Student Voices

Student Voices

Shattered: Faces of the For-Profit College Crisis

The stories below are part of part of a portrait series produced by the National Student Legal Defense Network and filmmaker and photographer Alexander Shebanow and featured in the documentary Fail State

Kendrick Harrison, Argosy University in Las Vegas, Nevada

When Kendrick Harrison used his G.I. Bill to attend Argosy University, he received a stipend for living expenses — until suddenly, he didn’t. The school put him off for months, and he juggled creditors until finally, a school official told him Argosy was in court-appointed receivership. The school had mismanaged over $13 million in student funds and could not locate the money. By then, Harrison and his family were already evicted from their home.

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Jennifer Wilson, Everest University-Online, Florida

Jennifer Wilson always dreamed of going to college. A life-upending trauma prompted her to pursue an associate’s degree so she could work as a victim’s advocate at her local police department. Graduation was only the start of her problems.

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Jaime Murillo, Westwood College, Illinois

To Jaime Murillo, the criminal justice program at Chicago’s Westwood College looked like a path to a career in law enforcement. However, when he found out that the Chicago Police Department didn’t accept Westwood’s credits because the school was unaccredited, he was left with a useless degree and over $50,000 in student loans.

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Brieanna, New York

Debt: $40k+

Their story: Brieanna initially wanted to take a 9-month Medical Billing and Coding program, but counselors talked her into a 2-year Criminal Justice program, pushing a two-week grace period where unsatisfied students could drop out and not have to pay. She took out both Federal and Private loans, and after the two weeks, Brieanna says staff and counselors stopped reaching out. She notes she wanted to be able to take time to research future options for a degree while also learning a skill that would help her obtain financial stability, and urges students who are passionate about going to school to not rush into it. She is currently seeking a bachelor’s degree through an online program in hopes of receiving a pay raise.

Israel, California

Debt: $200, 000

Their story: Israel went to junior college but never found anything that sparked his interest until discovering photography. He enrolled in a for-profit photography school that he thought had a 100% job placement rate, looking for hands-on classes and hoping to become a photojournalist. When speaking about his debt burdens, Israel reflects on the many difficult years he didn’t think he would get out of it. He allowed his student debt to define who he was and was ashamed about it. Israel endured a lot of stress and physical effects resulting from it.

Ashley, California

Debt: $100k+

Their story: Ashley studied photography, expecting to graduate making $100,00-$150,000 a year. Her counselor built a personal relationship with her and convinced her to enroll, taking out both Subsidized Federal and private student loans. After enrolling she discovered that tuition was raised yearly and never officially received her degree due to the institution requesting an additional $10,000.

LaShon, California         

Their story: Hoping to receive more career options and opportunities, LaShon was initially doing well post-grad in her field until the for-profit law college closed their doors, presenting a roadblock in finding employment with her academic history. She took out private student loans for graduate school, and also has Federal student loan debt from undergrad.

Heidi, California             

Debt: $500,000+ settled, still owes $100,000+ federally (with spouse)

Their story: Heidi attended a for-profit college after community college, where she thought that they saw potential in her. The school told her she would have job opportunities with potential employers fighting for, that she’d be working alongside the best, and six months after graduation she’d be in a six-figure job. She was advised not to work while in school and to take maximum amount for loans, noting she’d be successful enough to repay her debt. After enrolling, the school changed ownership and wasn’t up to the same standards.

Heidi left the school with enormous debt amounts but tracked every dollar with a lawyer for seven years, going through court and settling her private debt but not the Federal loans.

She can’t buy a house, afford life insurance, or give her kids the life she wanted, and hopes policymakers increase protections for people fresh out of high school signing on the dotted line.

Frank, Florida

Debt: $250,000

Their story: Frank started a master’s program at a for-profit college seeking financial stability for him and his daughter. He lost a job that was supposed to cover his tuition. Similarly, he taught as a professor and was told he could work toward a Ph.D., then had the classes he was teaching removed from the curriculum. He’s watched schools in his home state close over a short time period and pushes for free college for a more educated society and colleges that don’t prey on students.