Anthem Education, Shady For-Profit College, Welcomed With $350,000 in Tax Breaks | The Daily Pulp | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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Anthem Education, Shady For-Profit College, Welcomed With $350,000 in Tax Breaks

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott's offices sent out a news release that declared, "Gov. Scott Announces Anthem Education Expansion in Fort Lauderdale, 70 New Jobs."

It explained that the for-profit college will be locating its "North American headquarters" to Fort Lauderdale, spending $300,000 on a building and furniture, and creating 70 jobs with salaries that average more than $50,000.

It also noted -- low down in the report -- that Anthem was lured with "a Qualified Target Industry (QTI) tax refund totaling of $350,000 ($280,000 from the state and $70,000 from the city)" though it won't receive the money until "jobs goals and other contractual requirements are met."

Scott said, "Florida is known for educational excellence and job creation -- and Anthem Education's expansion in Fort Lauderdale is more proof of our success. With more than 320,000 jobs created in the last two years, our strategies of cutting taxes, paying down debt, and investing in K-12 education are paving the way for more opportunities for Florida families." Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, Florida Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope, and Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance CEO Council Chairman Ray Ferrero Jr. also babbled about how great it was to have Anthem.

It seemed a little ironic for the governor -- a guy who has refused federal funds for Medicaid expansion and high-speed rail -- to talk about Anthem in the same breath as "educational excellence," "cutting down taxes," and "paying down debt," because according to a congressional report that featured the school, federal taxpayer money is what props up Anthem (the school got $112 million in 2010) and other for-profit colleges, and the students who come out of its programs get a questionable education, only to be frequently saddled with debt.

Not only does the school's own website emphasize its spa over its computer science and health-care tracks (see toolbar -- though, hey, manicures by students are only $10!), but there are dozens of complaints on RipoffReport.com. Online commenters who say they are disgruntled students say it's "a scam, not a school" and accuse the company of "being sneaky and only car[ing] about money." The school was founded under a different name, High-Tech Institute (which faced a lawsuit from dissatisfied students and allegations of sexual harassment ), and has operated under various brand names, including Anthem College and Morrison University. In 2012, it was acquired by Florida Career College.

A 2012 Senate report titled "For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success" summarizes a two-year investigation that revealed how $32 billion a year in federal money is funneled via student loans and grants into for-profit colleges, yet more than half the students leave programs without earning degrees. The report has an entire 17-page section on Anthem.

The report explains that for-profit colleges find vulnerable students, strong-arm them to enroll, and push them to apply for federal grant and loan money and sometimes additional private loans on top of that. The school pockets the money. Students, however, often end up in debt, with dubious degrees and credits that frequently cannot be transferred to state or private colleges.

About Anthem specifically, the report noted that the school derived 81.9 percent of its revenue from federal funds (maybe more, since that wasn't counting funds from veterans' programs), devoted 19.3 percent of its income to marketing and recruiting, and operated at a loss for at least two years. Data from 2008 indicated that 21.5 percent of students were defaulting on their loans.

The report said that the cost of tuition at Anthem was "more than triple" of a comparable degree from an accredited state college. The report also noted Anthem's "aggressive recruiting tactics" and "misleading recruiting tactics." Undercover investigators found that one Anthem recruiter misled a prospective student into believing that she could not speak with a financial aid officer until after enrolling and that another worker fudged documents to make an applicant look poorer and consequently qualify for a federal grant.

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Deirdra Funcheon

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