The Consumerist, a consumer rights blog, is running their annual "Worst Ad in America" contest. Beyond the usual mix of unfunny jokes, horrible theme songs, or hackneyed corporate spokesthings, one ad caught my eye. It's a spot for Education Connection, a company which claims to help match students with colleges. If you click on the video, you will discover why Education Connection has been nominated for Worst Jingle:
But it's not the quality of the jingle that interests me here. Our pitchwoman sings, "It matched me with the right college for me for free." As Neil Young says, "Tell me more, tell me more." Who are these altruists who want to inform America's youth about their exciting college options?
In order to find out, I decided to sign up for Education Connection as a prospective student. I gave one of my old California addresses, selected Education doctoral programs as my main interest, and waited to see what popped up. Might it be Stanford? The University of California network? The affordable Cal State system perhaps?
You can imagine my surprise when the University of Phoenix and Ashford University (two for-profit, online institutions) popped up in the recommendation box.
This, of course, is what I had suspected all along. Knowing that America's for-profit universities have been having trouble
luring new victims recruiting new students these days, I suspected that they would be eager to embrace alternative recruiting channels. This is particularly true due to the settlement of a recent class-action lawsuit, in which two whistleblowers alleged that University of Phoenix had made incentive payments to its own recruiters based on the number of students recruited, an illegal practice. U of P paid $78.5 million to settle this lawsuit, admitting no wrongdoing. But although it may be illegal to pay your own recruiters this way, there's no problem with paying Education Connection to generate leads for you.
It's not particularly difficult to connect the dots between Education Connection and for-profit institutions. If we take a look at Education Dynamics (their slogan: "Find, enroll, retain."), the parent company of Education Connection, we see a very close relationship to the for-profit sector. Let's take a look at a line in CEO Tom Anderson's bio:
As CEO, Tom leads EducationDynamics into a new phase of growth by expanding on the Company's commitment to being the most trusted partner for higher education institutions and the students they seek to serve, particularly as students receive less government support and the industry faces increased regulatory oversight.
Hmmmmmm. And let's have a look at the bio of Richard Capezzali, the founder of Education Connection:
...Richard’s career in proprietary education spans forty years...Richard, evidently, is a veteran of the for-profit university game. We can be sure that he knows how to find, enroll, and retain.
In addition to outsourcing your recruitment, the other advantages of relying on Education Connection are obvious. The for-profits can let this middleman make the lowbrow, Slap-Chop style pitch to the poor suckers who'd like to go to school the EZ way, and then fork over some dough once some of them sign on the line. The core brand remains untarnished, which fits nicely with the glossy, high-minded "I am a Phoenix" ads at the airport.
It would be lovely if Education Connection were only a joke. Sadly, people actually sign up for this stuff. In fact, Education Connection seems to be doing very well--they've even managed to recruit a celebrity spokeswoman. Former 90210 actress Shannen Doherty has signed up to be the pitchwoman for Education Connection, and she's quite enthusiastic about her new job:
"Education Connection helped me find a way to go back to school. The site made it easy for me to choose the right program and earn my degree while maintaining my busy lifestyle," said Doherty. "I made the decision to do something smart for my future and I want to inspire others to do the same."
Needless to say, it isn't a smart decision. As we've documented here on the blog before, students who join up with for-profit institutions are frequently signing on for crippling debt and slim prospects of graduation.
Of course, all of these programs do have the killer advantage of allowing you to go to college in your PJs. That counts for a lot in the whole college-choice equation, evidently. See below...