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For-Profit Colleges Encouraged Fraud and Engaged in Deceptive and Otherwise Questionable Sales and Marketing Practices

Fraudulent Practices Encouraged by For-Profit Colleges

Our covert testing at 15 for-profit colleges found that four colleges encouraged fraudulent practices, such as encouraging students to submit false information about their financial status. In addition all 15 colleges made some type of deceptive or otherwise questionable statement to undercover applicants, such as misrepresenting the applicant’s likely salary after graduation and not providing clear information about the college’s graduation rate. Other times our undercover applicants were provided accurate or helpful information by campus admissions and financial aid representatives. Selected video clips of our undercover tests can be seen at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-948T.

Four of the 15 colleges we visited encouraged our undercover applicants to falsify their FAFSA in order to qualify for financial aid. A financial aid officer at a privately owned college in Texas told our undercover applicant not to report $250,000 in savings, stating that it was not the government’s business how much money the undercover applicant had in a bank account. However, Education requires students to report such assets, which along with income, are used to determine how much and what type of financial aid for which a student is eligible. The admissions representative at this same school encouraged the undercover applicant to change the FAFSA to falsely add dependents in order to qualify for grants. The admissions representative attempted to ease the undercover applicant’s concerns about committing fraud by stating that information about the reported dependents, such as Social Security numbers, was not required. An admissions representative at another college told our undercover applicant that changing the FAFSA to indicate that he supported three dependents instead of being a single-person household might drop his income enough to qualify for a Pell Grant. In all four situations when college representatives encouraged our undercover applicants to commit fraud, the applicants indicated on their FAFSA, as well as to the for-profit college staff, that they had just come into an inheritance worth approximately $250,000. This inheritance was sufficient to pay for the entire cost of the undercover applicant’s tuition. However, in all four cases, campus representatives encouraged the undercover applicants to take out loans and assisted them in becoming eligible either for grants or subsidized loans. It was unclear what incentive these colleges had to encourage our undercover applicants to fraudulently fill out financial aid forms given the applicants’ ability to pay for college. The following table provides more details on the four colleges involved in encouraging fraudulent activity.

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