Today I woke up to a message from my company’s HR. They finally answered a question that’s been on my mind since last week. Who has been garnishing my wages? I expected something my parents did but to my surprise, it was the Department of Education. They’re garnishing my wages for a $50,000 loan used to attend ITT Technical Institute.
Back in 2014 I was a far less confident person. I let others (primarily my parents) influence and even control major life decisions. 2014 was when I told my parents I had no interest in becoming a doctor or a lawyer. I wanted to pursue a tech career. This hit them hard and they started calling me a failure. They said I ruined my life and they’re disappointed in me.
I was desperate to make my parents proud, so I decided to go back to school. I knew my skills were good enough that I can get places without a piece of paper, but college is what my parents wanted. So it was where I was going to go.
There was but one rather large problem: I had bills to pay. I didn’t see how it was possible to go off to a four year university and also work full time. Even the available classes at the community college couldn’t fit into my tight schedule.
That’s when I came across ITT Technical Institute. On the surface, they were perfect. They had classes that fit my schedule, they were only a few miles from my job, and they had exciting programs that would help me kickstart my career. There was one problem, they were a for-profit.
Through my job back then I peddled for-profit colleges to poor people. I was becoming aware of how terrible they actually were. Some of the people I spoke to talked about 4 year degrees costing $200k, curriculum that was designed to make you fail (and thus pay more money), meaningless accreditation (if any), and employers laughing at the pathetic degree you received in the end. It seemed ITT Tech was no different.
However, in my research it seemed that ITT Tech was maybe a little different. It seemed that not every location was an outright scam. And the local ITT Tech was rated 4 stars, so it couldn’t be that bad, right? RIGHT?
The first red flags happened during the signup process. They intentionally tried burying the cost to attend under a mountain of paperwork. They also quoted two vastly different prices. When I questioned them on this, they blew it off as “just an estimate” and “there’s no way you’ll be paying that much”. Right. I went against my better judgement (possibly because I wanted my parents to be proud) and decided to move forward.
They also said that I needed my dad to cosign the student loan. When I said that wasn’t going to happen, they said “that’s okay, we’ll make it happen”. After I was enrolled I discovered “making it happen” meant forging my dad’s signature on the student loan paperwork.
This was the moment I realized I had messed up. I was making the mistake of a lifetime. Unfortunately, it was not a mistake I could easily reverse. The Department of Education had me dead to rights for this stupid loan, so the least I could do was ride it out.
At first, it seemed ITT Tech wasn’t a huge scam like most of the other for-profits.
The first semester featured instructors with years of experience in their fields and were frankly ecstatic about technology. I think I learned more about computing in these first six months than I’ve learned in the remaining year and a half combined. At the time, the only downside was that the $900 laptop I paid for with my student loan was actually a used netbook that was worth $200 new and who knows how much now. Hmmm…
The digital arts students had it worse. They had to be able to run PhotoShop and similar programs…programs that do NOT run on weak netbooks. So on top of paying $900 for toy computers, they had to buy an actually capable computer just to do their homework.
If only paying $900 for used netbooks was the worst of it.
The classes at the school quickly took on three formats:
1) So stupid easy it’s impossible to fail.
2) So stupid hard it’s only possible to pass if you have field experience.
3) Clearly online courses lazily adapted for a classroom so the instructor didn’t actually have to do any real work.
And there were four types of instructors:
1) Experts in their field, enthusiastic about teaching students their trade.
2) Experts in their field, clearly just in it for your money.
3) A rando off the street that doesn’t know what they’re even teaching, also in it for your money.
4) Absolutely hateful people.
It seemed the first type of instructors disappeared after the first semester, with every subsequent class being taught by the other three types.
One algebra instructor intentionally (and violently) outed my trans identity to the class. Maybe she was expected people to whip up a mob action against me, but it really backfired. The entire class (all “manly men”) stood up for me and told her to pound sand, to put it lightly. She was fired not long after, but not for outing me.
One instructor of some skills class (it was so pointless I can’t even tell you what it was called) was clearly just teaching an online class and pretending it was a classroom class. He literally spent his time doing nothing, making the class teach itself.
But whatever…it’s fine. I just have to survive two years of this crap and walk away with my paper? Of course not.
The remainder of the classes were impossible to pass. In one networking class, the instructor was insistent at making us calculate network addresses by hand. He also never taught out of the $1000 textbook we all had to buy. I mean it, literally 0% of everything he taught came from the book. It was a paperweight.
In substitution for a textbook, he wrote on the whiteboard with his right hand. In his left? An eraser. He would write out his teachings with his right hand while erasing with his left. If you couldn’t read his deplorable handwriting, too bad…it’s lost to the sands of time and you can’t back it up with the textbook. And as an additional fuck you, there were surprise quizzes every ten minutes.
I failed this class with a 5%. It was impossible to pass unless you were in class every day for every minute, could read his handwriting, and somehow already knew what you were doing. IN FACT, about 90% of the class failed. This was a surprise component of ITT Tech. If you fail a class you have to take it again. Taking it again adds thousands of dollars to your already stupidly expensive bill. Before I knew it, graduation got kicked 6 months later than it should have been, then 12 months.
And it wasn’t even like you had a good job while in school. They promised fantastic work opportunities while in school. The reality? The career counselor never did her job, and the very little work she did find was minimum wage or not even related to the field you were going into. Many students were homeless and unemployed. They signed up under the promise of getting work, but the work never came. I was fired from two workplaces for being trans during my time at ITT…At no point did they ever help me find work. I was facing homelessness myself and they couldn’t even find me the rare minimum wage jobs they offered earlier on.
My memory of the scam that was ITT Tech is fading, but this is what I recall was the worst of it. Few students graduated and those who did didn’t go on into careers that even paid enough to pay off their loans. The school is designed to make you fail as much as possible so they can take as much money as possible. And the admissions counselor wasn’t wrong with the cost being an estimate, the actual cost was $50k for a two year degree…IF you managed to graduate on time.
I dropped ITT Tech in the summer of 2016, less than 120 days before the school’s closure. The 120 days bit is important here. Obama’s Department of Education set rules to getting your ITT Tech loans discharged. Getting your ITT Tech loans discharged is contingent on you dropping out within 120 days of the school’s closure. When I requested the loans be dropped, it took nearly six months for the Department of Education (now under Trump) to respond. The result? The school claimed I dropped out 122 days before its closure. Convenient. Trump’s Department of Education has also since changed the rules to make it far far harder to get your loans discharged from a for-profit school. Makes sense considering Trump too ran a scam school…
That means I’m saddled with loans for a school that closed that I didn’t even get a degree from. Yep, that means I would have been better off grinding at the degree (which could have almost doubled my costs) and staying enrolled until the school closed. But I didn’t know they were going to close. At the time I figured $50k and no degree was going to be better than nearly $100k and no degree. And as of this month, I’m now having my wages garnished for it. A possible leg I have to stand on is the forgery, and that’s the next angle I will try to rid myself of these loans.
Amazingly, the Department of Education has a disgusting amount of power. They can garnish your wages without taking you to court. And while they are required to notify you before garnishing your wages, they aren’t required to make sure that notification goes to a current address. Thus, you can be garnished by the DOE without even knowing it.
I’ll also be filing bankruptcy in the coming weeks. If these student loans weren’t terrible enough, my mom has racked up nearly $200,000 of debt in my name…debt that will take several years to pay off, even if I gave 100% of my income to paying it off every year. The bankruptcy will only temporarily stop the collection activity on the student loans. But it will at least stop the wage garnishment. Much like taxes, the only true way out of student loans is death. As for my parents, 2019 was the year I taught myself to tell them no. 2019 was the year that their manipulation stopped being able to control me. Unfortunately, I still have to deal with the consequences from when I didn’t have the confidence to not let them ruin my life.
The lesson I want to teach you in this tale is DO NOT attend a for-profit college. It does not matter how well they fit your schedule or how attractive the programs look. They will use sneaky tactics to put you on the hook for thousands of dollars. Then when you ultimately fail to get an education or are defrauded, you have to pay it all back. And those reviews? Probably fake…