In light of the recent closure of American Career Institute (ACI) facilities in Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley is urging students who were affected to take appropriate steps to protect their assets and ongoing education.
The AG’s Office is investigating ACI, a for-profit school with five job-training campuses in Massachusetts and headquartered in Framingham. The school abruptly closed on Wednesday. The AG’s Office is now working to assist students impacted by the closure and concerned about tuition payments. ACI Students should consider taking immediate steps to protect themselves, including canceling any automatic payments to the school and saving all related documents and paperwork.
Students of ACI are also advised to call the AG’s Public Inquiry and Assistance Center’s (PIAC) Consumer Hotline for further assistance at 617-727-8400. The hotline is staffed weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with trained information specialists who can help. Students can also file an e-complaint with the AG’s Office if they feel they have been financially harmed by the school’s closure.
“Our office is working to protect students who find themselves in this circumstance with seemingly no advance warning,” Coakley said in a press release. “We urge students to contact our office if they were harmed by this closure.”
Employees at ACI who were impacted by the closure and believe their rights have been violated are also urged to call the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Hotline at 617-727-3465 or file a wage complaint. More information about the wage and hour laws is also available in multiple languages at the Attorney General’s Workplace Rights website: www.massworkrights.com.
The following tips were provided by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office:
INFORMATION ON FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS:
For-profit schools rely almost exclusively on taxpayer funding for support, with federal financial aid programs accounting for nearly 90 percent of their revenue. Data shows that students at for profit schools take on substantially more debt than those at public and non-profit colleges, and that 25 percent of students at for-profit schools default on their student loans within three years of leaving school. For-profit schools have also been accused of using deceptive marketing tactics and hiding the true cost of attendance from students. Often times, it has been reported, that for-profit institutions encourage prospective students to sign onto loans with expensive “preferred” lenders.
The AG’s Office has tips for prospective students to use when evaluating their choices for higher education. You should learn about all of your educational options to determine if you can achieve your educational goals without taking on a huge debt:
The recruiter uses high-pressure sales tactics.
If a school recruiter is subjecting you to high pressure sales tactics - including claiming you have to sign up immediately – don’t sign anything - walk away. Beware of any recruiter who warns you of “limited spots” in a class, especially if classes are online or if the school doesn’t follow a traditional semester calendar. Take the time to have all your questions answered and don’t allow yourself to be pushed into making a hasty decision.
The recruiter guarantees a job or quotes high future income.
No college can guarantee that you will get a job after completing their program, especially in these tough economic times. If the representative tells you how much money you can earn after completing their program, do not simply rely on the school’s statistics.
The recruiter claims a very high placement rate.
Placement numbers may be deceptive or inflated by excluding various groups of students who did not get jobs and/or including temp jobs and jobs that have nothing to do with your program of study.
The degree or certificate seems too easy to obtain.
Online schools often promise it’s easy to get a degree. If the degree seems too easy to earn – for example you simply need to take a test online or you can earn a degree based largely on your life experience – you should be very skeptical. In many cases, such diplomas aren't worth the paper they're printed on and won't be accepted by employers or by other degree-granting schools.
The school does not disclose information as required.
In a 2010 investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the GAO reports that some for-profit schools "failed to provide clear information about the college's program duration, costs, or graduation rate despite federal regulations requiring them to do so." Don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions when talking to recruiters and if you do not get clear, concise answers, be prepared to walk away.
The recruiter tells you the program won’t cost you anything.
While you may not have to pay out of pocket in order to attend a for-profit school, you may have to take on many thousands of dollars in loans. You will need to repay these loans, plus interest.
The recruiter encourages you to lie on financial aid forms.
The GAO investigation also found that some recruiters encouraged students to commit fraud by lying on their financial aid applications in order to qualify for assistance. Run; don’t walk, if you are ever asked to lie on a financial aid (or any) form.
The recruiter reassures you that it is easy to walk away from student loans.
You cannot simply walk away from student loan debt. If you do not pay your student debt, you could end up owing thousands of dollars more than your initial loan, due to interest and fees. Students who fail to pay their student loans can have their Social Security benefits and tax refunds intercepted and can have their wages garnished. Student loan debt is rarely allowed to be discharged in a bankruptcy.