (acquired since by Technical Home Study Schools) last fall was offering a week-long "remarkable living and learning experience... and, yet, it's like the vacation of a lifetime" at an environmental study center in Wisconsin's North Woods.

Less recreational but perhaps more educational, National Camera offered a two-week "resident seminar" at its Englewood, Colo., headquarters; National Technical Schools offered up to a full month's "workshop training" at its school in Los Angeles; National Radio Institute offered one week's training at York Institute in Pennsylvania for its air conditioning, refrigeration and heating students; and North American School of Drafting offered 50 hours' training at Cleveland Engineering Institute.

School owners, in short, have been able to charge tuitions that cover a wide array of embellishments while GI Bill benefits pay 90 per cent of whatever those charges happen to be.

This government generosity persists at a time when veterans attending conventional colleges complain bitterly that their benefits-based on flat monthly rates regardless of tuition and other costs aren't meeting their needs. It's a time, as well, when young Americans are finding other federal student aid funds in generally short supply.

NEXT: Student Protection

Correction

The first article in this series published Sunday, described events last year at Blayton Business College in Atlanta as an example of what can befall

[blocks in formation]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][graphic][merged small]
[graphic][merged small][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]

[From the Washington Post, June 26, 1974]

For Thousands, Accreditation Has Spelled Deception

Last in a Series
By Eric Wentworth
Washington Post Staff Writer

Back in the 1960s, an outfit calling itself Citizens Training Service, Inc., set up shop in Danville, Va., and took in nearly $1 million selling bogus correspondence courses before being shut down for mail fraud.

A North Carolina farmboy with only a sixth grade education was one of its 10,000 victims, who were assured the courses would get them Civil Service jobs. A 71-year-old woman already past normal Civil Service retirement age was another.

To avoid a fleecing, consumers these days are advised to sign up only with schools accredited by a governmentrecognized trade association. Thus the Council of Better Business Bureaus recommends, "One of the best and easiest ways for you to protect yourself when selecting a school is to see if the school is accredited."

And both the Federal Trade Comcission in a consumer education brochure, and the Veterans Administration in a bulletin on correspondence courses, state that accredited schools necessarily meet the minimum standards of their respective associations.

Given such advice, consumers may predictably assume that all accredited profit-seeking schools will treat them fair and square. Recent experience, however, has repeatedly shown that the present accrediting system keeps consumers in the dark about school abuses that could victimize them.

True, the trade groups' accrediting commissions have fostered generally higher standards of teaching, physical facilities and business practices than would be likely to exist in their ab

sence.

But still they have failed, in case af fer case, to protect young consumers from being enticed into debt with fed. erally insured student loans by schools that short-change them, or from wasting their GI Bill benefits on costly, blind-alley correspondence courses.

For thousands of veterans and other consumers, accreditation has in fact spelled deception.

Accrediting Groups

The accrediting groups, to which the U.S. Office of Education grants formal. "recognition" and delegates many reg. ulatory duties, aren't solely to blame, however. They are only part of a mix

ture of public and private agencies that are supposed to be watching qut fe consumers' interests. These agencies have generally scanty resources, restricted powers, misplaced priorities, conflicting interests and often mutual suspicions.

The blame for this situation cannot be directed in any one direction," Judith Roman of the Greater St. Louis Better Business Bureau asserted after the collapse of Technical Education Corp. last fall stranded thousands of students. "In fact, it is the very nature of the program which diffuses the guilt.

The individual schools are guilty, of course," she continued. "But, they are accredited and those accrediting commissions are responsible for policing the schools and their policies to maintain standards.

"If the accrediting agency falls short, then it is the responsibility of the Office of Education... to remove that agency from their approved list."

Accreditation of education's profitseeking sector is largely in the hands of three groups, each of which accredits and counts as members only a fraction of the schools in its field. They include the National Home Study Council, which accredits about 160 correspondence schools; the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools, which accredits about 500 schools largely in the business-secretarial field, and the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools, which accredits about 400 schools teaching everything from computer programming and welding to fashion merchandising. (Since some companies own numerous schools, these totals overstate the number of school owners.)

The possibly 600 correspondence schools, 700 business-secretarial schools and 3,000 trade and technical schools which aren't accredited may be worse or in some cases better than accredited institutions.

Unaccredited schools may be too new to qualify, may have sought accreditation and so far failed, may have held accreditation and then lost it, or since it's a voluntary system after all may have simply wanted to

[ocr errors]

avoid the fees, red tape and restrictions that accreditation entails.

For those who want it, accreditation has a number of advantages. It's a mark of respectability, helpful in recruiting, especially since consumers are advised to rely on it. In many states, accreditation brings eligibility for GI Bill enrollments with fewer restrictions as well as exemption from some or most state licensing regulations. And, with some exceptions, accreditation is a requirement for enrolling students under the federally insured loan program.

Double Roles

The three industry groups play double roles. On the one hand they are trade associations, protecting and promoting their members' images and interests on Capitol Hill, with various federal and state agencies, and wherever else they can be helpful.

THE KNOWLEDGE HUSTLERS

On the other hand, to perform accrediting functions, they have created commissions which operate with somewhat tenuous independence. The commissions are charged with enforcing numerous standards which on their face appear to go far toward assuring that accredited schools are educationally sound, financially stable and ethical.

Unfortunately for consumers, how ever, too many accredited schools have ignored, distorted ΟΙ defied these standards and gotten away with it for months, even years.

When federal auditors last year challenged the president of Technical Education Corp.. Charles R. Johnson, for failing to abide by National Home

« PreviousContinue »