For-Profit Admissions Officers File EEOC Complaints - Higher Education
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For-Profit Admissions Officers File EEOC Complaints

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by Jamal Watson

AIP

The for-profit Art Institute of Pittsburgh is owned and operated by the embattled Education Management Corp.

As the number of minority students who enroll at for-profit colleges continues to soar, institutions across the country and the agencies that accredit them face intense scrutiny over the tactics and strategies that admission officers use to attract these students.

Now, a group of former Pittsburgh-based admissions officers at the for-profit Art Institute of Pittsburgh (AIP) — a school that is owned and operated by the Education Management Corp. (EDMC), one of the nation’s largest for-profit education companies — has filed multiple complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging among other things, that they were pressured to enroll as many students as possible to bolster company income and was encouraged to focus their efforts squarely on underrepresented minority students.

They say that when they raised objections and concerns about this policy, they were punished with low performance evaluations.

Darrell Evans and LaMont Jones, Jr., who are both African-Americans and over the age of 45, also have alleged age and race discrimination. They are joined in an EEOC complaint by a White male in his late 50s who still works in admissions at the school and a White female in her 50s who was fired last year. The four said that the school began an illegal campaign in the spring of 2012 to get rid of employees over the age of 40, while retaining younger employees who performed at the same or lower levels than the over-40 workers. The cases remain under investigation.

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A spokesperson for the Education Management Corp. did not return several phone calls seeking comment. When reached by phone, Karen Baillie, the company’s attorney — who was also named as a defendant in a separate lawsuit by one of the admissions officers — declined to comment on any of the matters.

Jones, who worked at AIP for years before he was fired last year, said that the recruitment process, for the approximately 40 admissions recruiters at the for-profit school is flawed. He said that managers track the numbers of outgoing phone calls, appointments set, interviews, applications and enrollments, and then use this data in quarterly performance evaluations.

“It is the norm for admissions departments to have revolving doors, with managers using constructive dismissal to fuel high turnover as employees who fail to hit unrealistic numbers are written up and fired,” he said.

When he expressed concerns about the company’s practices and policies, he said he was issued a poor evaluation. When he made a complaint to the EEOC, he said he was asked to sign an alternative dispute-resolution policy that required him to address the grievance internally and forego his EEOC complaint. When he refused to sign the policy, he said that he was terminated.

“EDMC has all kinds of problems, with the federal government pursuing a qui tam action alleging perhaps millions in malfeasance,” said Amos Jones, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights attorney who, with a class-action law firm based in Pittsburgh, represents all four of the admissions professionals. “To fire employees because they filed a federal civil rights complaint of employment discrimination, as the EDMC policy facially requires, flouts our most basic public policy of equal opportunity.”

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Meanwhile, in the federal complaint, LaMont Jones, an ordained Baptist minister and former veteran newspaper journalist, charges that the 92-year-old school and its newer online division have a history of limiting Black employees to entry-level admissions jobs, with little or no Black representation in other departments, even though the number of African-American students is increasing.

“The clear and consistent message is that student success is secondary to making as much money as possible, and management heaps that burden on the backs of admissions workers,” Jones said.

Admissions practices at EDMC schools have come under scrutiny for years. In 2011, the company received $2.6 billion — 74 percent of its funding — from federal student aid. Numerous lawsuits are pending against the company, including one brought by the federal government and 11 states, who accuse EDMC of fraudulently recruiting students. The plaintiffs hope to recover a portion of $11 billion in student aid that EDMC received.

A federal report released in July by the U.S. Senate Committee on Education after its two-year investigation of for-profit colleges and universities, issued a searing indictment on the sector and how it does business.

The study lamented enormous loan amounts and debt burdens for students, high dropout rates, low starting wages, high student loan default rates, questionable admission practices and general dissatisfaction among the schools’ students and its graduates.

“Documents indicate that the recruiting process at for-profit education companies is essentially a sales process,” the report read. “Investors’ demand for revenue growth is satisfied by enrolling a steady stream of new student enrollees or ‘starts.’ During the period examined, at many companies the performance of each person in the admissions chain, from CEO to newly-hired junior recruiters, was rated at least in part based on the number of students enrolled.” The report found associate degree and certificate programs at for-profit colleges cost about four times as much as those at community colleges and public universities.

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Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the Senate committee that presented the report, has pledged to take for-profit schools head on.

“We need to ensure that resources intended for education are spent productively,” he said. “We need colleges to provide the services that students need to succeed. And for companies so reliant on taxpayer revenues, we need to start requiring they demonstrate results for students, not just shareholders.”

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