Update, November, 2004

From "The Oregonian" November 25, 2004, page C1

Back to: A Real Education

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The Department of Education raises questions about the school's staff turnover, job placement and tuition policies

By Brent Hunsberger

The Oregon Department of Education on Wednesday declared the Business Career Training Institute "at risk" and broadened an investigation into how the private career school recruits and enrolls students and places graduates in jobs.

In a letter Wednesday to the Gig Harbor, Wash.-based school, the department said it found BCTI in violation of a rule that bars private schools from reducing the tuition for some students but not others. The department also found "excessive" instructor turnover - more than 52 percent - at BCTI's Beaverton campus between July 2002 and June 2004.

"This causes anxiety not only for the staff affected, but also for the students who see personnel changes happening on a recurring basis," wrote Ray Lindley, director of the department's private schools and specialized programs divisionk, in the letter to the school.

State rules require Oregon's 260 private, nondegree-granting schools to keep staff turnover below 50 percent.

Lindley's office declined to put BCTI, which has campuses in Beaverton and Salem as well as Vancouver and four other Washington locations, on porbation or suspend its license. But as an "at-risk" career school, BCTI must reduce its staff turnover rate or risk losing its license, Lindley said.

THe investigation also found the school offered tuition discounts to drop-outs to encourage them to re-enroll, in violation of a state rule, the letter said. The discounts were not available to other students.

In a response sent to The Oregonian, BCTI said a major staff restructuring in May 2004 had skewed the school's worker turnover rate.

The school said it is cooperating with the state's investigation and will correct any problems brought to its attention.*

School officials noted that the state found no evidence that BCTI admitted students who couldn't benefit from its training, as a former BCTI instructor alleged in a complaint filed in June that launched the state's investigation.

Earlier this month, the school announced it was suspending enrollments in Oregon while considering moving or consolidating campuses.

Lindley said in an interview that his office will continue to look into "areas of concern" uncovered during its five-month investigation of the school and detailed by students and ex-instructors in a Nov. 14 article in The Oregonian.

Those areas include how the school recruits and enrolls students, as well as whether it offers the training it advertises, Lindley said.

The privately held school offers training in office software programs and other computer skills for $10,000 to $20,000.

Lindley said he's also examining whether the school, formerly known as the Business Computer Training Institute, counted graduates who took jobs at McDonald's, Krispy Kreme, a Chevron gas station and other retail stores as training-related placements.

State rules and private-school accrediting standards require BCTI to place at least half of graduates in jobs related to their training to remain eligible for federal student aid revenue.

Lindley said it appears that 48 of 88 BCTI graduates placed in jobs could have found their jobs without the school's $10,000-plus training.

BCTI management said in its written response that Lindley's characterizations of graduate placements were either inaccurate or reflected temporary positions graduates took while seeking more apprpriate jobs. The school said it has never listed a job at McDonald's as a training-related placement outcome.

The Oregonian on Nov. 14 detailed complaints by more than 40 former instructors and students that BCTI inflated job placement rates to meet state licensing standards and recruited students outside employment and welfare offices.

Last week, the Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board opened an investigation into whether BCTI was violating a law prohibiting career schools from recruiting outside welfare offices. Oregon has no such law limiting recruitment.

Former workers and students also told The Oregonian the school altered admissions tests to admit unqualified students and pressured instructors to pass students - wome with mental disabilities - without concerns for their academic performance.

Lindley said the state, since the article, has received about a dozen calls and e-mails from ex-instructors and students wanting to cooperate with the state's investigation.

BCTI Has called the allegations in the story generalized and unsubstantiated.

BCTI enrolls most students by helping them sign up for federal financial aid.

In 2000, the school reported $21.5 million in total revenue, with about 86 percent of its cash revenue coming from federal tuition grants and student loans.

The school must be accredited and licensed to receive such aid revenue.

BCTI also faces an investigation by its accrediting agency. The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training is examinging the school's student completion rate and graduate job-placement to ensure they meet council standards.


*I'll bet BCTI spelled it "it's" in their letter. -gcb


Poet X / Greg Baysans