Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Harlem Children's Zone-Berkeley College Update

In response to this post here, Marty Lipp, the Communications Director at the Harlem Children's Zone says HCZ has no "business relationship" with Berkeley College or any other for-profit college.

Lipp says high school juniors and seniors at the HCZ programs are given a menu of colleges to apply to and Berkeley College just happens to be one of the choices on that menu. The menu also contains CUNY and SUNY schools as well as non-profit colleges and universities like Columbia and NYU.

He also says students are directed to apply to the SEEK program at CUNY schools, the EOP program at SUNY schools and the HEOP program at non-profit institutions if students fit the academic and financial criteria.

Lipp says the majority of HCZ students attend CUNY schools, though there are some at SUNY colleges and universities, a few at non-profit institutions, and a few at Berkeley College.

He says the students at Berkeley College are "doing well." When I asked what "doing well" meant, he said the contact that students at Berkeley have had with staff at HCZ has not raised any "red flags" that there are problems.

I am heartened to hear Mr. Lipp say that Harlem Children's Zone has no "business arrangement" with Berkeley College.

I am also heartened to hear that the staff at the HCZ counsel students to apply to CUNY, SUNY and non-profit schools and suggest the specialized SEEK, EOP, and HEOP programs when applicable.

And yet, something troubles me about the presence of Berkeley College on the menu of school choices made known to students.

Berkeley College is a non-profit institution that charges a little less than $30,000 a year for classes in a Bachelor's Degree program. So a Bachelor's Degree from Berkeley College will cost just under $120,000.

Now $120,000 is a lot of money for a college degree from even a reputable school, but from a proprietary school like Berkeley College, it is ridiculously overpriced. And while Berkeley College does not have notoriety of Interboro, Katherine Gibbs, or other scam schools, current and former students do not rank the school very high in their estimation and overwhelmingly say they would not attend there again if they could do their schooling all over (see here and here for some student reviews of the school.)

Berkeley offers nothing that the much cheaper and more reputable CUNY and SUNY 2-year and 4-year programs offer, so I don't understand why the Harlem Children's Zone has Berkeley College on it's list of schools for students to apply to when they're high school seniors.

If the goal of the Harlem Children's Zone is to, as they say on the website, use their "'whatever it takes' attitude when it comes to helping children to succeed," and "evaluate and track the results of their work" in order "to take corrective actions if they were not," they might want to track the outcomes from the students who attend Berkeley College or any other for-profit post-secondary school that they offer as options on their college lists.

What are the graduation rates of students who attend those schools? What is the debt level? Do they work in their chosen fields when they graduate and if so, for how long? More importantly, could they have worked in those chosen fields without the dubious credential they paid either $60,000 or $120,000 to receive? And finally, do the students who graduate from these institutions make a livable wage that enables them to pay off the loans they had to take out in order to attend these for-profits.

The reality is that the typical student who attends the Harlem Children's Zone programs would go to CUNY for free + receive money for books and expenses from the federal Pell Grant program, the state TAP program, and perhaps even the SEEK or College Discovery program. That same student would perhaps have to take out a $5,000 loan a year to attend a SUNY school where tuition, room, and board is about $17,000 (Pell, TAP, and EOP grants usually cover the rest.) Non-profit institutions like NYU and Columbia can be much more expensive, but if the student is academically eligible for the HEOP program, they can go for a fraction of the cost of the tuition and receive a very reputable education and valuable credential (and some schools cover almost all of the cost for HEOP students - I have had half dozen students attend Syracuse University in the HEOP program for as little as $2,000 a year after receiving federal, state and campus-based aid.)

The reality for students who attend Berkeley College at about $30,000 a year is $15,000-$20,000 a year in loans even after they receive the Pell grant, TAP, and the campus-based aid Berkeley College offers to financially-qualified students.

A low income student who receives a Bachelor's Degree from a 4-year CUNY will complete her/his schooling with little-to-no student loan debt.

A low income student who graduates from a SUNY 4-year school will be carrying some loan debt, but it will be mitigated by the value of the diploma (many of the 4-year SUNY schools are quite good and some, like Binghamton and Stony Brook, are world class.) If the student was part of the EOP program, the loan debt will be pretty small, relative to what colleges cost these days (perhaps about $20,000 in loan debt for all four years.)

But a low income student who graduates from Berkeley College will graduate with $60,000-$80,000 of loan debt.

That's an awfully big debt to start out your adult life with, but especially so if you took it on getting a degree from a school like Berkeley College.

So just checking in with former HCZ students now attending Berkeley College to see if there are any "red flags" isn't doing enough for them.

I meet with every senior I teach in the fall semester to talk about their college plans, their financial situations, etc., and when I saw that every student I had in my class who was also in the Harlem Children's Zone had Berkeley College on their lists of colleges to apply to, I grew concerned. When I called one of the sites back in the fall, I was told by one of the coordinators that HCZ had a "business arrangement" with Berkeley College, which is why students were given that college to put on their list of prospective schools. I asked for more information about this arrangement and was told I would hear back from somebody about this, but never did. I called again last week about this concern, again was told I would hear back from somebody at HCZ, but never did.

It wasn't until I blogged about my concerns that suddenly the HCZ was concerned about my concerns. Mr. Lipp told me that the person I talked to earlier who noted a business arrangement between HCZ and Berkeley was "not authorized to speak for the organization" and was uninformed about the subject.

Perhaps that is so. But when I spoke to another site coordinator this week, I was told that a group from Harlem Children's Zone including this person had just toured Berkeley College. So while I will take Mr. Lipp at his word that Harlem Children's Zone does not have a business arrangement with or receive any money from Berkeley College, I would also note that they're not exactly warning kids about the dangers of the for-profit schools when the staff is also getting a tour of the facilities there.

I will assume nothing nefarious goes on here, that the Harlem Children's Zone folks do not see proprietary schools with the same skeptical eyes that I do. Having heard from too many students who had been suckered in by the sales pitches at Berkeley College, Art Institute, Laboratory Institute of Merchandising and elsewhere who were left with somewhere between $30,000 and $80,000 dollars in debt and either useless credentials or college credits that wouldn't transfer to any reputable school, I believe students need to be made aware of the dangers and track records of these schools.

This doesn't mean that CUNY, SUNY and non-profit institutions do not have their problems, only that they are nowhere near as pronounced and troubling as the ones I see at the for-profits schools.


  1. The overlap between charter operators and proprietary scam schools is one that needs to be investigated further. Jeffery Leeds, the private equity operator head of Green Dot in NYC, also runs proprietary schools.

    Mr. Lipp, the Communications Director: that's a good one. Linguists call that "nominal determinism."

  2. Jeez, for that kind of money I'd think they could attend a school much more prestigious than this Berkley College. They could probably go to McGill for far less, if they were willing to put up with the standard 8 feet of snow.

    On the downside, they'd probably have to learn to measure the snow in meters. Who can figure those wacky Canadians with all that socialist health care?

  3. Here’s what Geoffrey Canada had to say about the HCZ:

    Highlights that are questionable or as Colbert states to him “spin, spin, your scenario”.

    GC wants to end generational poverty
    GC wants to help children to become tax payers
    GC wants to teach poor parents to know about brain development that wealthy parents do for their children
    GC raise smart children
    GC wants to level the playing field for all children equal chance to be successful
    GC complained that the stimulus package gave $350 billion to correct Wall Street, but not enough money for poor children.

    Bloggers, I would like your feedback on the above, which is only a snippet of GC’s comments. Watch the video.

    GC reminds me of the famous line that Michael Douglas said in the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good!”