For Immediate Release - October 29, 2013

Attorney General Martha Coakley and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell Discuss Growing Student Debt

AG’s “Eliminate D.E.B.T.” Campaign Educates Prospective Students on Deceptive Marketing Practices Used by Some For-Profit Schools

NEW BEDFORD – In light of the rising cost of education and student debt, Attorney General Martha Coakley, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, City Councilor Steven Martins, and Bristol Community College President John Sbrega joined community leaders and members of local organizations to discuss how to help students become educated consumers when considering their choices for education and career training beyond high school. 

“Prospective students may be vulnerable to the predatory recruitment practices that some for-profit schools have used to increase enrollment and maximize profit,” AG Coakley said. “In Massachusetts we have excellent options for education and career-training beyond high school. It is essential that our students make informed decisions about what is best for them personally, financially, and for their own education.”

“Attorney General Coakley has a strong track record of protecting consumers from deceptive business practices, so we welcome her focus on the issue of student debt,” New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said. “A college education is more important than ever, but with increasing education costs and rising student debt, it is critical that prospective students do their homework before they invest in post-high school education and training.”

During the event held at Bristol Community College, AG Coakley presented tips to prospective students from the AG’s  Eliminate Deceptive Education Business Tactics (D.E.B.T.)  campaign and urged consumers to familiarize themselves with common deceptive marketing practices used by some for-profit schools including:

  • High pressure sales: Students should be skeptical of schools that use high pressure sales tactics like being pressured to sign documents without being given enough time to fully think through the decision.
  • The promise of a great paying job: For-profit schools have significantly lower graduation and job placement rates compared to non-profit private and public schools. Students should not rely only on the promises of a school’s recruitment representative but should verify job placement rates and educate themselves about the employment prospects of the career they want to explore.
  • Preying on the consumer’s emotions: Some schools will use either fear (“Act now because you don’t want to miss this chance!”) or hope (“Visualize yourself making a huge salary and how proud your family will be.”) to convince students to attend the school.

AG Coakley advocated that consumers shop around for the most affordable option when pursuing higher education. The cost to attend for-profit programs may be higher than public community colleges and state universities or non-profit, private schools.

The AG’s D.E.B.T. campaign is designed to educate prospective students about for-profit schools and ensure that they receive the training they hope to obtain. According to recent government studies, for-profit schools spend a combined $3.7 billion a year on recruiting and marketing efforts, often targeting veterans, adult learners, and low income families. Most students need a federal loan worth thousands of dollars to afford tuition. In 2009, federal taxpayers invested more than $32 billion in for-profit institutions.

The outreach program is an educational effort that stems from an ongoing investigation of the for-profit school industry.  In December 2012, the AG’s Office responded to concerns and assisted former students and faculty of the American Career Institute (ACI) after the school abruptly closed its five Massachusetts campuses. In March, AG Coakley signaled her support for proposed federal legislation which would stop for-profit schools from spending taxpayer money on marketing. In April, the AG’s Office sued Brockton-based for-profit school Sullivan & Cogliano Training Centers for allegedly misrepresenting job placement numbers and making other misleading statements about its training to students.

Individuals who believe they are a victim of deceptive practices by a for-profit school should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office at www.mass.gov/ago/schools.

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