On Sept. 13, A Two-Part FRONTLINE Hour Examines For-Profit Colleges and an Effort to Stem the High School Dropout Crisis

In partnership with:
September 1, 2016

Two-Part Hour Airs Sept. 13 as Part of PBS’s “Spotlight Education” Week

A Subprime Education and The Education of Omarina
Premiering on PBS and online:
Tuesday, September 13, 2016, at 9 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CT | Twitter: @frontlinepbs #SpotlightEDUPBS
Instagram: @frontlinepbs | YouTube:

As part of PBS’s “Spotlight Education” initiative, FRONTLINE will present two films examining the realities of education in America on Tuesday, September 13.

First: In A Subprime Education, correspondent Martin Smith returns to the story of for-profit colleges — which FRONTLINE first examined in the 2010 documentary College, Inc. — to investigate allegations of fraud and predatory behavior in the troubled industry.

The colleges say they’re expanding access to education and preparing students for success. But Smith finds that, in many cases, they’re just collecting money and leaving students in debt, without degrees, and unprepared to face the job market.

“In an effort to get students in the door, and federal student loan money flowing their way, many for-profit colleges have acted like banks did during the subprime mortgage bubble: signing up virtually anyone, including homeless people and drug addicts,” says Smith.

Drawing on interviews with regulators, executives, and former students, the film examines the collapse of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain, one of the largest college shutdowns in history. A Subprime Education also asks tough questions about how the government polices — and participates in — the for-profit college sector: Up to ninety percent of the revenue generated by a for-profit college comes from government student loans and grants.

“This is the most heavily subsidized private business sector in America,” Sen. Dick Durbin tells Smith, adding, “It’s basically the federal government that is being duped, in many instances, into subsidizing loans and education that are worthless.”

With over 1.8 million students enrolled in for-profit schools across the country, A Subprime Education is a must-watch look inside a sector that’s in the hot seat.

Then, in a second segment, FRONTLINE explores a very different educational experience. The Education of Omarina continues a story FRONTLINE has been following since 2012 — showing how an innovative program to stem the high school dropout crisis has affected one girl’s journey, from a public middle school in the Bronx to an elite New England private school, and now on to college.

When FRONTLINE viewers first met Omarina Cabrera, she was struggling in middle school and had a chaotic family life. Luckily for her, her middle school had recently implemented an experimental program based on the research of Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University. Balfanz’s theory is that the make-or-break moment for preventing kids from dropping out of high school actually happens in middle school. When Omarina’s teachers identified her as being at risk for dropping out, they intervened and helped her find her footing.

Now, FRONTLINE continues the story of Omarina and her twin brother, who — four years ago — fell off track. Today, as Omarina is heading off to college, her brother has become a parent and gotten into trouble with the law.

“Middle school intervention is not sufficient in itself, but it’s essential that it starts there, and we can see that in these two kids’ life trajectories,” Balfanz tells FRONTLINE.

A Subprime Education and The Education of Omarina premiere Tuesday, September 13, at 9/8c on PBS (check local listings) and will stream in full, for free, online at This two-part hour airs as part of PBS’s “Spotlight Education,” a week of primetime programming focused on the challenges facing America’s education system.

A Subprime Education is a FRONTLINE production with Rain Media. The writer and producer is Marcela Gaviria. The correspondent is Martin Smith. The Education of Omarina is a FRONTLINE production with Left/Right Docs. The producer and director is Mary Robertson. The writers are Frank Koughan and Mary Robertson. The senior producer is Frank Koughan. The executive producers for Left/Right Docs are Ken Druckerman and Banks Tarver. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 75 Emmy Awards and 18 Peabody Awards. Visit and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and Google+ to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

SPOTLIGHT EDUCATION is a special week of primetime news, public affairs and documentary programming on PBS stations September 12-17 (check local listings) focusing on the brightest ideas and toughest challenges facing today’s students and America’s education system. Short-form and full episodes from the week, interactive content modules and a social hub for SPOTLIGHT EDUCATION will be available on and SPOTLIGHT EDUCATION also kicks off a yearlong teacher support campaign—“Teach Boldly”—led by PBS and local member stations across the country. Major funding for SPOTLIGHT EDUCATION is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) as part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a long-term public media initiative to help all students graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

FRONTLINE Press Contacts
Patrice Taddonio,, 617.300.5375
Anne Husted,, 617.300.5312

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Support Provided By Learn more