This story originally appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune.
As a Marine veteran who both worked at San Diego-based Ashford University and took classes there as a student, I am glad to see the California Attorney General’s Office seeking justice for those who have been taken advantage of by the school.
Having served this nation, I believed working with veterans as a military enrollment adviser at Ashford would be a meaningful way to continue serving. I worked with many veterans who, like me, wanted to add to what we learned during our time in service and become successful in the civilian world. From what Ashford told us, I believed this would not only be great for veterans but also be good for my own education. How wrong I was.
Initially, Ashford enrolls students in what it bills as an introduction to online learning. In reality, the course is a fluff class that, even after a military discount, costs $1,200. What I and others didn’t realize until later is that after that introductory class, students receive no real support to get to that magical degree they were promised, and no real way to enrich their life through education.
So most students would take a few classes, figure that “they failed” and have the “well, maybe college isn’t for me” feeling and quit, believing that Ashford had done its best to get education to the masses. In actuality, though, the system was designed for students to do just that — fail.
And based on how many people my team enrolled alone, Ashford was making a lot of money in the process.
When I enrolled as a student, I was led to understand that by simply logging in a few times a week, completing assignments online and participating in the online forums, I would be able to complete my degree. What I didn’t know until later was that I would learn very little if anything, and that the grind to earn my degree was just that — a grind to receive a piece of paper with no real meaning. That’s if I could get through the grind.
Ashford regularly rushes students through too quickly to grasp the material. And if you need help, good luck getting hold of your professor. There was so little time between assignments that if you emailed questions to your professor and were lucky enough to receive a response, by the time you heard back, there were only a few hours to finish an assignment. This pace and lack of support would start me and other students, most of whom were also working full time, on the trend of falling behind.
Many students would call Ashford to get help from an academic counselor, people designated to work with students to encourage success. My position across the hall from those counselors led me to eventually learn that they each had a caseload of around 1,000 students.
They had no real way to help a student with questions for an assignment due in a few days. It was just a sales ploy to look as though there was a support system but was again just more smoke and mirrors.
I am not surprised to see Ashford being accused of deceptive marketing practices. My only surprise is that it took so long. Ashford regularly told recruits whatever they wanted to hear.
For example, instead of showing prospective students the employment rates for Ashford graduates in a particular job field, Ashford would provide employment rates for the average college graduate.
The Attorney General’s Office has alleged that Ashford sells false promises and that it preys on veterans, eats up their hard-earned military benefits, and leaves them with student loans and little else. This is sadly true, and no one was safe. I worked there and did no better.
It’s encouraging to see that certain government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, are looking seriously into Ashford and other schools that act similarly. College must be more than a way to scam students into excessive loans, all for a worthless degree. No person deserves such treatment — particularly those who have served in uniform.
Long is a former Ashford University employee and student.