By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Students were required to pay for MedVance-branded uniforms and wear them to every class. But after showing up, they were treated to an amazing lack of accountability. One student told investigators he remembered breaking up a fight between a teacher and another student, going long stretches without a teacher in the classroom, and learning nothing. Students were shuttled off to area clinics and hospitals for "externships," in which they performed free labor, such as filing or desk work, that often had little to do with their education.
Medina, who already had a master's degree, told investigators that students sometimes made up their own test questions. "I had one teacher [who] taught medical terminology," she recalled. "She couldn't even pronounce the words."
The stories above are fairly common — and they're all part of the public record. So what punishment have Florida's most powerful consumer advocates meted out for such abuse of tax money and ambition? Not much.
In June, the AG and MedVance announced they had reached a settlement: The school will offer free retraining to students who were duped by the subpar offerings and contribute $600,000 to scholarship programs that can be used at schools around the state, including MedVance.
That number is tiny when compared with the millions MedVance and other companies like it garner in revenues. The settlement doesn't require MedVance to pay students for the money they borrowed for tuition. It does provide unhappy students with the option of entering an "expedited" legal arbitration process to seek damages — but with some serious limitations. Claims are limited to $75,000, and students must pay for their own lawyers.
Dozens of disgruntled current and former MedVance students, including Medina, have sued the school's parent companies in both Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
The limit on attorney's fees is essentially a gift to MedVance. The American Arbitration Association, a group of legal officials charged with resolving these disputes, calls it "substantial deviation from the rules." The association is asking MedVance to drop that limitation — and saying that if it doesn't, it may refuse to handle all consumer complaints involving the school, forcing students to seek damages in court.
That could threaten the private suits against MedVance, which are in arbitration, as well as any pretense that the AG's settlement might help students recover damages.
President Obama has even become involved in the case, though timidly. In July, the U.S. Department of Education prohibited basing salespeople's pay on enrollment. It also tried to rein in federal lending with new rules that would make a school ineligible for student loan money if too many of its students were struggling to repay loans. The rules were set to go into effect this summer, but last month, a federal court judge in Washington, D.C., blocked the regulation.
Meanwhile, thousands of alumni are still looking for something to do with their costly degrees. Diana Medina told investigators in November 2010, three months after she graduated, that she hadn't been able to find a job with her medical-assisting degree and didn't expect to. "I'm in contact with at least five other students, and they have not found jobs," she said. "I feel that this education is a joke."
I disagree that all for profit schools cheat students. I work and take classes in a for profit school. As an employee, we do try to help the students succeed in classes and employment. There are tons of resources that the school provides to help students find jobs during schooling and after. I do not lie to students, I tell them what they need to know and inform them the program will take time and they will need to work at it (same thing if they want to find a job, they have to work at it by sending resumes out, networking, etc). As a student, the classes are hard - I have to spend 20+ hours on schoolwork each week for two classes. In addition, all of the professors I had were great and knew their field well. Most of the classes have seminars and the students really experience and listen to the professor's specialty. The professors need to be highly qualified to teach with a doctorate and years of experience. They do no just pass the students, I have to work hard to get good grades. I have attended a few of our graduation ceremonies and they are extremely inspirational. I have seen many of my students walk across the stage and I know they worked hard to get the degree. Many of them had challenges that I tried my best to help them out and I am always amazed at their achievement.
I want to know why the DC fed court judge blocked the legislation which would keep these crooks from using fed student loan programs to pay tuition for bogus programs. I went to a community college in another state many years ago and they were blocked from the fed programs for several years because of a high number of loan defaults among their graduates. The education we got was good but we were in a depressed area reeling from a recession. As things got better the loans were reinstated. So why can't they do this to for-profit schools? Eligibility to participate in the fed student loan program should correlate to placement rates - real placement in the carreers they trained for.
@imazoogal2 Thanks for the comment. We didn't quite make it clear enough that what the federal judge blocked was a rule that would stop federal aid to schools that had more than a certain percentage of students struggling to pay back their loans. The judge's argument is that the percentage limits were arbitrary.