Another Missed Friday: PS Avoid Ashford University

Dragonflymuse

I know, I know.  My pathetic excuse is that I forgot yesterday was Friday until I realized today was Saturday after another Ashford-caused bout of insomnia.

I found an email yesterday night inviting me to write my story and answer some specific questions to forprofits@studentdebtcrisis.org

If you have a similar story, you should write them as well.  The specifics of your email to that address are as follows:

tell us your age, what school you attended, how much debt you have, and how you believe you were taken advantage of.  Did you face unrelenting and aggressive recruiters?  Was the quality of the education worse than you were promised?  Were you promised job help and then got none?  Did they promise you a job in a field that their education doesn’t qualify you for?  (Some students even find out they aren’t eligible to sit for a licensing exam that’s necessary for some jobs.)  Did they trick you into a high-interest loan? We’ll help you submit your story to the US Department of Education, which is just starting public hearings on student abuse at for-profit colleges. Please send us your stories as soon as possible.

Don’t forget to include your full name and phone number – we may want to talk to you directly to find out more and help you share your story with the media and/or decision makers.


And it came from Robert Applebaum, StudentDebtCrisis.org

I attempted a far more rational and sane response than my last blog post on Ashford.  Hopefully it is easier to follow.  I decided to share this (hopefully) final attempt at communicating to people what a bad idea Ashford is to you now.

Subject:  I believe I was scammed by Ashford University of Clinton, IA fame

Age:  32

For-Profit Attended:  Ashford University (A Bridgepoint Education school)

How Much Debt I Have From It:  My debt from this is now over $20k with four loans from two separate federal loan sources.  Or at least I was told they were both federal government loans.  One is from Iowa Student Loans (which I didn’t realize was actually stationed with Ashford University and now seems fishy), and the other is from Fedloan Servicing.  I am on my last unemployment deferral and still no job, let alone in my field, so I’m trying to avoid anxiety attacks by looking at the exact amount I owe.

Looking now, I see that I owe IA Student Loans $5,672.24 on a stafford loan and $6,702.33 on an unsub stafford loan.

At Fedloan I owe $5,518.04 on a stafford and $8,921.11 on an unsub stafford loan.

Grand total:  $26813.72 and growing.

Degree earned:  None…well, technically a BA…but none…but yeah you’re a graduate…but no, you can’t have your certificate or transcripts.  I earned my Associates at my local community college in Danville, Il. and got it all paid for on grants and I think one scholarship.

Add on to this owing the University itself, or the collector they sent me to whom I informed I would not be paying as it was a dirty debt they were calling on them to collect from me…

$1,578.00 (assuming I can even still pay this if I had the money to and that the debt collector they sent me to hasn’t increased the amount owed) owed to Ashford University.

New Grand Total:  28,391.72

I received the e-mail inviting me to forward this information to you from 
Robert Applebaum, StudentDebtCrisis.org <noreply@list.moveon.org>
I am answering the questions he said to answer, in order.  However, since the story is lengthy, I am saving the “
how you believe you were taken advantage of” question for the end.

Q:  Did I face unrelenting and aggressive recruiters?  
A:  Yes, I did, but at the time I simply thought they were the most interested in me.  I told the recruiter I wanted more time to think and look around.  He invited me to ask questions, he would help me look, even.  So, I blurted my first question.  “I thought getting accepted into a college was filled with a lot more worry than this.  I guess you shouldn’t take your queue from fiction movies and students waiting weeks with bated breath for a college’s response.  Why is it so easy to get into Ashford?  It’s just such a change from what I expected, you guys have practically been falling over yourselves to get me to sign up!”  I laugh at this point and he says, “Well, you submitted your grades from your Associates’ program and they’re stellar (might not be the word he used), why WOULDN’T we be excited to sign you up?  You’re a dream student!  Unless you lied about your grades or didn’t earn them yourself?”

At this point I am paraphrasing a little, obviously.  This was back in 2008 (I think), I know for certain all these points were expressed and answered in pretty much the quoted manner/spirit, just not verbatim.  I digress.

After that point I said I don’t have any money at all and no job right now and I am very hesitant about loans and still need to research possible grants and scholarships I could use, make sure a degree from Ashford will count for licensing in my state.  He interrupted me and said I could view right on their website that they’re approved and accredited all over the US and that I could look for that, but they say so right on their website, so other schools and licensing businesses have to accept the credits from Ashford students.  He also told me I could get all the help I wanted in finding the right scholarships and grants from financial aid (I never received the help and had no idea where to start looking for scholarships until it was too late).

My next “but” was the fact that, even though he could sign me right then and there, I couldn’t afford my text books until I get the first release of funds from my loans for them.  He told me he’d give me a free book voucher for all my first class books (which turned out to be a book written by them anyway for an Ashford-specific class) and by then I should have the first disbursement, but I -might- have to pay for my next books, but definitely by the third class.  I told him I couldn’t even really afford to do that either.

That’s when he spent a considerable amount of time giving me an “I deserve this” pep talk and I should start now and that, in fact, I could choose a class where the book might not be so important for my second class, with grades like mine I could probably just do the side research and still ace the class.

I felt so endeared that he was fitting the bill for my first class’ books (which is what it made it seem to me on the phone as he said he was literally and personally willing to pay for my book voucher, I was that promising a student), that I fell for what their human resources class would later teach me is an old marketing trick.

Q:  Was the quality of education worse than you were promised?
A:  This is very tricky to answer, actually.  I was promised an educational quality to rival, and perhaps even surpass traditional colleges.  That’s when I was told about how classes worked there.  Tests are all open book, but only because everything else, including the largest parts of your grades is writing, and you can’t fake that.  

I realize now, he probably latched on to the writing aspect because I mentioned my dual reason for chosing psychology as my major.  I’m good at and enjoy helping others improve their mental health.  I even conquered my own anxiety disorder without meds through what I learned on my own about psychology and tricks I could use when I feel I’m becoming unreasonable (tricks that served me VERY well, but took a HUGE beating after my “graduation” from this “university” and still today.  Right now, in writing you this email, I have to consciously practice my breathing and tie up and duct tape my emotional side in the back of my mind.  So, if this comes off as overly clinical in places, it’s because my rational, logical side is working hard to slow my heartbeat and breathing every time I hear my emotional side whimper and struggle in the corner.  It’s also taking a lot to prevent reactionary shivering from the tension I feel revisiting all these memories of Ashford.  If only they were merely memories.

Back on point, my secondary reason was, writing is my first love, and if I can’t get a job helping people with my psychology degree, I think it will at least help me write more convincing characters.  In later conversations, all the writing at Ashford in ALL classes was brought up as a super-positive, but without any obvious connections to my aspirations as a writer.  It’s very easy to convince someone who loves to write and sees the value in writing that a degree built almost entirely on writing the material you learned is superior to one with a bunch of parroted fact tests.

I received the quality promised, and this is where it gets tricky because it was NOT thanks to Ashford’s classes, books, or teachers, but because of my work ethic and interest in the material.  I sought many outside resources, read far more outside the texts in peer-reviewed journals than was necessary, and put effort into all my answers and responses.

It was about $10,000 dollars of debt in that I realized…I could literally write drivel and still get my degree.  I had my first anxiety attack then in a decade of staving it off.  I sobbed and shook, maintained professional courtesy in writing in class and continued to tutor (for free because I love helping people) some classmates on the side who were getting C’s.  I caught one student horribly plagiarizing and notified the teacher.  She was still in the class and told to change her answer or she’d get no points for that assignment.  Instead, the teacher ended up in trouble when the student reported her to the school for unprofessional behavior in emails…and the student remained…and plagiarized her entry after that as well, having learned nothing, apparently.

I even tested this a few times and wrote responses and a paper as half-heartedly as I am capable of.  My worst paper’s grade?  A+ and a personal note from the teacher that it was the best paper she’d read in a long time.  It was C quality work at best.  I dared not write what I thought was F quality work, but I saw tons of examples in the forums, too many examples to excuse a class average above a C.  It takes way too many of the few A quality students to make up for all the D-F quality ones.  I realize that makes me sound very…elitist?  I don’t mean it that way.  Simply, I mean, I could have read absolutely nothing (or at least skimmed the bare minimum) and faked every paper and essay and gave mostly irrelevant source quotes when x number of sources were a requirement (and even then, was that enforced?), and still made it out of that school with passing grades.

It’s not because I’m just so easily that smart, I’ve had classes before where that was the case.  It was extremely lowered standards.  The few students I was tutoring were sliding into C’s in the statistics class and when I started tutoring them, they didn’t get anything at all.  I had trouble making sense of their frantic forums posts when I read them in class.  They didn’t get anything worth a C but they had B’s and were worried about impending Cs…without knowing or “getting” any of the material.  I helped two keep their Bs, the last slid to a C (but thanked me profusely for helping her and her friends at least get the content and that I should be teaching it, because they all learned far more from me than their teacher even tried to give them).  She encountered finanical troubles with Ashford over one of her classes trying to transfer to a Christian college.

It was during that class and time I had my anxiety attack after realizing all this.  My only thought at that point was, I needed to grab hold of my old techniques, wrestle control over myself, and press on.  The University was accredited nationally and no matter what I’d have to pay back that $10,000 worth of federal loans, might as well finish up and get something worthwhile.

Soooo…the quality of education was what was promised, but NOT because of anything Ashford did but because I pretty much homeschooled myself in what they were lacking and gave my best even though zero effort would have gotten me the same grades, maybe a B average.

Q:  Were you promised job help and then got none?  Did they promise you a job in a field that their education doesn’t qualify you for?

A:  I was told they had career services and help understanding loans after graduation, but, “and I’m sure you understand” we cannot promise you employment and you will have to repay your loans no matter what.  Then, to sugar coat it he went on about how I could defer my loans for up to 5 years after I graduate, even longer if I pursue even more college, and with grades and transcripts like mine and the recent growth in the job market for psychology students, I should find myself with a job or educational deferment easily.  Then I was asked if I could see myself without a job after trying for even one year, especially after I achieve a BA in psychology with grades like my community college transcripts.  I admitted that I could not.  I also thought, in five years, I might be able to find someone we can afford to watch my son while I pursue a master’s at a nearby brick and mortar university.

I haven’t checked on how they would help me with their accreditation and licensing because, honestly, they screwed me over so badly I couldn’t get those things now anyway, and looking to see if I could or couldn’t have is just pouring grease onto the fires of a muffled anxiety attack.

Q:   Did they trick you into a high-interest loan?

A:  I actually don’t know the answer to this one.  I don’t know the comparison rates, first of all and I’ve felt stuck and doomed about it all.  I know I was told I’d have no choice but to end up with four loans with two different federal loan connected banks of my choice.  I was also told only one loan at each place could be unsub and I’d need to get a sub stafford loan for the rest.

My interest rate at IA Student Loan is 6.8%

My interest rate at fedloan.org is proving impossible to find in their maze of account information.  I’ve given up for now.  I do know I owe a total of $172.09 in unpaid interest on that one so far.  I haven’t been paying the interest rate.  We can barely afford the bills we do have frequently on just my husband’s income.

As a sidenote, I’m actually confused by my loan sources because the bank names on the lists I was given were different (I don’t remember the names I chose) and more than halfway through earning my degree I was told that I had to fill out a new MPN (this will be important later) because the one bank I chose (I had trouble understanding it the way they were explaining and am foggy on the details) had to sell its loans to another bank (or something to that effect) and I can’t remember clearly, but I think they gave me a new selection and pushed one bank in particular, which I chose because they recommended it.  I THINK that’s how I ended up with IA student loans and didn’t realize at the time that their mail would be coming from the “Ashford II building” which I now find highly suspicious.

Q:  How do you feel you were wronged.

A:  As long as its taking you to read my letter thus far, it’s taken at least twice as long for me to write it.  Especially when I get to this part.  Duct tape doesn’t work so well when you get to the meat of a wrong, no matter how much your rational and logical side wishes it did.  I need to take frequent breathers here.

The stage is set by the previous questions.  I was on all the honors lists at Ashford receiving lovely emails about how exemplary a student I was.  I had to pay for more than a few of my first classes’ books (though I got my voucher for the first class), and when it came down to it, I found out this was because, despite assuring me he would let financial aid know I needed the disbursements asap for my future books, they were keeping my money.  Once I realized this I got lots of run arounds before I finally was told again that I was scheduled for disbursements, it took a few classes for it to go into effect.  Articial dye-loaded Kraft Mac-n-cheese is not something I enjoy feeding my young son that frequently for dinner.

That was eventually fixed, I calmed my nearly-midway anxiety attack and pushed on.  I was notified of my need to fill out a new MPN, and while I waited almost too long to do so, I still got it in on time with an official notice that the school received my MPN on time by the place that deals with them.  Everything seemed fine.  I paid my graduation fee, specifying that it was *only* to be applied to my graduation fee rather than the outstanding balance I had “because the loans hadn’t kicked in for the last class yet” but I was told “not to worry” if I chose a new loan company and got everything in on time, they’d be there.  Then I was told I should specify the graduation fee as just the grad fee, so I did.

Then I waited for my diploma…and that’s where all the forgivable slips in this education giant turned into a stage set for monumental disappointment, on-going stress three years later, looming and massive debt I owe the American people for being a sucker.  See, I’m digressing into the emotional.  I found out that the loan went through and the $2178 needed to come out of my own pocket before I could get my diploma or graduate.

I told them I didn’t have anywhere near that much and couldn’t even really afford payments over $25 a month on that, let alone all at once and that my loans should have covered it all.  I wanted to know where that charge came from and why it wasn’t covered.  Did I run out of loan money?  They admitted that I still had some loan money available so that couldn’t be it.  Then I remembered, about a month or so ago, my advisor called me and she told me that I needed to get my MPN in.  I contacted her back and told her I did and forwarded the “college received your MPN” message I got.  It turned out that my MPN was filed in paperwork, but not the computer.  I was told it was taken care of then.

I speculated with an employee with the last name Pitstick that perhaps this was the reason for the remaining charge.  He said it sounds like it might be, and that I needed to file an official grievance.

I didn’t like the sound of that term and I said as much.  I didn’t want to get anyone into trouble and I trusted that things could be cleared up and I’d get my degree without lodging an official complaint against them.  Mistakes happen.  He told me it’s just a formality needed to start the investigation into what happened by a third party.  He told me he couldn’t tell me what to write in my grievance, but that I should state what went wrong to the best of my knowledge, and what resolution I’m hoping for.  He also told me he couldn’t guarantee I’d get the fee dropped from my account, and that it was too late to get the loan company to pay it too, but that if it’s found Ashford is at fault, and then something along the lines of…”Well, they’re usually pretty good about that sort of thing.” and left it at that.

So, not wishing to make myself a nuisance and still believing in higher education and the Ashford mission statement (and that the third party was neutral), I wrote my grievance pretty much as you see it in the paragraph above.  I was put into contact with the investigator for my case in the third party.  We talked about it privately for the investigation (and I was told the conversation was not allowed to go on anyone’s recording devices, theirs or ours).  She told me that the misfiled MPN is very likely the cause and seemed very much on my side but said she still needed to get the school’s side of the story.  I agreed and told her, whatever the school needs, any further questions you have, please just ask, I’ll do as many meetings as it takes to find out what went wrong.  She assured me she would and agreed to keep me in the loop and keep me updated regardless on the school side of the investigation.

Two months after (supposed to only be a month, but I didn’t want to be a nuisance if they were still investigating or busy just because I’m a nervous nelly with nothing better to do), I call to check in and find out that the woman who handled my original third party investigation meaning is “No longer working here” and somebody else is handling my case and they’d let me know when the investigation concluded.

I waited another month (btw, I got a few harshly worded collection demands and threats of delinquency status during both waiting periods despite my account being on hold) and then received a collections call from Ashford.  I informed them, once again, that my account was on hold pending a grievance decision and that these calls are only stressing me out more while I wait.  I was told that grievance was settled already and my past due account taken off hold.

I received no notice, no questions, no updates, no letter at that point.  I told her to make sure because I hadn’t received anything, not even an email and I asked to be kept updated.  So, I was put back into contact with someone else at Ashford…I’ve been through so many names that Pitstick is the only one I remember clearly because he was highlighted wrongly in their response (they alleged that I said in my grievance that Mr. Pitstick guaranteed a waive of my balance if the University was in error, when I actually said he said he COULDN’T guarantee it, only that they were usually good for it and because he said he didn’t guarantee it and it was my word against his, I still owed the balance) it’s at this point I am forced to note that anything not said to me in an email–and thus able to prove on my end, was completely inadmissable AND that nobody ever advised me to state WHY I felt the resolution I was seeking was fair.  I honestly thought they’d stay in contact with me, I was told they’d come to me with any questions.  I feel like a “he says he didn’t say that, why do you think this is fair” is a pretty important question.

It’s also at this point that I realized they used my polite and patient behavior to mow me over entirely.  They sent me “another” hard copy of the grievance resolution they claimed they’d sent already and emailed me a copy just in case.

It’s at this point that I found out, despite everyone telling me I was going to a third party over this grievance because of its nature, the actual results of the investigation and resulting decision came straight from Ashford.  Specifically signed by Sean Gousha, Vice president of student services.  Since the investigation team uncovered that it was indeed the misfiled MPN that resulted in the extra charges separate from my loans, I think maybe the investigation team was third party.  However, the decision was decidedly not.  I never received any notes or emails from anyone outside an Ashford office on the whole thing.  Even the original third party interviewer had an Ashford number.

I was told I could file a grievance appeal directly to the President.  I did so, and possibly followed some bad advice from friends who said I shouldn’t let them walk all over me with this appeal and should inform them I was seeking legal counsel over the entire thing.  I tried to remain polite as I explained in this appeal why I felt the final decision in the previous appeal was incorrect.

Side note from that final decision letter:  They refused my requested resolution on the grounds that I couldn’t prove what Mr. Pitstick said, but that they found me a late-disbursing pell grant.  That’s why I only owe them $1578 and if I call and agree on payment arrangements AND make a down payment AND make a first payment within two weeks, they’ll release 1 official transcript to an employer or graduate school “as a customer service gesture.”

I waited a month (standard max time) for feedback on my grievance appeal.  Meanwhile my health and mental well-being is sliding farther and farther.  The stress aggravated asthma I never had, excessive weight gain, memory problems, insomnia, late-night anxiety attacks about how I was going to make ends meet and how this clerical error so long after I kinda sorta graduated would look to Walmart, much less any job in my field and I didn’t want to lie on my applications and resumés to avoid talking about my sorta kinda BA in psychology.

My physical health only continues to decline and I am just this last year trying to take back my writing.  The month after I graduated, my monthly word output on my series and manuscripts was nearly 50,000 words in a good month.  I went from that to being unable to write a single interesting word because I was too stressed and writing just reminded me of my biggest source of stress.  I wrote almost nothing in the year and a half after.  Just occasional blog posts.

I applied for jobs still, but the market in my area is still really tough to break into with lots of professionals applying at their local Walmart or McDonalds just to make ends meet.  My long story short there, I really can’t blame them for chosing the employee with an actual BA over the employee who’s still tied up in some unpaid clerical error…much less so when my health started slipping and my severe memory problems began, leading to my seeking medical help when I found the memory problems so bad I would get up because I was extremely thirsty, go to the kitchen for water, and then “wake up” several minutes later (mentally, I was zombie awake the whole time) to find myself wandering the house without any clue as to how much time had passed nor why I was wandering in the first place and in the middle of trying to figure out, start wandering again only to “wake up” several more minutes later and try REALLY hard not to cry.  Then I’d finally sit down and try to escape into reading, only to realize how incredibly thirsty I was and remember that’s why I got up.

Doctors spent all our extra money from a good year and tax return in copays and deductables trying to find out what was wrong with me.  All I got for the effort was more debt, this time medical, and one result with a spotted, symptomatic treatment I can no longer afford.  They found I was severely B12 deficient and low in Vitamin D.  I was put on D supplements and am supposed to be getting monthly b12 injections (so long as I’m still visiting and giving out a copay to a doctor monthly for continued approval).  It’s not as good, but I take what our budget can afford, and have been trying to remember daily supplements of b12 instead (with my vitamin D).  This gets caught in a vicious cycle because, my memory is a bit better on the supplements (even better with the shots, but still not what I would call a healthy level of mental functioning for me), but I constantly dance the line between remembering all the other times I took my supplement and trying to remember if today was one of those times.  Overdosing would be as bad as underdosing.  Or I forget until I’m taking a shower.  I can’t grab my pills in the shower.  I forget despite trying hard to remember by the time I get out of the shower.

The more I forget my pills, the harder it makes to remember them in successive days.  I’ve tried lots of tactics to help me remember.  Some worked for a few days until they became familiar enough to blend into my memory of previous days and cause me to forget.  Among other reasons.

This mental functioning difficulty pops up in times of stress, but also when I’m at ease.  It can and has made me appear extremely flighty and unfocused in interviews.

Now I need to go up and reread several paragraphs because I forgot where I was in the story of Ashford before I finished telling you about the negative effects the almost entirely Ashford-born source of stress has had on my life (nothing else in my life since I started Ashford has been anywhere near as stressful, I have a wonderful husband, a bright and loving son, my husband has a good-paying and steady job that keeps us fed decently enough if we’re not needing to repair our car, pay Ashford for their mistake, pay for too many doctor bills from stress-related illness, or paying on my student loans.  I have no idea how we’re going to pay those back and with each new job refusal or lack of callback, my self-esteem plummets farther and more stress piles on).  I even forgot that’s supposed to be a short paranthetical statement.

What Ashford has put me through.  Presidential appeal.  I nearly forgot to mention, in the two weeks after the decision but before I wrote my appeal, I was contacted by the alumni office and offered an alumni grant.

On a wild hope I contacted back with questions asking if, as an alumni, I could get the grant and apply it to my outstanding balance that Ashford admitted being at fault for.  I knew it was a wild hope.  I was informed that I could not.  Then he asked me about what happened.  I admit I got a bit hysterical emotionally as I struggled with sobbing and despair over how it turned my life from a hopeful becoming and student in excellent standing to being treated and called “a delinquent student” and treated so horribly over their mistake.  I confessed how it also hurt my rosy opinion of all higher education.  I use to think there was nothing finer and now I think all college is a debt slavery joke played on students ignorant enough to get suckered into it.  Then I talked about how I could never use the alumni grant as it was intended because Ashford is the one who taught me to be bitter about higher education and who they really care about.  I would not trust them ever again and definitely could not attend a school that didn’t even abide by its own mission statement about responsibility.

He lent a sympathetic ear at the time and I felt badly for him and continuously apologized to him personally, about having to handle my call and I know it must put him in a really awkward and uncomfortable position.  He told me not to give it a second thought and he felt badly for me and if the least he could do was listen then he was glad to.  Then he started “trouble-shooting” my problem.  This started out by saying I may not want to hear it, but it sounds like the best solution to my problem is for me to pick a new major, one that Ashford offers a master’s in.  With that, I would get my alumni grant and more loans, plenty of loan money with disbursements to easily pay off my account AND (as if it were really awesome news), I’d be able to put off my loans even farther with education deferrments and have a better chance in the job market.

I remembering being stunned silent.  Had he not been listening?  Did he think I was overdramatizing how I felt?  I admit, my logical side sees all this and thinks, this sounds like so much histrionics.  I never would have believed it was that bad, nor that personally damaging for someone if this letter hadn’t been written, in all honesty, by me, not bothering to filter my reactions and the consequences of choosing Ashford and borrowing off the American people for my choice.

I simply resorted to telling him that I was serious when I said I could never trust Ashford again, and I don’t even think they deserve the money they claim I owe, let alone more guaranteed money from the government as an incidental reward for doing it.  He said he understood, but he had to make the offer.

I told friends about this and that’s when one pointed out that not only did that sound like poor people skills, but that it sounded like I was purposefully being led that route all along.  He said he couldn’t give real legal advice as he only works with lawyers, but he’s been working in his offices for years and that call at that particular time seemed not just in poor taste, but a hidden manipulation.  They saw a good student, one who was on record as being poor enough to receive a book voucher when she started, and certain grants, and they saw they were going to lose her.  He suggested it was fishy enough to sound like the entire thing was done on purpose in the hopes that I’d take the best choice for my financial situation, and chose a new major, get them $20k more in student loans.

I’d dismiss that as conspiracy nut talk before.  Maybe somebody misunderstood something, maybe they exaggerated it.  First hand…it sounds very fishy.  Of course, they couldn’t do it on a noticeably large scale, a student here or there so it genuinely looks like misfiling mistakes.  But…he HAD to make me that offer?  Even after he listened to me in near-hysterics sobbing my butt off about my health, the stress, how it all went wrong, how I’m jaded about all higher education and wouldn’t trust Ashford ever again?

That’s when I started seeking legal counsel, except…I’m not a sue-happy person.  I’ve actually had two cases lawyers would actually trip over to accept if they’d known and I chose to believe the people that wronged me learned their lessons.  I researched Ashford, a LOT.  I saw what happened to complaints on the BBB about Bridgepoint, how they still had an A+ there because all they had to say was that they were in contact with the student who made the complaint and found them unreasonable, and the complaints were lodged, but closed as resolved, no points off on the school’s reputation grade.

I saw how big this company was, how rich, how hard the battle was going to be…I chickened out on legal counsel and then kept telling myself it was too late anyway.  The fight thus far had taken so much out of me, I don’t know if I have enough in me, enough to give Ashford in fighting them when they’re actually fighting back.  A part of me feels strongly that they don’t deserve that time and I should pay my student loans, I should pay the American people back what I borrowed anyway, it was my ignorance of the situation.

I tried to bluff in my presidential appeal after my friend pointed out that the whole thing might have been a dirty tactic for more money, the best kind of dirty tactic, one you can’t prove wasn’t an honest mistake.  For certain they’d already proved that anything I didn’t possess in writing was unacceptable evidence.  In short, the clincher alumni grant phone conversation never happened.  I didn’t lie in my appeal.  I simply said I was seeking legal counsel, and I was, but I had no idea where to go, and no money to start anything on my own.  I piggybacked onto a group lawsuit at the shareholders foundation, but I never really found anything and then I simply lost the energy to navigate it all.

Meanwhile, each new moment I spent trying to figure out the land of lawyers and where to go for legal counsel, is a new moment I spent at the height of stress, another stolen minute from Ashford.  I’ve been spending this last year giving more back to my family and writing, keeping Ashford securely compartmentalized whenever possible.  I still apply for the standard amount of jobs I need to, try to land interviews, meanwhile I’m forcing myself to write again.

I will try to pay back my loans.  I’ve given up on my degree.  I don’t know if they would give it to me now even if I scraped up what I owe.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I called back to do just that, started to set up a payment, and was told that, because it’s been outstanding for so long, I now owe far more than the original amount before they found the late-disbursal pell grant.

A month and a week after I sent my appeal to the President, including a note that I didn’t want to settle this legally and why I felt Ashford should waive my balance (not-as-detailed-as-here account of how it’s effected my health and productivity, the difficulty its caused in my job hunt, even out of my field at places like Walmart, how that amount would have disappeared easily and without issue into my $20k loans if they’d filed my MPN correctly in the first place, leaving me with much lower stress levels and an actual transcript and degree without “potential problem” tags for employers and a complete block at other schools, all not an issue if that cost was on my loans where it belonged), I called to check back on my appeal status.  Before this point I got a few FINAL DEMANDS for payment despite it being on hold again.

Apparently I was delayed because the old president was promoted and now there’s a new president.  A month later I was being asked for my balance again and simply told that the president denied my appeal.  I was TOLD this.  I received no written notice, no note about why, I was only told I was denied and had to pay now.

I reiterated that I was seeking legal counsel and after all the delays and stress they put me through thanks to a mistake they admitted to making, I felt they owed me rather than the other way around.  I honestly don’t want damages out of them, even now (and I said this then).  I mean, yeah, extra money would help, especially if it were enough to pay off my loans.  All I wanted, all I still want, is for them to waive the fee their own mistake caused, give me my degree, my integrity and hope back, abide by their own mission statement that I use to have some pride in.  I think it may be too late for the hope.  Far too late.

A week later I received a call from a collection agency that acted like it was an outside source that purchased my debt, but I noticed this call was also from Ashford.  In informed them that I was still supposed to have a week left for my first payment and that I felt badly for them, but they should know that they purchased a dirty debt that I am currently seeking legal counsel over to dispute.

Somebody once mentioned contacting student omnibus.  This fight took a lot out of me, and the headquarters for that were listed on Ashford campus as well.  I’d already been to a supposedly neutral third party (can’t prove that either, I don’t think, as I’m pretty sure it’s not in any of my emails either–that it was specifically a neutral third party), other than helping me obsess and ruin my health more (and to what end really?), what point was there to another “neutral third party” and I still wonder that.

Also, I’m not sure what a lawyer could do for me anyway.  I signed an agreement for the way their grievance appeal process was laid out in paperwork.  I never dreamed that, if it came down to it, the school would use that agreement to be so unbelievably unfair without any given reason (or in one instance, a good reason…sorry, saying I failed to prove something I was never even asked to prove yet about something I never claimed in the first place over a minor point…Mr. Pitstick’s words, is NOT a good reason at all).  I figured the school would do their best to be fair and do right by their students.  So yeah, Ashford is responsible almost entirely for fleshing out one area of my education:  Being jaded about anyone who makes money and their intentions and good will toward their customers.  I’m no longer ignorant and trusting of any business, no matter how high their ideals claim to be.  The rest I could have homeschooled and learned more, ended up far healthier, and not have looming debt on the horizon.  I’d probably have a fully complete and edited manuscript or five by now too.

The only written proof I have of the whole thing are the FINAL DEMANDS for payment dated before grievance decisions, the fact that the final decision came straight from the Ashford office and admitted to the charges occurring from their own error, and my “your school received your MPN” notice.  Oh, and a far more innocent-looking offer after the decision for an alumni grant should I choose a new major they offer a master’s in.

I’m jaded enough about it all now that I no longer encourage my son to pursue higher education from businesses more interested in taking money and entering you into debt slavery and stress on their behalf for a bunch of stuff you could and should learn in the wide assortment of books available for free at your local library.  And if, one day, he needs a degree for a job or certificate, then it definitely will not be a for-profit school, no matter how poor we still are.  I’m jaded enough now I feel like that would be lying to him.  Learning is important, but only when forced to by your job requirements should you have to pay so much for it.  I don’t even respect not-for-profit colleges anymore and their big buildings and expensive degree tickets.  You honestly can learn all you need to know from experience and reading.  All you’re paying them thousands of dollars for is “proof” you did so.  You can’t even take an affordable test for that proof.

I have absolutely no hope for it.  So, why did I put so much into writing this email to you if I’m without hope?  First, I suppose that’s where I exaggerated.  I’m VERY afraid for our country and our future that education is so expensive, exclusive, and increasingly necessary in the job market for jobs you don’t even need a high school education for, just an able body and able-enough mind.  Education is important, don’t get me wrong.  I still believe education is a worthy goal, I just no longer believe universities and their expensive pieces of “proof” with required expensive classes are a viable means of education.  For profits like Ashford make that fear far-too-real.

I’m trying a new trick with my anxiety.  I’m trusting for once in a higher power.  I always had trouble with that.  I always felt, if there was a higher power, he’d be far too busy to help me out with such mundane troubles.  I still believe a higher power would have more important things to worry about than me and the situation my ignorance got me into.  But last night, I saw a small picture of Jesus (whom I believe, at the very least, was a great and noble man in history worthy of respect and admiration) pointing and saying “I want YOU…to THINK for yourself” and I suddenly felt, inexplicably, that everything would be okay if I just trusted for once.  Just trust.  And you know what, I felt some peace, and though I wasn’t consciously thinking about this mess at the time, my mind zeroed in on my soon-due deferment specifically and I knew it would be taken care of somehow.  I still don’t know how, but I’m enjoying the peace, and my logical side agrees, though it seems odd to suddenly believe I won’t have to worry…for some reason, I don’t have to worry.  Then, my logical side says, hey, even if you’re being silly and do have a reason to worry, trusting that you don’t have to worry is going to help your health far more so…don’t worry.

Do I think some millionaire is going to take pity on me and just throw money at me?  No, I highly doubt it.  I don’t think I’m going to win anything.  But maybe, just maybe I’ll finally get a job, or maybe I’ll finally finish one of these manuscripts, edit it, and it’ll pan out in time to take care of my loans.  I don’t know how, but I simply know…I’m not going to have to worry about it.  Or maybe something in me broke and I just have no more worries to give.  Either way, I think it’s a good place to be on this and probably the best place I’ve been on it since this whole thing started.

So, I dismissed the worry and focused on more pressing world issues, ways I can help others with my limited resources, signing petitions, researching better food options on limited budgets.  I went to my email looking for something on Monsanto and found Mr. Applebaum’s message.

I’m writing you, not because I have hope you’ll make my situation better, or erase the consequences of my hard-learned mistakes.  I’m writing you because I don’t want them doing this to anyone else.  Because some day I want to encourage my son to pursue degrees and higher education again with faith that he won’t also have to learn a $20k+ lesson.  Even without considering my son, I’m writing because something has to be done.  It may be too late for me, but it is NOT too late for others and something MUST be done.  It CANNOT go on like this and if I can help someone learn what I wish I knew back in 2008 before they make the same mistake, then I owe them my experience or I learned nothing at all and do them a disservice.

To them I say, even after you’ve read all my words, if you still want to attend Ashford or some other for-profit school, I cannot stop you, but always follow these rules:

1)  Get EVERYTHING in writing, no matter how minor it seems to be at the time.  If you can record phone conversations, inform them you are going to, and do so.  If they won’t allow it, then tell them to email all communications with you, no exceptions.

If you actually have a lawyer, get them involved in every step and sneeze shared between you and Ashford, just in case.

2)  Don’t just expect to, but make an effort to frequently do all of their interdepartmental communications work for them.  In my research I’ve found, even in students who can’t otherwise fault them, they are notoriously bad for interdepartmental communication.  Get emails and make an effort to be as dedicated to your paperwork and records as you are to your papers in class, perhaps even more so.  Even if a staff member tells you they will get something done, ask for the relevant department emails, and/or related departments and get your wishes and needs known by more than one department.

3)  Pester them for responding emails when you get silence back.

4)  Be vigilant.  Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones they let escape unscathed.

5)  Ignore all the haters on your quality of education and take it into your own hands.  Yeah, you could turn in F quality work for a C, but respect yourself and your future profession of choice by learning your material and turning out your A game.

6)  If you’re not good with computers, please reconsider your choice of an online-only school, especially for-profit.  They will literally say anything and give any pep talk they can think of to get you through their virtual doors.

7)  Good luck to you and, despite your signing up with them against my advice, I honestly wish you far better an experience than mine.

To our politicians…our national debt is atrocious and defaulting student loans in the amounts they’re at today make it far worse.  This is what Ashford leeched loan money off of my fellow Americans, as signed over by you, the government body, to do to me, and others I’ve been in contact with over these last few years.  Where are the controls?  Where are their consequences for behavior like this?  I haven’t found any, and as long as I cannot find any, they will continue taking advantage and milking all the loan money they can get out of you, consequence-free.

My closing statement, is not an attempt to displace blame for my ignorant decision to attend Ashford in 2008, but the final arguement in my head for Ashford was you.  Surely, I told myself, if for-profit was as bad as a few of my friends were saying…surely if it was nothing more than a diploma mill, the government would not be loaning me so much money to attend classes there.  Surely the government approves of Ashford enough to invest in my education there.  If anything were truly wrong, I’d have to attend school elsewhere if I wanted government loans.

Surely they wouldn’t be accredited.  It wasn’t until after I was burned by them that I found out they purchased their accreditation when they purchased the original educational building with all its licenses, paperwork, and previous accreditation from a floundering school by a different name; up until that point I believed the banner on the website:  Ashford was founded in 1918, something I now looked to see again and noted the redesign dis-including that bit.  Good, it was very misleading.

I have an obligation to share my story and possibly prevent others from making my naive mistakes.  The government has an obligation, especially with the debt as it is, to make sure that money is going to deserving institutions.  The ideal of a college  where the poor cannot be told no is beautiful.  For-profits like to hide their real goals behind that idealistic painting, and when their real goal causes them to mercilessly recruit people that should wait, or look into less expensive options purely for the money the student’s loans promise, with 0 responsibility on their end.  That painting becomes an ugly facade, hanging slightly off its hinges and desperately clinging to having to close out more of the poor and disadvantaged as their excuse to keep leeching off the American people without consequence.

Education for the poor and disadvantaged is a great ideal to strive for, but there has to be a better way than this.

Thank you for your time and eyes on the page.  I really do appreciate it, I know my letter is lengthy.

Laura Beth Kent
-phone number ommitted-

PS If you read all this, you may understand why I hate using the telephone for business.  I would prefer an email.  If for no other reason than my continuing difficulty with working memory is more evident in vocal conversation.  Also, my vocal chords are wired hard to my tear ducts and I hate struggling with that when I’m trying my hardest to be professional.

Also, I debated on editing my email as I’m sure the writing is rough in places.  I want to present my best face in writing.  However, I’m tired, I stayed up all night and into the morning hours writing this.  Another night of sleep lost to Ashford’s mess.  I think I’ll always end up with nights like this for the rest of my life sometimes.  For now, I look at this as time I gave you and other future hopefuls looking at Ashford and I want to keep it honest far more than polished.  So, this is my honest, unfiltered, and unedited result.

If you have any questions or need any clarifications, please do not hesitate to ask.

__________________________

That includes my blog post readers, but you can just ask your questions in comments.  I debated editing this to protect names, but I imagine the people who invited me to share this info want their names shared for more stories and I honestly don’t care about the other names any more.

Then I thought…my husband would hate me sharing so much financial struggle publicly…but I honestly don’t care about that either at this point.  Pretending Ashford did otherwise to us to save face is detrimental to holding them accountable.  Besides, finances could be better, yes, and we struggle with some unexpected expenses, but we still have a place, adequate clothes and food, healthcare for my son as needed, and my husband has a very good paying job.  Financially, we’ll be okay, somehow, even once I run out of deferment for my loans.

Emotionally…I’m very proud of my little family, our home is filled with a lot of love and affection.  We’re a very close family who laughs together as much as we can, respects each other, and hands out daily doses of hugs and “I love yous.”  In that, I am truly blessed.

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About Saronai

I'm an eclectic amalgam of confusingly combined oddities. PS If I liked your post it means I really liked your post. You don't have to visit back, but it would be nice. Either way, I read it because I wanted to and liked it because I did. I don't do the fake like for returns thing :)
This entry was posted in Memory Monday, Muse Sings, Random Extras and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Another Missed Friday: PS Avoid Ashford University

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, and I’m so sorry this happened to you. You were bilked by an experienced, high-pressure salesman, and unfortunately you are being hit with an exorbitant cost. I might be an expert at saying no, but even I’ve given in to a slick salesman or two when it wasn’t in my best interest. They can be fantastic at what they do, to our detriment. This is not your fault. Wanting to better yourself, having high hopes, even being a bit idealistic, isn’t a crime. What Ashford did, on the other hand, probably is. So please don’t blame yourself. Take the horrible lesson they taught you, and use it to be wary of other people who might try to take similar advantage of your being a decent human being, but don’t be down on yourself for not knowing everything at the time.

    I can offer you an assurance that 6.8% is a typical student loan rate these days. I know, because that is the going rate on my loans as well as my husband’s (or very close, some are slightly higher, some slightly lower). I also went and did a little bit of research on Ashford after I read this, and it appears that they were accredited, although this accreditation has fallen under scrutiny, and may very well be revoked (for what appears to be very good reason). The good news is that this means that your loans probably are federal, and thus you’re probably eligible for federal loan consolidation programs (if a comparison of your current debts and payments when crunched in the consolidation calculator yields lower monthly payments, and the possibility to pay your loans on an income contingency plan makes the situation easier for you for a while, you might wish to consolidate). Basic information on how to make that decision (and a link to the calculator) can be found here:

    http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/consolidation

    I’m also not sure, since your education took place in different years than mine did, if you’re eligible for different/lower interest rates under the new education/loan servicing laws that the current administration has been working on. It might be worth looking into.

    The bad news is that it looks like Ashford’s department for handling student loans was disorganized at best, and unscrupulous and (even, dare I say?) malicious at worst. From what I’ve read it appears that they were misusing and misallocating federal student loans, and failing to apply them properly to student’s accounts. It also looks like your friend (and yourself) were right about their lure for their Master’s program, judging from other students’ stories online. It’s true that your loans could be deferred again if you went back to an accredited school (caution, potentially more debt involved), but it was wise of you to smell another rat. They also blatantly lied to you, because as far as I’m aware, you can’t be accredited for a counseling degree online (there’s over a 1000 (maybe it’s 3000? I forget.) hours of supervised field work required to be licensed for a masters in counseling, and a masters in psychology won’t usually give you the ability to practice in most states. I had a similar problem figuring out how to get my licensing and accreditation when I went to my advisor in my freshman year in college. I didn’t actually learn about the process until my junior year in college, when it was covered in class. Apparently, even though my school had an applied psychology branch, the vast majority of my professors and advisors were researchers, and their reticence answering my question came into play because they’d never been interested in the field of practice (they didn’t actually know!).

    The point is (and I’m not a lawyer, obviously) that I’m pretty sure that Ashford’s practices would meet criteria for consumer fraud (and quite possibly misuse of government and taxpayer funds). THAT is worth looking into. Since, their school is based in IA, I’m guessing this applies:

    http://www.state.ia.us/government/ag/protecting_consumers/consumer_laws_regs.html

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if it would help to write a letter to a government authority (although the Department of Education is investigating them, every little bit helps). Considering Ashford failed to deliver an education, especially one you can use to further your goals, and seem to have actively made it impossible to even get your hands on that scrap of paper or have it taken seriously (even though you still owe the money that was borrowed that SHOULD have been applied), there might be some chance of loan forgiveness or cancellation. Your e-mail is an important step, and I hope it helps someone. I hope sharing your struggle here helps someone else avoid enrolling with them.

    And if all of this sounds like far too much to handle, I don’t blame you. You’ve been through a lot, and yes, it is wonderful that you have an awesome support network and many other good things in your life, but that doesn’t change the fact that financial stress, and the feeling of being betrayed, when coupled with nutritional deficiencies that can wreak havoc on your ability to cope in the first place, can be exhausting and overwhelming.

    Don’t be ashamed, for yourself or your husband. Companies like Bridgepoint count on your sense of shame to keep you silent. Certainly, an on-campus university isn’t everything we’ve been told to hope for, either, but at least their services are generally real and the system can usually be navigated reliably.

    And do have faith: in yourself, in your family, in a higher power if that helps you. Keep writing, and focus on the little steps of the day by day if you can. I know it feels like it takes forever, pulling yourself up like this, but I hope that one day you can look up and find yourself clear of this mess, and know that you did the best you could, and that you were wronged, rather than wrong.

    My apologies is any of this is redundant (and for this being so long!). I’m sure a lot of this information you already knew and found for yourself, but I hate that this happened to you, and I know all too well what feeling helpless can be like, and I worried that despite your intelligence and capability some of these things might have escaped you due to a lack of guidance from Ashford and your current stress and medical situation (causing what sounds like serious brain fog (I’ve been there, and I know it’s difficult). Which reminds me that it sounds like Ashford didn’t offer you any comprehensive loan entrance or exit counseling, and I think that might technically be required (I had to attend before I could go to class, and attend again before I could graduate, so, I don’t know, but maybe that’s important).

    Best of luck, Saronai. Fortune owes you better than this after all the crud you’ve been through.

    • Oh! I forgot to tell you that there might be crisis hotlines or other psychology based volunteer programs in your area that you could apply for. You don’t generally need a degree to help people in that capacity, although you would need to log some training hours and pass an interview. The criteria, when I did mine, seemed largely based on one’s ability and willingness to practice active listening and be aware of one’s biases and avoid applying them to clients (or know when to pass the phone to someone else). You might enjoy it, and it might give you something else to think about and focus on. Or, you know, if you like animals, you could start at a shelter (a little less potential stress, for sure) and volunteer to pet or walk dogs and cats or something, which could be uplifting, and help reduce some of your anxiety.

      Also, I know it sounds strange, but dishwashing was strangely therapeutic for me when I came out of school feeling shattered and incapable of coping with much at all. I know such jobs aren’t terribly lucrative and are definitely menial, but they are income and they don’t require being very with it, and local places don’t require dealing with a corporate machine or customers, and the people who work in the back of a restaurant are a little strange, but their flaws can be endearing (and as a fellow psych major, beyond interesting), and if you can get along with them the sense of community might surprise you and be uplifting. I’ve known more than one person besides myself who had chronic panic attacks/ too much crap going on with their life, who found it helpful. Just uh, don’t be me and stay there forever.

      • Saronai says:

        Thanks for the ideas. I haven’t tried any crisis hotlines yet. As to animals, I can’t work with a lot, especially dogs. I love them a lot, but I’m allergic to them in shelter-sized numbers (more so to dogs).

        As to menial jobs, I definitely get how they can be therapeutic, but I can’t seem to land any menial jobs either. Heck, I’m having a bother of a time trying to get the local employment opportunities office to return any of my calls. I always get a machine and they never call me back.

    • Saronai says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful and supportive response. I know I’m late responding, but I really did (and still do) appreciate it. You’re right that a lot of these things already have crossed my mind and I was offered exit counseling…in the form of a workbook packet I had to laboriously fill out and sign. However, they gave me this big workbook around the same time they started pulling their crap, so I ended up a bit too busy to fill it out, much less sign and turn it in.

      I think I was also told that it wasn’t mandatory for graduation, but it was mandatory for me to receive any help beyond the packet should I request it. But trying to request anything of them was always like chasing an out-of-reach bee around with a stick. Just when you think they’re in reach…they vanish and then you feel a painful sting on your neck from the direction you weren’t looking.

      In hindsight, I must say…having to fill out a whole bunch of paperwork doesn’t feel a whole lot like exit “counseling” to me…more just like exit stress-inducing.

      Anyway, thanks again for the time you took in your response to me and the thoughtful support it shows *hugs*

  2. The supposed Ashford University in Iowa or Bridgepoint in California (still don’t understand that) is completely fraudulent. I paid them in full through loans, and it was not until my last class that they decided to “expel” me for no reason? I have all the proof to back up that these were false accusations against me. In addition, they told Direct Loans that I had dropped out of school months before the expulsion, yet I was taking a class at the same time that I supposedly dropped out. Everything is suspect about this school and I am seeking legal counsel to sue them. It’s too bad I cannot get the 2 years I spent completing my master’s degree back, but I want my money back. We deserve justice.

    • Saronai says:

      I would like my money back, actually, love it in fact (or, at the very least, like to not have to pay more than I use to make in an entire year for what they did to me). I just don’t know how realistic that is, and I’m sure it’s not fair to make the American people pay for my mistake either, since the loan essentially came from them.

      I most definitely would like for the government to put a firmer grip on that money though and make Ashford at least as accountable as I am. Honestly, I just want their entire structure to crumple into the sea of ruin at this point (without killing anyone or causing undue financial harm to their more innocent employees). Maybe Ashford and similar schools would hold themselves more accountable if defaulting students (especially those denied a degree they earned, or came close to earning) paid half their loans and the schools had to fork up the other half.

      $10k is still a lot for me to pay back for all of Ashford’s bull, especially since I can’t use my experience there to get me a job (and I’m sure the unresolved clerical error has LOST me job opportunities)…and $10k might be enough of a big ticket that Ashford will stop hiding behind “School for the Everyman” defense and stop using manipulative tactics to take on people who are better kept waiting.

      Just for example, as much as I love knowledge and learning, a true, interested-in-the-student enrollment ADVISOR would probably have been better off helping me examine my choices better since I was looking into a degree that required at least a master’s to do anything paid with and admitted I couldn’t attend a physical school because I can’t afford a sitter for my son, who will be too young to be on his own for another five years. That creates, right there on its own, at least a three year gap between the BA I was considering and my masters in it…not a good sign.

      That’s not even including the students they’ve been cited as pep-talking that really had no business applying for an online school. I would love if my mom finally earned a degree to be a lawyer like she thought of when she was younger. However, that woman has absolutely no business applying to an online-only school to do so, at least not before she’s had intensive classes on how to correctly use one. I believe she can learn to use one enough if she cared to, but alongside learning what she needs for a law degree while taking her law degree classes? No responsible advisor would or should talk her into that sort of loan debt before she really knows how to even use a computer.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ashford’s collusion with collection companies has been known, but not brought to the proper forum, that is about to change, keep an eye peeled.

  4. cshante05 says:

    Ashford University is a major scam, these people are thieves and I plan to do something about it!!!!!!!! I am a current student experiencing the same issues. I am planning on filing a class action lawsuit against Ashford University under the pretense of Financial Aid Fraud please contact me at missevilgenius101@gmail.com f you are interested in taking them down. And visit… https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?mds=%2Fprofile%2Fcover%2Fchoose_photo%2F%3FredirectURI%3D%252Fprofile.php&mdf=1

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