Transcript: Eric Schmitt’s Testimony on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
Hearing on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”(June 7, 2011)
Transcript of Testimony by Eric Schmitt, alumnus of Kaplan University in Iowa
“I’m coming to you as a former student of the for-profit sector, and I’d like to say that I represent a great many students who are not up here telling their story.
“I’m an alumnus of Kaplan University. Around the time this committee and the Department of Education began looking at the excesses of the for-profit education sector, I received an email from my alma mater asking me to get involved by telling the U.S. Education Department and Congress why the gainful employment regulation is unfair and needs to be stopped. This got me interested in what was happening in Washington, and I knew I need to get my voice heard. Since I’m sure my alma mater wouldn’t find what I have to say very useful for their cause, I decided to make my voice heard in another forum.
“After taking on $45,000 in student loans and spending years job-hunting without success, I feel it’s important to tell my story.
“In 2002, I was working in an in-bound customer service firm and felt I need to change for the better. I didn’t think a traditional college would work for me being at the time a 27-year-old father of two. I met with an admissions counselor who told all about the campus. The college offers day and night classes for non-traditional students like me. I chose the paralegal path because after a stint on jury duty, I discovered an intuitive understanding of the public policy issues that shape the law. The admissions representative assured me that this was a good choice, saying student services had 100% placement on that program. I was excited by a school administrator’s presentation showing paralegals in my zip code making between $36,000 a year according to Salary.com. I knew I would take out loans to support my education but since the school advertised its career services programs that gave you the skills you needed to work in the field, I figured it would be worth it.
“My experience in class in Kaplan was relatively smooth with the exception of the difficulties I had in finding the classes I need to graduate. The same introductory classes were always being offered, but upper-level classes required for my degree were being pushed off. The school told me and other students we could do a self-study to get those credits. I explained to the dean that I wanted to learn in a classroom environment because I wanted these skills not just the letter grade. The dean explained they keep the introductory classes on the schedule to handle the influx of new enrollees so there were not always the resources to handle the upper level classes. Since my protest had no effect on the schedule, I adapted and took the class for an independent study.
“In 2004, I graduated with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. I had a 3.76 GPA. I was the president of the Law Club and had the recommendations of most of my instructors. I hoped with the sense that I have my associate’s degree that my job search would be more productive. This did not turn out to be the case. I wanted to get a jump of finding a job so a few months into my second year I began applying to every posting I saw in both the public sector and the private sector. I also contacted other employers even if they did not advertise open jobs, including law offices, banks, credit unions, even bail bond offices. After applying for a position or business, I would contact them once or twice a week in hopes of the position hasn’t been filled or I was notified that there’s no open positions. I never received a call back for an interview.
“The school’s career services didn’t seem prepared or able to help me. I stopped at the office on campus a few times but always seem to get contradictory or confusing resume tips from them. Career services would frequently send out emails notifying graduates of jobs being offered that I’ve seen on Iowa Workforce Development or in the Waterloo Courier. These are job postings that I’ve applied to on my own without driving to the school.
“In early June 2005 with my unemployment running out, I finally settled for a job doing inbound customer service. This was the very field I went to get an education in order to escape. I blame myself for the failure to find satisfying work and thought that returning to school to get a bachelor’s degree would allow me to secure a good job or help me get a step closer to law school.
“I found out that Kaplan had began offering a bachelor’s degree in legal studies that involved part online and part campus learning. I suspected that I would have trouble transferring any credits from my associate’s degree to any other school. So despite my reservations and the expense, I began taking classes towards my bachelor’s degree in early 2006. I continued on and graduated in 2008 with a 3.16 GPA. Since getting my bachelor’s degree, I’ve had one temporary job using it which lasted two weeks. I’ve hunted for any sort of work to get my foot in the door in the legal field. I’ve applied to any posted positions I saw as well as sending cover letters and resumes to any business that can give me the foothold I need: courthouses, county treasurer’s office, county recorder’s office, abstract firms, law offices, claims adjusters, banks, credit unions, and bail bondsmen. I took on temporary work with the 2010 Census which was rewarding but didn’t have much to do with my field of study. Since then, my choices for work have been an assembly line laborer in a pesticide plant, a flagger for road construction for this season, or other temporary work.
“I cannot say that even once my degree has opened any doors of employment for me. I slowly learned that what most employers thought of Kaplan degrees and graduates. I heard all through my education that the school didn’t care what kind of job you have. There were stories of graduates who never found work, or even if you tried to transfer that most of the colleges would refuse to even accept the credit hours. I’ve since learned that the school counselors have successfully placed statistics that they use to advertise to prospective students.
“Obtaining a degree is viewed by most as a financial plus. The judge who reviewed my child support said that despite having lost my $10.50/hour janitorial job I would be able to get a job making as much or more with my education. But now I owe $45,000 in student loans, without a permanent job to pay those bills. Only very rarely in the past seven years since completing my associate’s have I been able to make any payments at all and the debt continues to pile up.
“The loans for my associate’s degree went into default late last year. The loans for my bachelor’s degree are in deferment, but I have no idea how I will manage after my deferment time runs out. Because of the deferment and forbearances, the interests added more than 10% on top of my original balance. In this battle, it seems as if even time is against me.
“I feel that returning to school to get my degree has put me further away from my goals than before I started my education. I realize it’s probably too late for me. I’m sure there are other parents out there looking to make a better life for their families. The crushing debt and the lack of opportunity from this mistake has cost me more than any amount of money. I had to sell my house after the divorce because I couldn’t pay for it. I had to give up opportunities to visit with my children. The financial hardship strains the most important relationships in my life. I refused for many years to marry my current wife, Mira, for fear of dragging her down in this crushing burden.
“The lifetime promise of a college degree has become a lifetime burden that I only can hope I bear alone. The debt and the magnitude of my mistake is like a constant weight. I’ve lied awake at night thinking about what I have to do to save my family from this burden. To have even once considered cutting ties with everyone you love and who loves you to save them from a mistake is a horrible burden to bear. I hope this committee and the department of education makes sure those families like mine have a real chance to build a future with a real education.”
- Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
- Transcript of Sen. Tom Harkin’s opening statement on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”
- Transcript: Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s Opening Statement on “Drowning in Debt: Financial Outcomes of Students at For-Profit Colleges”
- Eric Schmitt’s written testimony submitted on June 7, 2011 (PDF)
- U.S. Department of Education: Obama administration announces new steps to protect students from ineffective career college programs
- U.S. Department of Education: Gainful Employment Rules draft released on June 3, 2011 (PDF)
- Kaplan University’s website