For-profit college tried to recruit homeless

In 2009, Grand Canyon University spent $2177 per student on instruction and $3389 per student on marketing.
  • In 2009, Grand Canyon University spent $2177 per student on instruction and $3389 per student on marketing.

Rancho Santa Fe’s Dr. Michael Clifford is a self-professed expert on for-profit and online universities. On one of his websites, he calls himself a “business/finance/ethics strategist,” a catalyst in creating “high-quality education companies.” As a venture capitalist, he pumps money into often ailing schools, then helps direct the hoped-for resuscitation.

Michael Clifford

Michael Clifford

He makes a point of being a born-again Christian, and the schools he finances are often religion-based. He never went to college but uses the title “Dr.” because of his honorary doctorates, including one in sacred theology.

He oversees a web of financial enterprises, many of them beginning with the word “Significant” — Significant Federation, Significant Ventures, etc. He is a media darling, quoted exhaustively on the topics of for-profit and online universities, religion, and ethics.

Bridgepoint is “an absolute scam,” said U.S. senator Tom Harkin.

Bridgepoint is “an absolute scam,” said U.S. senator Tom Harkin.

Trouble is, some folks don’t think Clifford-financed schools are of the “high quality” he claims. These skeptics include investigators from a United States Senate committee, the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, and university accreditation bodies. Clifford boasts of his savvy, but public records show the schools he touts most frequently have significant — hmmm — problems. I reached him by phone and began an interview by asking a few questions. He got indignant, hurled some insults, and hung up.

The website of Significant Federation relates how, through various entities, he purchased the Memphis-based Christian school Crichton University and rebranded it Victory University. But on June 28 of last year, the school’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, slapped Victory with a 12-month warning. The institution had failed to provide evidence that it has a sound financial base, according to the Southern Association disclosure statement.

The matter comes to a head this June. I asked Kenneth Kinney, Victory’s director of marketing, what will happen if Victory loses accreditation. “We don’t anticipate a negative result,” he said. He would not say whether Clifford’s funding mechanism has provided more capital.

“I helped found American Way Education,” which owns Los Angeles College International, Clifford told a publication in 2007. But in December 2012, the college closed down. People are told to call another school for information. But that second school says it has no idea what happened or whom to call; it is just a repository of L.A. College transcripts.

In 2008, a Clifford entity paid $5.25 million to buy a venerable but ailing Cleveland college out of bankruptcy. Clifford renamed it Chancellor University and marketed it by stressing that John D. Rockefeller and Harvey Firestone had been graduates. According to the publication Crain’s Cleveland Business, Clifford slashed undergraduate tuition by 30 percent, lowered graduate tuition by 14 percent, boosted the full-time faculty, and created 30 new online courses.

Jack Welch invested in Chancellor University.

Jack Welch invested in Chancellor University.

The Significant Federation website raves how Clifford recruited “world-famous [retired General Electric chief executive officer] Jack Welch to create the only Jack Welch Management Institute on the planet” at Chancellor. Welch bought a 12 percent share of Chancellor.

The website features photos of Clifford and Welch beaming. But I can’t find mention that in 2011, Welch sold his institute to another for-profit school. According to the Wall Street Journal, Welch was concerned that Chancellor wasn’t the right academic home.

There was good reason for Welch’s concern. “In September 2009, Chancellor approached local homeless shelters to recruit the homeless, who are eligible for federal student loans and grants,” reported Crain’s Cleveland Business. One shelter director said Chancellor recruiters gave enrollment pitches to homeless residents, “but I don’t think they actually took the bait.” The director later told Chancellor to go away.

In 2010, the North Central Association Higher Learning Commission ordered Chancellor to show cause why its accreditation should not be rescinded. The next year, the commission cleared the university but, in June of last year, reinstated the show-cause order. Chancellor is resigning from the commission; the school’s accreditation ends in October of this year. The school did not respond to calls for comment.

Clifford reportedly left the Chancellor board in 2010. Similarly, he is no longer involved in Chula Vista’s United States University, which he purchased in 2009 when it was named InterAmerican College. Last month, the for-profit university paid a $700,000 fine to the federal government for falsifying records so students could get Pell Grants. The former financial aid director faces criminal penalties.

“In November of 1993, Clifford was contacted by a friend in Phoenix, Arizona, to help raise donations for Grand Canyon University, which was about to close its doors,” says the Significant Federation website. “Clifford became the catalyst to organize the money, management, and marketing” for the school, which was changed to a for-profit institution. Grand Canyon is a religious school. According to a study by the United States Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, the dean of the Christian Studies department commented on the takeover, “They were not going to make decisions based on our mission, our values, and our history. They were going to make them for one reason. Profit. Period. So why keep calling yourself Christian?”

The dean was fired, but Grand Canyon prospered financially. When the company went public in 2008, with Clifford holding 9 percent of the stock, it was already under investigation by the Department of Education for possibly basing recruiters’ pay on how many people they enrolled. This is a festering issue with for-profit universities. According to the company’s 2012 report, the Department of Education has requested additional information on enrollment-compensation practices, but Grand Canyon is convinced it follows the law.

The Senate committee unearthed interesting details: 58.5 percent of 2008–2009 students had withdrawn by 2010, and in 2009, Grand Canyon spent $2177 per student on instruction and $3389 per student on marketing.

Finally, Clifford and another entrepreneur formed the predecessor of the company that Clifford calls “a blockbuster”: San Diego’s Bridgepoint Education. Its accreditation is in danger, and four states, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice are probing it. Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate committee, called Bridgepoint “an absolute scam.”

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Hmmmm. And yet this is the exact program Spuerintendent Ed Brand has broght to the Sweetwater district. Does it surprise the tax payers that Brand would align himself with this program? Based on their controversial past, the answer would be NO.

Rather than focus on the identified needs of the students of Sweetwater, Brand CHOOSES to focus district energy and monies on alleged schemes. He began with the Charter School for elelentary aged students, then Grand Canyon University and NOW he wants to set up his own CIF section. The very fact that the community believes we have been abandoned by all members of the board with the exception of Lopez is proof that our District is headed for catastrophe. When the smoke clears Brand will not be found, he will have moved on and most likely is planning on sitting on the boards of the very questionable programs he has put in place. Board member for SUHSD charter school, board member for one of the college programs, board member for his own section of CIF, while I believe this is his plan surely he is smart enough to realize the fact that ONCE BRAND IS GONE - SO WILL THESE THREE QUESTIONABLE PROGRAMS.

Board meeting is this Monday, hope to see you all there, bring a friend. Would be good of you to speak, but if not these meetings will educate you as to the total dysfunction we currently find ourselves in.

Come and watch a MENZA SUPER sit and play with speaker cards, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

Come and ASK President Jim Cartmill and the only board member not indicted member John Mccann WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR - FIRE ED BRAND !!!!!!!!!!!'

anniej: Your note is intriguing, but I don't know Brand's past relationship with Grand Canyon. Best, Don Bauder

For-profit schools at any level and quality education are, by definition, contradictory. They simply cannot exist as one because the goals of both are constantly clashing. The former always as to focus on profit and how to increase profit while the latter should focus on quality and high standards to maintain on quality.

Quality of the institution depends in the level of instruction which relies on a professional teaching staff with a high level of ethics. In other words, the educator should not accept students who are not prepared and should establish high standards for achievement for those students taking the course. It would be unethical for an educator to accept anyone as a student who does not have the ability master the content, and it would be unethical for the educator to offer credit to a student who has not mastered the content.

A for-profit institution, by its very nature to make a profit, has to open its doors to anyone who will pay the tuition and will offer credit for minimal work to a student in order for the customer (student) to keep buying the product (courses).

But the worst unethical behavior is, at the end, granting a worthless degree (final product) to unsuspecting customers. The cost of the final product by the for-profit is almost nothing (simply a piece of paper) but the price paid by the student (customer) is enormous.

The bottom line is that potential students should research their choice for a school with great diligence and if they discover that the school is for profit they should beat a very fast exit.

Ishaw7878: There are a lot of problems with for-profit universities and colleges. I have been writing about this for about four years, concentrating primarily on Bridgepoint, which is based in San Diego. Among the serious deficiencies are spending more on marketing than on education: Bridgepoint and Grand Canyon are examples of that, according to the Senate committee. The high dropout rate and the inability of graduates to get jobs, as well as the high cost of these schools, are definite disadvantages. The Department of Education has been reticent to take really strong action -- tepid action yes, strong action no. These for-profit schools are almost completely supported by U.S. tax money through Pell grants and the like. Best, Don Bauder

Additionally, these for-profit "institutions" often target the military, because with the enhanced G.I. Bill of a few years ago, funding is available. The problem is that some of the younger people, newly out of the military, can be talked into something because they are approaching the civilian world rather idealistically. And these for profit institutions grab the money fast. The appeal is that they do not refuse the application process is simple. If you have the bucks, you're in.

And you get signed up--but do you learn anything?

People get discouraged, and stop attending--but meanwhile, their G.I.Bill has been used up. They have little to nothing to show for it, and the mushrooming for profit institutions end up raking in all the government funding. It is a horrible scam.

eastlaker: You are exactly right. Some for-profits have been known to recruit veterans who came home from the front with brain injuries. The military is a big recruiting ground for Bridgepoint. Best, Don Bauder

Significant Observations, (a non-accredited opinion based think tank founded just moments ago by the author), is currently comimg to the conclusion that the world is mad, the peopple are mad, and as I imagine,...God is probably mad at the charlatan as well. Significantly.

FatCatSegat: The observation by Significant Observations -- that the world is mad -- definitely smacks of verisimilitude. Best, Don Bauder

Don Bauder: It is my understanding that one, who is in Brands inner circle, brought Grand Canyon to the table. My questions are really simple, why, when we have a junior college, within our own boundaries, that we SHOULD be working with , would Brand enter into an agreement with a questionable organization. When we, as a district, are pushing to rectify early drop out rates why would we not address and put our monies into reengaging students in staying in school. Instead we are cutting ROP and Adult Ed, programs that encourage obtaining life employment skills. Last, but not least, we enter in the charter school business, a business that Brand has historically spoken out against. We can not educate our middle and high school students yet we are now in the business of educating of the elementary age students - when the majority of our schools are on the Program Improvement List - we now have the gall to "claim" we can do a better job than C V Elementary - p,l,e,a,s,e.

Brand is little respected, and now he CHOOSES to associate himself with entities that seem to have much baggage.

anniej: I think the questions you raise are valid ones, and should be put on the table. Best, Don Bauder

annniej,I can't wait to call the SUHSD tomorrow to see how many students have signed up for classes at Grand Canyon University. Thank you Mr. Bauder for your enlightening article. Members of the public and teachers have already spoken against Dr. Brand's efforts to drag us into Grand Canyon University,but our school board with the exception of Ms. Lopez have given him the green light to proceed. The question we asked is why Grand Canyon when we already have a working relationship SDSU and SWC? We even gave the argument about separation of church and state to no avail. Thanks again.

erupting: I cannot fathom any reason why the school district would hook up with Grand Canyon when it already has relationships with SDSU and SWC. Best, Don Bauder

Yes, there is no logical reason for Sweetwater to work with Grand Canyon--except for a possible financial incentive from somewhere. To a person or persons unknown. But if you take a look at those who are most in favor of Sweetwater turning students and their parents' hard-earned cash over to Grand Canyon University, that would be an indicator.

Maybe payments have not yet been made. Conversely, if payments have been made, perhaps they have been rendered untraceable, or at least difficult to trace.

To me what it looks like is that Brand wants all those students who would have benefitted from ROP/CTE, Adult Ed, classes at SWC--the whole gamut of programs which had been in place--to be shunted into the "for-profit" sector...will his cut be on a per-student basis, a per class unit basis, or, for example is there a job in the offing for Ricasa at GCU once SWC is no longer quite as comfortable. I speculate...

Quinones seemed genuinely bothered at Brand's cold-hearted program cuts--has she stepped forward to bring more attention to the problem, and perhaps work to alter this course a bit?

McCann, still TAD? So tempting to ask--how can you tell?

Cartmill, Mr. Experience...who demonstrates none of that experience, who must have sold out so long ago that he can't even vaguely remember why he even shows up to board meetings...what is his angle in this? Is it that money that Brand gave him a few years back that still keeps him in thrall, scampering obediently to vote as he is told?

What a pathetic crew of non-performers. When I think of all the students who are being let down on a daily basis by these poor excuses, it makes me very sad.

And what is it teaching the students? To sell out? To sell your soul? To ignore real need and only serve your own selfish interests? Great job, Brand, Cartmill, Quinones, McCann and Ricasa. This sad lot of lost souls, complicit, selfish to the end.

eastlaker: I think a major question is this: why should a public school have a relationship with a private religious school? And a religious school that is a for-profit institution? Best, Don Bauder

Exactly--there is no good reason, except perhaps payoffs for person(s) unknown.

eastlaker: If there have been payoffs, the Reader's star reporter, Susan Luzzaro, will smoke them out. Best, Don Bauder

And another question is why someone with so little awareness of ethics would want to align with a religious institution...if politics makes strange bedfellows, what is this?

It can only be venal. The means to more money for Fast Eddy, the wheeler-dealer of Sweetwater. Access to cash.

Because anyone with a true understanding of separation of church and state as well as a moral side recognizing right from wrong would know this is not how things should be done.

Yet Ed Brand ignores all constraints, all boundaries--because he is one greedy piece of work. With no conscience. A sociopath, one might say, if one were to attempt a label.

eastlaker: It seems to me that officials in public education would know that it is not proper to align public schools with religious schools. I am shocked to hear that the Sweetwater board members gave blank looks when somebody raised the question. Where have those board members been? Best, Don Bauder

The board members with the exception of Bertha Lopez checked out long ago. Only they know the reason or reasons for that. Again, it can't be anything good.

Of course there could be a deeper criticism regarding the board members. We seem to have elected a group of individuals--with the exception of Ms. Lopez--who are incapable of critical thinking, who have absolutely no concept of reasoned, intelligent decision-making. Combine that with the atmosphere of 'pay-to-play' and you get the Sweetwater Board of Trustees. What really gets to me is that they appear to be completely oblivious of their obvious extreme dereliction of duty.

Sweetwater hasn't had decent leadership in so long that it is amazing the schools function at all. Doubly amazing that a choice few are award-winning. Credit the professionalism of outstanding teachers for that.

The pace of justice is certainly not swift in the case of Sweetwater, but we can only hope it is sure. And that Brand, Cartmill, McCann, Quinones and Ricasa get schooled but good in each and every one of their failings.

eastlaker: I have spent most of my life investigating financial wrongdoing. And when I see a situation as you describe, I wonder if money is passing under the table, and a lot of officials know the truth but don't utter it because of fear of self-incrimination. I am not saying that this is behind the Sweetwater mess; I am simply saying that when I see such things, I get suspicious. Best, Don Bauder

Mr. Bauder your question was given to the board of the SUHSD and they just looked at the person speaking with this blank look on their face like duh, what? I remember one of the people even said she was Jewish and why would her kids want to attend a Christian religious school? There is crap loads of money being made and if it all comes out the community will see Dr. Brands pants lined with money. He doesnt give a crap about kids he only cares about himself and that big statue he thinks he will get at the district. Well yeah he might get a statue all right for all the birds to stand on it and take a dump.

angrybird: I am glad the question has been put to the board. Sweetwater/Grand Canyon is a highly insensitive alliance, as the Jewish lady pointed out. It may not be an illegal alliance per se, but it violates the American tradition of separation of government and religion. Best, Don Bauder

I think the local TV stations would miss the regular flood of money for commercials from Grand Canyon U--I was wondering long ago just how much money have they spent in the San Diego area.

aardvark. As you note in this column, Grand Canyon in 2009 spent far more on marketing than on education. Best, Don Bauder

Keep digging Mr. Bauder, according to a story that Ms. Luzzaro did Aliant is next on the list to be signed with SUHSD. I guess these idiots didn't learn with GCU. Oh year and it seems that counselors are being required to sign up a certain amount of students. These instructions come from the corrupt man in charge.

angrybirds, are you telling me that now Brand has given quotas for counselors to attain--to enroll students in FOR-PROFIT classes?? When their public education is supposed to be provided until they graduate from high school??

How can that be considered remotely legal?

Why is this man not sitting in jail? Or at least appearing before a judge with his favorite bail bondsman by his side?

Eastlaker, I will confirm that Conselors were given Quotas through a question I asked about GCU and the look on the Conselors faces. Quite a grimace. Oh I used Dr. Brand's name in the question!!!! I have an averence to greed, making money is one thing but this is pure greed on one side and pure stupidity on the other. BBQ

bbq: If you are looking for ways to cast this in a positive light -- and I am not so inclined -- you might think of it this way. The nonprofit universities have a tendency to teach the beauty of the way and the goodness of the wayfarers, to quote Samuel Beckett. It's learning for learning's sake -- reading poetry, poring over history. Greed? What's that? But those who are high-pressured into enrolling in a for-profit college, then find they have been fleeced, have at least one advantage: they learn early that it isn't love that makes the world go 'round. It's greed. Best, Don Bauder

eastlaker: Paying recruiters on the basis of how many people they enroll has the for-profit universities in trouble. Best, Don Bauder

angrybirds: Alliant is the old United States International University, largely for graduate students, and heavily foreign. It has a number of campuses. It is a non-profit, but could be converted, I suppose. It never had much of a reputation. Best, Don Bauder

Eastlaker I totally am hip to the way this guy conducts business. He is an absolute money hungry narcissist. There is no way his pet project would work without quotas from our teachers and counselors. So no only is he selling our kids out he is making our counselors do the same...

angrybirds: I maintain that our greed-centric society got worse in the 1980s and shows no signs of changing. Best, Don Bauder

Maybe so, but boatloads of neoconservatives and proponents of the Laffer Curve would still find Ed Brand's schemes reprehensible.

eastlaker: So-called conservatives tend to be tolerant of thieves for several reasons: 1. The conservatives don't believe in taxes, so approve offshore monkey business; 2. Believing in the so-called free market, the conservatives shout "caveat emptor." That said, you may be right: they would disapprove of what Brand is doing. Best, Don Bauder

To rework an old saw: There are lies, damn lies, statistics, and then there is Ed Brand.

eastlaker: Will Sweetwater go through a re-Branding? Best, Don Bauder

One can only hope. And the sooner, the better. De-Branding might be even better!

eastlaker: That certainly seems to be the consensus on this blog site. Best, Don Bauder

Ladies and Gentlemen, unfortunately, we may be better off putting up with the Brand BS until the Board elections next fall, I would hate to see the current Board of Neo-felons signing a contract for a new Super, bringing in another political insider, ie Cheryl Cox, or the like .... When can we get educators creating education programs and Managers running the operations and fiscal side of the business?
I am a keen supporter of 'Lean" Management ie Toyota Operating system, also Modern Operating Agreements, which Labor (Teachers) and Management (Adminstration) really look at the best way to compensate for the work being done and the quality goals achieved. I may be naive when it comes to the Teachers union but if the Auto Industry and the UAW could be "Re-Aligned", there has to be hope for SUHSD. To all of the voters of the san diego south bay; " the definition of an Idiot is a person who does something the same way over and over and expects to get a different result". Time for a change in Adminstration, through change on the Board, I can't wait for the depositions and trials. BBQ

bbq: You can bet that the Reader's Susan Luzarro will be covering the significant events extremely well. Best, Don Bauder

Great work, Brother Don!

But (everyone has a 'but'?) aren't we straining out the gnats getting ready for the pig pit?

What about the ties of "Education" with the Federal subsidies?

The overall cost of education is skyrocketing due to Education feeding at the public trough of not only loans but tax credits and grants especially Pell grants.

It appears Pell grants now go directly to the institution rather than the student. How much incentive does the school have to control costs when they can spend Federal dollars on marketing???

PowayJunkMan: The for-profit universities that I have followed generally get 80% to 85% of their revenue from the U.S. government, greatly in the form of Pell grants. Yet the for-profits get their most vocal support from conservatives who claim they are all in favor of cutting government spending. Best, Don Bauder

I'm reminded of the wise Native American proverb: "speaks with a forked tongue."

dwbat: Or speak out of both sides of one's mouth. Best, Don Bauder

PowayJunkMan, "Fast Eddy" Brand is the pig pit.

eastlaker: I have a hunch you do not have a high opinion of Brand. Best, Don Bader

Well, the man does seem to go out of his way to be a walking disgrace.

eastlaker: So, apparently, you believe your obligation is to run the walker down. Best, Don Bauder

eastlaker: "Moral imperative" is sometimes not a good defense. Best, Don Bauder

In this particular case, I believe it is in the public's best interest for Ed Brand to be relieved from any contact with public funds as well as any authority over any educational entities, any students, any teachers, and any administrative personnel. His judgment is sadly lacking; he seems to be driven solely by the desire to strip Sweetwater's resources and provide jobs for his friends while he enriches himself.

He has no honor and no decency.

Just my opinion formed following observing him at work.

eastlaker: Certainly he has a lot of questions to answer about his hooking Sweetwater up with a religious, for-profit university. That should be investigated Best, Don Bauder

Well, in the interest of keeping track, it looks like when it comes to GCU, all bets are off!! It looks like heat from the community may have caused Brand and his Loyal Voting Block to go in another direction, because we are now hearing zippo about GCU, but much about Alliant University.

So--Fast Eddy is ducking and weaving, but I think we may have him on the run--or maybe a skedaddle.

eastlaker: Well, he should run away from Grand Canyon, and so should his lackeys on the board. Best, Don Bauder

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