subsidized student loans, and once as a prospective student with higher income and assets to qualify the student only for certain unsubsidized loans.5 Our undercover applicants were ineligible for other types of federal postsecondary education assistance programs such as benefits available under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (commonly referred to as “the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill”). We used fabricated documentation, such as tax returns, created with publicly available hardware, software and materials, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—the form used by virtually all 2- and 4-year colleges, universities, and career colleges for awarding federal student aid—during our in-person meetings. In addition, using additional bogus identities, investigators posing as four prospective students filled out forms on two Web sites that ask questions about students’ academic interests, match them to colleges with relevant programs, and provide the students’ information to colleges or the colleges’ outsourced calling center for follow-up about enrollment. Two students expressed interest in a culinary arts degree, and two other students expressed interest in a business administration degree. We filled out information on two Web sites with these fictitious prospective students’ contact information and educational interests in order to document the type and frequency of contact the fictitious prospective students would receive. We then monitored the phone calls and voicemails received.
To compare the cost of attending for-profit colleges with that of nonprofit colleges, we used Education information to select public and private nonprofit colleges located in the same geographic areas as the 15 for-profit colleges we visited. We compared tuition rates for the same type of degree or certificate between the for-profit and nonprofit colleges. For the 15 for- profit colleges we visited, we used information obtained from campus representatives to determine tuition at these programs. For the nonprofit colleges, we obtained information from their Web sites or, when not available publicly, from campus representatives. Not all nonprofit colleges offered similar degrees, specifically when comparing associate’s degrees and certificate programs. We cannot project the results of our undercover tests or cost comparisons to other for-profit colleges.
5Regardless of income and assets, all eligible students attending a Title IV college are eligible to receive unsubsidized federal loans. The maximum amount of the unsubsidized loan ranges from $2,000 to $12,000 per year, depending on the student’s grade level and on whether the student is considered “dependent” or “independent” from his or her parents or guardians.