Watch FRONTLINE’s Reporting on Now Defunct Corinthian Colleges
A screengrab from the documentary "A Subprime Education" shows signage for Everest College, which was operated by the now-defunct for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges.
Seven years after the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges shut down amid charges of deception and financial exploitation, the U.S. Department of Education has announced the cancellation of all of the remaining debt held by former students of the schools.
Totaling $5.8 billion, it is the largest single act of federal student loan forgiveness in the Department of Education’s history, according to the DOE, and it is the latest chapter in a story FRONTLINE has covered since allegations began surfacing about the problems with for-profit colleges.
In College, Inc., a 2010 documentary examining the explosive growth of the for-profit college sector, FRONTLINE spoke to three nursing students who had enrolled at Corinthian’s Everest College, paying almost $30,000 for a 12-month program. In the below excerpt from the film, the students said they were told they’d be making between $25 and $35 an hour, but all three struggled to find jobs despite graduating and getting licenses.
“I got my license in December of ’09, and I’ve been on countless interviews,” Martha, one of the students, told FRONTLINE’s Martin Smith. “And they all ask if I’ve ever been in a hospital, and I would have to tell them we never set foot in a hospital, ever. We went to a museum of Scientology for our psychiatric rotation.”
Nora, one of the other nursing students, added, “Our pediatrics rotation, we went to a day care.”
The students alleged they weren’t given the training and practical experience they were promised by the college. At the time, Corinthian responded to FRONTLINE’s questions about training in a letter, stating that its nursing program “provided thorough and appropriate training,” and that “students were accurately informed” of course requirements and faculty qualifications.
The for-profit college industry said it was helping an underserved student population obtain a quality education and marketable job skills. After College, Inc. aired, government scrutiny of for-profit schools’ recruitment techniques and job placement intensified. In the years to come, that scrutiny would eventually help lead to the closure of several major for-profit college chains, including Corinthian in 2015.
Smith and producer Marcela Gaviria chronicled further questions about alleged fraud and predatory behavior in the for-profit college industry in the 2016 FRONTLINE documentary A Subprime Education, finding that many for-profit colleges had acted like banks did during the subprime mortgage bubble: recruiting vulnerable people and steering them to sign up for loans they could not repay.
“I say what I got from Heald was a $16,000 T-shirt. That — that’s what we got,” Brian French, who was recruited to sign up for government loans to attend Corinthian’s Heald College while homeless, and who dropped out in his third semester, said in the film.
A Subprime Education featured an interview with Kamala Harris, then California’s attorney general, who began investigating Corinthian in 2011 and sued them in 2013.
“As we started diving into it, it became clear that Corinthian was engaged in extremely predatory behavior and conduct. And so we sued,” Harris said in the documentary.
“They were targeting the most vulnerable and desperate people, people who felt that they were without resources,” Harris said. “This was by their own marketing materials.”
Soon after Harris shared her findings with the Department of Education, officials in Washington, D.C., decided to cut off the flow of federal funds until Corinthian could back up its claims of job placement. Eventually, Corinthian announced its closure. At the time, instead of automatically refunding all students, the Department of Education facilitated a sale of 53 Corinthian campuses to a non-profit specializing in student debt collection that went on to operate the schools.
A Subprime Education asked tough questions about how the government had policed — and participated in — the for-profit college sector. At the time, up to 90% of the revenue generated by a for-profit college came from government student loans and grants.
“This is the most heavily subsidized private business sector in America,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in the film, adding, “It’s basically the federal government that is being duped, in many instances, into subsidizing loans and education that are worthless.”
In A Subprime Education, FRONTLINE followed up with Martha, one of the former Everest college nursing students interviewed in College, Inc. She had paid back the $28,000 she owed in student loans, but at a cost: “That was money that could have gone towards my house or for my kids,” she said.
Her degree from Everest never resulted in nursing work. So she started over, earning her R.N. degree from a community college where it cost her $3,000.
This time, she said, her psych rotation entailed four weeks at “an actual psych hospital. It wasn’t a museum.”
Watch 2010’s College, Inc., in full below:
Watch 2016’s A Subprime Education, also available on YouTube for the first time, in full below:
Priyanka Boghani contributed reporting.