‘Dollar signs with heartbeats’: How for-profit schools blazed a trail of pain in America
After the Financial Crisis, for-profit schools prospered across America at the expense of students saddled with thousands of dollars in debt, employees abandoned or implicated, and the government swindled out of taxpayer money.
A Florida-based for-profit school called Fast Train (FT), which maintained seven campuses across the state from Clearwater to South Florida, exemplified the greed and shady tactics behind the boom.
The FastTrain campus in Plantation, Fla. (Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) More When enrollments at the campuses in northern Florida dropped, according to court documents , Fast Train CEO Alejandro Amor brought the director of admissions at Fast Train’s Jacksonville campus to Miami and showed him recruiting methods, which involved driving around low-income areas and pitching students without high school diplomas.
“There were so many different students who were being preyed upon in different ways, and these schools… this whole thing dehumanizes people,” said Alex Shebanow, a filmmaker who made the 2018 documentary “ Fail State ” investigating the for-profit college industry in America.
“We saw the schools viewed these students as nothing more than dollar signs with heartbeats,” Shebanow told Yahoo Finance’s Illegal Tender podcast.
A neon sign at Pan American Art Projects. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) More This is the first part of Yahoo Finance’s Illegal Tender podcast series on for-profit colleges. Listen to the episode here.
Amor told another admissions director, at the Tampa campus, to increase enrollment numbers by driving through low-income neighborhoods with a recruiter who “stopped random men on street corners and bus stops and asked them to attend FT.”
When man they pitched said he didn’t have a high school diploma, the recruiter said that was fine and that “he would just have to keep it a secret between the two of them.”
The Tampa admissions director said the recruiter he was with “was a former exotic dancer and dressed very provocatively” and that the entire act was “all a part of the recruiting effort for FT.”
A strip club in Miami. (Daniel A.Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) More The Miami Herald reported that this instruction came from the top: “Amor allegedly told an employee to ‘hire some hot mommas’ and ‘hire the sluttiest girls he could find.’”
From employing exotic dancers as admissions recruiters to knowingly submitting fake high school diploma and GED information, Amor obtained federal Title IV funds (or federal financial aid) for students to pay for their post-secondary education.
Amor took more than $6.5 million through “ unearned student financial aid ” while“orchestrating a conspiracy to steal government money and in fact stealing government money,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida stated when Amor was sentenced to 97 months in prison in 2016.