The financial aid directors had to report two figures, he said: the number of students enrolled and the number of students "packaged" -- that is, the number who had signed up for financial aid.
The expectation was that 90 percent of applicants would be packaged upon enrollment, he said. "If you get them enrolled, they better be packaged before they leave the door," he said.
Pressuring customers to make an immediate decision is a defining trait of hard-sell sales tactics. Traditional colleges give students and their parents months to explore their financial aid options.
Career Education's methods benefit the company in two ways, the former director said: Students are less likely to back out of plans to attend college if they've put their signatures on student loan forms. At the same time, the company gets the guarantee students will be able to come up with tuition money.
The former director, who said he quit the school because he came to believe Career Education did not have the students' interests at heart, said few of the financial aid advisers who worked under him were well-trained or otherwise qualified to counsel applicants on student loans. Some did not have college degrees, he said.
Asked if he or the advisers were given incentives to package students, he responded: "If you would classify keeping your job as an incentive, then yes, there was a major incentive."
Career Education declined to comment on the issues raised by the former financial aid director. The company requested questions in writing; The Morning Call complied, but Career Education did not respond.
Back at Lehigh Valley College, Leon would be called out of class, informed that her account had run dry and told that she needed to sign for yet another loan to stay in school, she said.
Other students reported the same experience. Calling students out of class to attend to financial matters was a fairly common occurrence, said former LVC Dean of Academics Dani Phelps and former computer networking instructor Don Heiney.
Stephanie Azar, LVC's director of financial aid, denied that she or her staff calls students out of class to attend to financial aid matters. "We would never interrupt class to do that," she said.
During none of her meetings with LVC financial aid advisers, Leon said, did the subject of interest rates come up. She said she wasn't aware she had high-interest loans until after graduation, although Sallie Mae said rates are disclosed over the phone and in the mail.
LVC also requested a list of questions before speaking to The Morning Call, and it then invited the newspaper to the school to see its slide show and meet its financial aid staff. The staff disputed many of the details that Leon and other former students and faculty recounted.
Eddie Alkhal, assistant director of tuition planning, said financial aid advisers don't tell students what information to plug into their student loan forms. "It's really up to the students to finalize the paperwork," he said.
The school tells students before they sign any paperwork that private loans carry a variable interest rate ranging from 7 to 17 percent, Alkhal said. Further explanation is available to those who request it, said Tarek Richan, director of tuition planning. "We explain to them that this is a very high interest rate."
Richan also denied the school is under undue pressure to package students with financial aid. "We encourage them to go home and think about their options," he said.
Leon, however, said she only grasped the magnitude of her debt after graduating from LVC last year. She had borrowed a total of $37,514 through seven student loans.
Two of the loans -- totaling $6,125 -- are low-interest Stafford loans which, because they are subsidized by the federal government, have an interest rate of 3.37 percent. The other five are private loans with variable interest rates ranging from 7 to 15.375 percent.
She sought relief through loan consolidation only to find out that private loans, unlike Stafford loans, cannot be consolidated at a lower interest rate.
According to the repayment plan devised by her lender, she is to pay up to $553.60 in monthly installments totaling $92,984.42 through 2020.
But that's an unlikely best-case scenario. Leon, a bank customer service representative who earns about $25,000 a year, doesn't make enough to stick to that schedule. She has missed payments and requested deferments. Interest rates, meanwhile, are climbing.
An Exclusive Report from The Morning Call
School steers students to backbreaking loans
Some say they didn't notice high interest rates until it was too late. College and lender say information was provided.
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