Kaplan exploits the poor, the vulnerable and the taxpayer to enrich itself. Let moral leadership at Columbia be a guide to moral leadership at Kaplan.
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When recruiters at Kaplan University try to convince prospective students to enroll at their institution, they don’t boast a strong support network, vast library collection or affordable tuition. These recruiters are instructed to use scare tactics – fear and pain – to prey on the insecurities of financially insecure and emotionally vulnerable young adults, rushing them to take out massive loans that they will never be able to afford and enroll in a school that offers little success at an enormous cost.
Columbia’s own President Bollinger has the potential to end this injustice. Kaplan University, which earned over $250 million in 2009, is the Washington Post Company’s biggest asset, more valuable even than the Washington Post newspaper itself. President Bollinger sits on the Board of Directors of the Washington Post Company.
According to a training manual used by Kaplan recruiters in Pittsburgh, the company targets individuals who exhibit low self-esteem, who were fired, laid off, incarcerated, or were victims of physical or mental abuse. Once on the phone, recruiters exert enormous pressure to sign up right away. The company instructs recruiters to probe these unemployed, stressed, abused individuals for their hidden pains and fears, to stir up their emotions and create a sense of urgency to enroll. And the recruiters all too often succeed.
Still unsure of their ability to complete the yearlong online coursework, unaware that they could often receive the same degree at a local community college for as little as 4% of the cost, and uninformed that Kaplan’s programs often fail to even prepare students for better paying jobs, these people are coerced to sign on the dotted line, making the decision that they all so often regret.
Tactics like these rush underprivileged, insecure, fragile individuals into signing up for the school, only to find themselves struggling to stay enrolled and pay off their loans. Just 1 in 8 Kaplan students actually complete a degree program, yet over a quarter of them default on their loans within 3 years of leaving school. Defaulting destroys their credit rating, not only obliterating their chances of financing a car or home, but also marring their ability to pass screenings at new job opportunities. Beyond forcing students into mountains of debt, Kaplan even makes it harder for students to find a job.
And for Kaplan, this contradiction doesn’t seem to pose a problem. Former Kaplan instructor and administrator Carlos Urquilla-Diaz has revealed that the representatives target the most vulnerable because they are “most likely to drop out before completing the program, leaving Kaplan with the aid money and no need to provide more services.”
Another former Kaplan employee characterized the company’s business model as “a cold-hearted scam to make money by taking student loans from the government, and leaving students with debt that they’ll never be able to pay off.”
Kaplan’s CEO recently said he supports change, but at the same time he sued the Department of Education and spent more money than any other for-profit university lobbying Washington to shield the company from reforms. As Kaplan continues to snatch tens of thousands of susceptible Americans into its lucrative trap, draining them of their time, money, and futures, it also fights safeguards that would protect other students from entering such agony.
Where do we come in? How can we stop this injustice? Sitting on the board of the company that owns Kaplan, President Bollinger can make a difference. We must encourage him to use that voice, to stand up for these students, just as he would for us. Ask him to stop the malicious recruiting practices. Ask him to cut the lobbying. Ask him to support governmental reforms. And if he can’t, ask him to quit Kaplan. Because he can do better than that.