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Corinthian Colleges: Kamala Harris calls a scam a scam

October 10, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Kamala Harris lowers the boom on Corinthian Colleges. Marc Morial, are you listening?
Kamala Harris lowers the boom on Corinthian Colleges. Marc Morial, are… (Justin Sullivan / Getty…)

Corinthian Colleges again stands accused of being one of the crummiest operators in a crummy industry -- the for-profit college game.

The finger-pointing this time comes from California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who sued Santa Ana-based Corinthian on Thursday for a pattern of out-and-out lying to applicants and students about placement rates and other facts.

She also accused the company of misleading investors in a way that the Securities and Exchange Commission would want to ask about, if it weren't closed for business because of the Republican shutdown.

The company says it's "disappointed" about the lawsuit and it's "committed to regulatory compliance."

The worst thing Harris found involves Corinthian's target market. According to internal documents her staff reviewed, the firm goes after "isolated," "impatient" individuals with "low-self-esteem," and who have "few people in their lives who care about them."

Then, according to her lawsuit, it plies these victims with bogus placement statistics and rosters of educational programs it doesn't actually offer. And it charges them premium tuition and fees to boot, often leading to their taking on student debt they can't possibly pay off with the lousy jobs they end up with.

Harris' complaint raises anew a question I posed back in May, after Corinthian announced two new board members with great fanfare. The new members were former Secretary of Defense and U.S. Rep. Leon Panetta, and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. I suggested that that both of them had been snookered into becoming silk window dressing for this troubled company, which deserved no better than chintz.

Why ever, I asked, would two such prominent people with reputations to protect affiliate themselves with an outfit like Corinthian?

Panetta, as it turned out, got the message. He quietly resigned from the Corinthian board a few weeks later, explaining that "a large number of commitments, requests and obligations ... have demanded a much greater time commitment than I had anticipated." He returned all the money he'd been paid up to that point.

Morial, who is CEO of the National Urban League, is still in place, however, collecting a cool $60,000 cash per year plus deferred stock worth an additional $90,000.

Harris' lawsuit is here. A damning report on the for-profit college industry from U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in which Corinthian plays a starring role, is here. They both make for fascinating reading, but ugly. 

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.


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