Newly Public Records Show Every Safeguard Failed Students Who Trusted False Promises by Dominican University and Make School; Watchdog Calls on Education Secretary to Wake Up to Schemes by Schools and For-Profit Partners
March 20, 2023 | WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) released a scathing new report exposing a back-room deal between the failed for-profit coding bootcamp Make School, Inc. (Make School) and Dominican University (Dominican), a private, nonprofit college based outside of San Francisco.
The report finds that Make School and Dominican joined forces to drive hundreds of first-generation students, low-income students, and military veterans to each take on thousands of dollars of predatory private student loans and, for some, federal student loans—all for a program that fell far short of what Make School advertised. Documents revealed as part of SBPC’s investigation show that Dominican University and Make School misled accreditors, state regulators, and prospective students about the education and financing these entities provided, allowing Make School to gain access to federal student aid dollars and prey on students despite its public track record of harmful practices.
SBPC’s new report Selling Out Students: A Case Study in Brand-Name Schools Partnering with For-Profit Scammers to Make a Buck, is available here: protectborrowers.org/sellingoutstudents/
“Students should not be used as guinea pigs by schools looking to test out new ways to reap profit. The case of Dominican and Make School is a worrying example of the blurring of for-profit and nonprofit education, and how these alliances ultimately hurt students who are just trying to pursue a better future,” said SBPC Student Loan Justice Fellow Claire Torchiana.
Over the course of a year-long investigation, SBPC reviewed hundreds of pages of previously unpublished documents, internal records, and public court filings that document how Make School and Dominican fooled regulators, took advantage of students, and escaped accountability. SBPC found the following:
- Dominican and Make School entered into an illegal, back-room deal to drive low income students and students of color into debt, then Make School secretly sold off students’ loans to investors for quick cash.
- Dominican and Make School induced students to borrow federal student loans based on a promise that Make School would offer payment assistance—but it was a lie.
- Dominican received stock options in Make School in return for selling out students.
A copy of the documents and records uncovered during this investigation is available here: protectborrowers.org/sellingoutstudents_exhibits/
In July 2021, 50 Make School students joined together to sue the bootcamp provider, alleging a wide range of abuses including deceptive marketing and predatory lending from the time period preceding the school’s partnership with Dominican. Today’s report chronicles the aftermath of this lawsuit, exposing Dominican and Make School’s repeated pattern of obfuscation and deceit.
During the course of the investigation that led to today’s report, SBPC sent a letter to ED officials outlining a wide range of illegal practices committed by both Dominican and Make School, calling on ED to immediately cancel all federal student loans students took on to attend the Dominican/Make School program, and urging the Biden Administration to take action against Dominican University for its role in this scheme.
Subsequent decisions by ED have made it possible for some Dominican/Make School students to access limited federal student loan cancellation. However, much work remains for ED and its partners to ensure that all Dominican/Make School students get the full debt relief they deserve, to hold bad actors accountable, and to ensure that another situation like the Dominican/Make School saga does not arise in the future. With colleges becoming increasingly interested over time in delegating teaching to for-profit contractors, there is a growing risk that catastrophes like the one Dominican/Make School students had to endure will become only more common.
A copy of SBPC’s letter to Department of Education officials regarding the Dominican/Make School partnership is available here: protectborrowers.org/sellingoutstudents_letter/
The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) is a nonprofit organization focused on eliminating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. We engage in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance racial and economic justice for all.