One year ago, the Dream Center chain of for-profit colleges collapsed, closing schools across the country – including the Art Institutes, Argosy University, and South University -and leaving tens thousands of students stranded and scammed out of an education. Jared Russell attended South University and was one of those students.
This is Jared’s story.
How did you hear about South University and why did you decide to attend?
I was originally looking to find a commercial driver’s license and was reaching out to different companies for training. One company asked if I had ever considered going back to school. I expressed a slight interest and the representative I was talking to immediately transferred the call so we were on directly with a rep at South University. Within a few days, I was fully enrolled as a student in their Information Technology program. Looking back, I should have seen that as a red flag. It was weird how quickly the company put me in touch with South and how quickly they pushed through the enrollment process.
What did South tell you about the school’s programs or resources as you were enrolling?
I was told that South worked directly with corporations placing students in internships and that there was a good possibility to go from a placed internship to working full time. But what they don’t tell you are the real numbers. They don’t tell you that most students don’t experience any direct help from South, never mind get a job.
What were classes at South University like?
Most of my family is in IT, so when I would get assignments, I would show them the material. My family members were concerned and told me the programs, software, and materials they were using to teach were several years out of date – sometimes by decades. The information they were using wasn’t even relevant in the field anymore.
Sometimes, the assignments were 3-5 question “knowledge checks” with selectable answers. The format was terrible because it never revealed what question you got wrong, if you got one wrong. On top of that, I found questions whose “correct” answers were in fact wrong, and on a number of occasions, I pointed this out to instructors. Some took it seriously, but others pretty much blew it off as normal.
All of that prompted me to withdraw from South University last March, and I transferred to another university. Less than half of my credits transferred. I basically started over. The school wouldn’t accept any of the IT focused class credits.
How much debt did you accrue from attending South University? Have you started paying the loans back?
Between April of 2017 to March of 2019, I took out between $26,000 to $32,000. Before withdrawing, South owed me a refund, and after I left, they claimed that I owed them that money. They immediately sent their collections agency after me threatening that if I didn’t comply with the payments, they could do something with my current financial aid. That freaked me out because I can’t afford for them to mess with my financial aid again.
How has that debt impacted your life and decision making so far?
Because I’m still in school, not enough time has passed for me to be required to pay anything yet. But I’m constantly worried about what will happen and that it will somehow affect my ability to get additional loans. And I assume it will impact my credit at some point.
What would you say to the people who question whether loans from South and other predatory for-profit colleges should be cancelled?
I would say that I took out these loans under false pretenses. It was fraud, plain and simple. I was told I would receive a service that I never actually received. I was lucky that I’m a little older so I’ve had past experiences and family members that helped me realize things were not right. I caught the red flags eventually. I can’t imagine being 18 or 19 and having no idea what’s happening. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to get these calls from collection agencies. These schools harass you to comply and it’s scary.