To meet the quota of the predatory practices, the career services director for the Florida Career College West Palm Beach campus took recruiters “to a specific field called the ‘Crying Field’ when
they were overwhelmed by the pressure to perform. There was also a specific closet called the ‘Crying Closet,” the complaint also alleges.
Former students have bad things to say about a for-profit college that allegedly took their money and left them jobless.
Now, they’ve filed a class-action suit against Florida Career College and its parent company, the International Education Corp., based in Irvine, California.
The ex-students have Miami lawyers from Gelber Schachter & Greenberg; New Jersey counsel from Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello; and a legal team from the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School in Massachusetts. They filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The plaintiffs allege the Florida-based, for-profit college chain Florida Career College sold a predatory product with meritless promises. At the same time, recruiters targeted financially vulnerable people — often black men and women — using high-pressure tactics.
‘It was a lie’
Corinthian Colleges, once a large for-profit school, had similar accusations. It was accused of misrepresenting its job placement rates. A lawsuit says Corinthian College engaged in a “predatory practice constituting unlawful racial discrimination: deliberately targeting African Americans to enroll in expensive sham educational programs.”
“Their ads made me think that the HVAC program would give me a good career, but like everything else they told me, it was a lie,” Kareem Britt, a named plaintiff, said in a press release. “They didn’t teach even basics, and they didn’t care.”
The defendants in the Florida suit did not respond to requests for comment.
To be eligible for Title IV federal funding, schools must have educational programs that land students with jobs in the field they have studied.
Florida Career College took in around $86.5 million in 2017 to 2018, according to the court filing. From that revenue, it had 87% from federal funds that are authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act, according to the court filing. But it allegedly failed to meet federal requirements, such as its graduates’ debt-to-income ratio, which measures whether a graduate’s earnings are enough to pay his or her loans after covering basic needs.
The pleadings argue the school’s programs typically lasted about nine months, costing $18,450 to $51,925. But graduates typically found jobs earning between $8,900 to nearly $32,900 a year, according to the complaint.
The court documents cite 2015 Gainful Employment data from the U.S. Department of Education, which allegedly show that only one out of 17 programs evaluated at Florida Career College passed the debt-to-discretionary income ratio. In comparison, all of the programs at Broward and Miami Dade colleges evaluated under the debt to discretionary income metric for Gainful Employment passed.
Britt’s program, HVAC or heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration engineer technician, was among the failed programs that did not meet the debt-to-income ratio criteria, according to the lawsuit. While the nursing program did pass the ratio, students who took the 2018 licensure exam had poor performance, according to the plaintiffs’ pleading. The for-profit college had a 32% passage rate among nursing students, while the state average for that year was 68%, the plaintiffs said.
Despite the alleged poor performance, Florida Career College promised potential students that they would find high-paying careers, according to the complaint. Recruiters were expected to call 100 to 150 people a day and enroll three to five prospective students per week, the court filing alleged.
Recruiters have a hard time meeting these goals, the court filing says. For instance, the career services director for the West Palm Beach campus took recruiters “to a specific field called the ‘Crying Field’ when they were overwhelmed by the pressure to perform,” according to the court filing. It goes on to say, “there was also a specific closet called the ‘Crying Closet.”
Court filings accuse Florida Career College of targeting black students, who are its main source of tuition income. Targeting a race is not allowed for institutions that receive federal funding. For instance, in the fall of 2018, each Florida Career College campus had a larger percentage of black students than the overall percentage of black residents of the city where the campus was situated.
Some of the marketing would include using black models in advertisements, such as profiles on Facebook and Instagram, where the users had an interest in “African Americans” and “African-American culture,” the filing says. Radio stations, public bus benches and bus stops, along with high schools with a high percentage of black students, were also targets.
“Almost all of my classmates were minorities, and many barely even had high school-level reading skills,” Britt said. “Their business is all about taking advantage of people who are just trying to better their lives.”