School of Hard...Locks?

Trey Smith

Imagine showing up for school bright and early this past Monday morning only to find the “campus” locked and shuttered. This was the fate of hundreds of students in Oregon and Washington who attended the Business Career Training Institute (BCTI).

According to articles in the Statesman Journal and Oregonian, BCTI is under investigation for numerous violations in both states. They also face several lawsuits by former students and workers.

Many students, only a few weeks or months away from receiving their certificate of completion, now have nothing to show for all their hard work and financial debt. While it is certainly understandable that BCTI officials may have wished to cut their losses by instituting these abrupt closures, it shows an utter disregard for the lives of their students.

One of the allegations, which has led to the current investigations by Oregon and Washington, concerns BCTI’s recruiting practices. BCTI recruiters were known to frequent local employment and welfare offices trying to lure people, down on their luck, with promises of little out-of-pocket expenses (federal loans or grants) and the opportunity for career placement assistance in high paying fields.

While I can’t know what state investigators ultimately will find in this regard, I do know from personal experience that BCTI’s overall recruitment process bordered on hucksterism.

A few years ago my wife, who works as an Assistant Teacher for a Head Start program, went down to our local employment office looking for job possibilities during the summer break. As we left the building, we were approached by a BCTI recruiter. This fellow had a slick sales pitch and several colorful brochures. He provided a lot of vague information and seemed a bit annoyed with me when I asked him pointed questions.

For the heck of it, we scheduled an appointment at BCTI. They gave my wife the grand tour – I stayed in the car reading the paper. At the conclusion of the tour, my wife fetched me to go with her to meet with the financial aid person. This friendly woman told us how EASY it would be to obtain federal loans and how it would mean little out-of-pocket expense for us.

So, the woman said, classes will be starting very soon. Do you want to sign on the dotted line? Not so fast, I replied. How much money are we talking about? She tried to sidestep my question, but quickly discovered I wasn’t about to be sidestepped.

When she finally produced some documentation on the costs, my eyes almost popped out of their sockets. BCTI charges around $10,000 per term for a bunch of courses anyone could take at a high school or community college. Not only that, but the so-called generous financial aid only covered about one-half of the costs.

It was then and there I realized that my initial perception of BCTI was on target – In my estimation, this “school” was more about laundering federal and state financial aid monies than educating students for a better career.

We tried to leave gracefully, but it was difficult. The financial aide person acted like we weren’t going to be allowed to exit the building UNTIL we signed up. I thanked the woman for her time, but said we wanted to examine all options before coming to a decision. Like the recruiter before, this tact seemed to annoy her greatly.

Despite my own reservations regarding BCTI, I still feel very bad for the students who are now left in the lurch. Though there is some possibility that many may be able to get their federal loans canceled and/or recoup a portion of their out-of-pocket tuition money, there is no program that will help them recover from the psychological blow of putting so much time and energy into activity that will result in so little.

It’s a sad day indeed when the chief lesson learned is that some schools have little interest in education and every interest in ripping off their students and taxpayers.

To read about some of BCTI's unscrupulous practices, see Geeekgirl's post, "Sally Struthers Would Not Approve". She is a former employee of BCTI.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    Do not think that this could not happen also for our local k-12 public schools as well. The NEA has pushed, nationwide, for the advanced funding of pay-as-you-go pension payments due 20-plus years out into the future. The proper response to an unsustainable pay-as-you-go pension plan is to adjust inflow and outflow to match one another and thus maintain an optimal zero funding balance. The over payments, or rather over-promising of future payments, is the very definition of an unsound pension plan. The federal folks, together with NEA, have hidden the unsound design by redefining the problem as that of the failure to advanced fund the excess, and thus to borrow money that is in turn invested in, among other places, the stock market. The public school system is thereby turned into the guarantor of the speculative investment gambles of the state treasurers. It just takes a couple down pops in the gambles for the school system to be fully dismantled and reduced exclusively to a tax base to cover for the investment losses.

    The debate about Oregon's Constitutional requirement to adequately fund k-12 education must clearly demarcate between ongoing educational costs and the costs attributable to the private investment risk associated with past work. The investment risk must be a matter of between the trustee of those funds, the state treasurer and the Public Employees Retirement Board, and the private beneficiaries (the teachers and other public employee participants) and NOT the local community that is concerned with educating their children.

    Do not think that the financial management problems associated with BCTI are unique, for it is just an organization composed of men and woman like anyone else.

    The next time you hear the Superintendent of Portland Public Schools threaten to cut school days are you going to think it is just the natural order of things or will you jump out of your seat and ask the hard questions that need to be asked?


  • surrealmonk (unverified)

    I actually worked for BCTI a couple years back as a "Career Specialist." Based on my experience there, I can say that this article is, if anything, an understatement. When I was hired on, my job was to assist school graduates to find employment. Within two weeks of working there, they fired an admissions rep who's job it was to sign up students from the first phase of classes to the second phase, and gave that job to us. The tactics used were absolutely unscrupulous, and admissions reps and Career Specialists were fired and hired at a rather rapid rate. Teachers were fired if their students didn't show up to class. The place was one big diploma mill - One time, we were charged with making sure a student with dyslexia and numerous personality disorders passed, then find her a job. Level 3 sex offenders were admitted without informing other students. ANYONE was a good candidate for BCTI, regardless of their career goals or intelligence. We had to pass off students who had gotten telemarketing jobs as having been employed in a job related to their training. The whole operation was one big money-making sham, reminiscent of "Glengarry Glen Ross" or "Boiler Room". I for one hope to see they get their comeuppance - not just for personal reasons, but there were many good people who attended classes there who were just getting flim-flammed. I am embarassed to have been part of this dirty outfit, and hope that the students are able to get their money back.

  • ron (unverified)

    surrealmok -- do you see the possiblity that so-called-non-diploma-mill educational institutions could drift?

    The incentive mechanisms are the same and the legal framework for prevention of abuse are the same.

    Which is most important, teacher quality, student quality or the job-opportunity quality?

    Is our public education system itself suffering from some of the same factors that would lead BCTI to fail? Would the lack of job opportunities itself make public education a waste of time?

  • Debbie (unverified)


    Rep. Dave Hunt is currently sponsoring legislation that would strenghten the regulation of Oregon's career schools. Please contact or office by email or at 503-986-1440 for more information.

    Thanks, Debbie

  • Debbie (unverified)

    Forgot to mention that we are looking for people to testify at a hearing about their experiences with career schools. Trey? Surrealmonk?

  • surrealmonk (unverified)

    I would definitely be interested in testifying against BCTI - hwver, I'm from Washington, so I don't know if I would be useful for an Oregon hearing.

    As to the question about public schools, I think it is a completely separate issue. While public schools may have some problems, they are at least publically funded and (theoretically) accountable to the people. Private career schools are not, especially if they are non-accredited and do not confer recognized degrees. I would advise anyone looking into schools to make sure that they are regionally and/or nationally accredited. Community colleges are a good bet, even if you are not pursuing a degree, because the classes will give you nationally recognized credits which will be more accepted by employers and other schools. Even diploma mill colleges like University of Phoenix and DeVry are better than places like BCTI, since they do confer accredited degrees.

    Bottom line: Do your research. Avoid any school that has a kiosk at the mall. This isn't cell phone service you're buying, it's an investment in your future that could end up costing far more than it's worth.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    Debbie, would Mr. Hunt have the courage to examine the link between the requirement for obtaining a degree from an institution such as an ABA approved law school as a precondition for representing others in court, as a device to protect the public?

    The role of the student in the scheme is a secondary concern to a bank's desire to make zero-risk investments in certain teaching institutions. The student, or rather the student's financial circumstance, is secondary. It is secondary in the same way that a second drug is often required to counteract a side-effect of a primary drug. The primary drug, here, is the bank's desire for zero risk returns on investments, by offering a creative substitute for government appropriations outside the normal channels.

    When our state officials toss around caustic words such as diploma-mill it can be nothing more than a tool to favor a particular teaching institution over another for reasons wholly unrelated to the teaching quality or student quality or job-prospects.

    Mr. Neil G. headed up the Board of Higher Education, in March 2004, when the board instructed the then-Chancellor to deliver 2 billion dollars (that were borrowed and never lawfully "appropriated", via our State Treasurer's discretionary acts) over to the state's college system, including community colleges, in Oregon (on account of PERS).

    If Mr. Hunt can isolate financial mismanagement issues so as to properly apply them uniformly against community colleges too . . . I would be floored, to put it mildly.

    The trend has been to squeeze out liberal arts, and critical thought, from our public universities . . . and the mis-naming of the loans as solely between the student and the bank rather than a loan between the bank and the school is part of this destruction process. Whatever happened to the non-job related purposes for education? The Oregon Revised Statutes, ORS 351.001, contains flowery language about many non-job-related purposes for education that do not fit well within a scheme pegged primarily to the ability to repay a loan.

    By the way, Debbie, I cannot afford to return to Lewis & Clark LS just to take a couple courses so as to make gainful advantage of the education I have thus far obtained. The US Supreme Court has made it clear that local bar associations can require an ABA accredited degree as a precondition to the practice of law; this creates a strong tension with the protection of someone's liberty interest to choose their occupation.

    The ABA requires the entirety of the courses to be completed within a six year period of time and the good folks at L&C LS almost gleefully demanded that someone retake an entire 3 year set notwithstanding the successful completion of most of the courses.

    As to BCTI, the federal government has pretty much displaced the scope of issues to which Mr. Hunt can influence at the state level without necessitating a change in federal law.

    To be honest I take a certain measure of joy at addressing legal matters without the albatross of perpetually having to look over my shoulder to see if something I might say gives offense to the Oregon State Bar Association or one of its' members. It too, the ABA accreditation, is not free from characterization as a diploma mill tool. The lack of the freedom of a lawyer, the freedom to speak freely on legal issues to oppose political folks, is precisely why the points I raised in the consolidated PERS cases needed to be articulated by someone. (I knew there was not a sole who would risk their careers to voluntarily jump into that fray.)

    Public support of education is tied to the regulation of occupations, and the democratic process too. It is not a separate issue, it is the issue.

    What pray tell could Mr. Hunt be looking at that does not already fit within the jurisdiction of the executive branch through the offices of the AG or a DA? (Specific to BCTI.) If Mr. Hunt wants to get rid of the bank loans by restoring the process of making direct appropriations then I'd be all for it. I doubt that is what he has in mind.

    surrealmonk --occupations that require licenses are routinely treated as a privilege rather than a right. Heck, it even reaches to the point of demanding a food handler card . . . for which a paid course seems too absurd . . . at least for now.

  • Trey (unverified)

    Trey Responds: Great discussion, folks!

    Surrealmonk wrote above that institutions like Phoenix or DeVry may be better than diploma-mills like BCTI. I'm not so sure. Acording to the article in the Oregonian that I supplied a link to:

    The University of Phoenix paid $9.8 million last year to the U.S. Department of Education to settle allegations that it had violated federal financial aid regulations. Federal officials are investigating Indiana-based ITT Educational Services Inc. and Illinois-based Career Education Corp., which owns Western Culinary Institute in Portland and American InterContinental University Online's call center in Beaverton.

    From my perspective, almost all of the so-called "career schools" are suspect. I've heard a few horror stories from friends about Phoenix.

  • surrealmonk (unverified)

    Right- I'm not saying UofP or DeVry are model schools by any means, I'm just saying that they at least confer accredited degrees, whereas BCTI does not.

    If you want to learn about computers, your best bet may just be self-study. I don't have a college credit to my name, but I have learned much from simply doing it myself, and using books and/or the internet for research. And if you want a piece of paper to prove your knowledge, there is always certification exams from CompTIA, Microsoft, and the like. It costs less to take a certification exam than it does to attend school, and you don't have to waste as much time.

  • karin lane (unverified)

    I am a former BCTI student that graduated in March 2000. I have not been able to find job in computer field and now I have a student loan that I am paying for. I owe 6,000.00 and when I signed up at BCTI I owed 8,000.00 I am just paying the interest on my loan and not using what I had learned at BCTI. I want to know who I contact to write off this loan. Please contact me with this email address with the information. I would appreciate it greatly.


    Karin Lane Tacoma,Washington

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