Graduate School and For-Profit Colleges

Sorry to have dropped off the radar a lot happened in a very short time, and I will provide a quick catch up.  Since I work for an elementary school the first couple weeks are hectic.  At the time I was also trying to get into graduate school as our financial situation hit an all time low.  I got into grad school but because of some communication issues, I was given two days advanced notice that I got in and that classes were starting.  Somehow I managed to get all the books I needed and just barely made the electric bill (and there was some massive concern that I would not).  Needless to say, my experiences have lead to the inspiration for my post.

When I talk to people and bring up the term For-Profit College one of the first things they think of is rip off.  In some ways, I cannot say they are wrong.  The cost of these colleges is high and because of the nature of business, corrupt practices develop.  However, for all their “evil” they also have traits that a traditional school doesn’t that cannot be overlooked.  Usually, I make lists; I am going to do a running narrative of my academic career to give perspective on these systems and just how terrible things have become.

I got into high school super excited.  My grades had been awful in Middle School because I was bullied and bored but entering high school I was determined to do the best I could.  When I walked into my first science class, I was super excited to see lab equipment!  When the first class started, I quickly realized that I was far ahead of the class.  After class, I went up to the science teacher and asked if I could test out of the subject we were on and to learn something new.  He proceeded to give me the long drawn out “have to cater to the average” speech and dashed my hopes at learning.  I never went back.  My determination to learn new things lead me to administration where I begged for a way to speed up the process.  The counselor told me about the district’s independent study program.  I was sold immediately because I knew even if I had to learn things I already knew I could fly through it and move on to college where I could take classes I could sink my teeth into.  The counselor warned me that the program had a pass/fail system.  Unfortunately, no one ever explained the GPA system schools used and that passing wasn’t an “A” it was a “C.”  I got through high school in three years flying through my school work.  When I got out, I knew exactly where I wanted to go to college.

Walking onto the campus was amazing! It was lovely, and the library was amazing.  It was just a tour, but I was there to talk to the college about the processes I needed to go through to apply.  Little did I know I would leave holding back tears.  Now, when I pushed through high school while working and still got out a year early, now I learned the ugly truth.  All my hard work to get to my dream school didn’t mean a damn thing because I had a straight “C” average.  I was told I should look into community college for a few years to raise my GPA.  Pushing back tears I gave myself the pep talk that my dream school was not out of the question I just needed to go somewhere else first.  It wasn’t an end just a bump in the road.

Community college was amazing, but they lacked resources a full college could provide.  I was working full time and trying to go to school.  Funding was a severe problem, so I was paying out of pocket.  Soon enough I ended up homeless.  Working full-time, going to school full-time and sleeping in my car something had to break, and it was my grades.  Classes depending on testing I got B’s in but if a class required homework as part of their grading I failed spectacularly.  At that point, I gave up.  I was sick all the time, and my dreams of learning blew away on the wind of survival.

Giving up on going to college was like giving up on life and depression slowly settled on me like a blanket.  It was to the point that when my son was born, I hated myself for being selfish enough to have him.  How could I bring a child into the world that was nothing but pain?  Then he was diagnosed with autism.  I coped with it the way I have always coped with anything challenging in my life, and I started to study.  Suddenly the idea of college popped back into my head.  It didn’t matter if I failed the classes or not it was about getting the information I needed.  If I failed, that was fine because by then I would have drilled that school of every piece of information about what books to read and where I could find information for myself.

At that point, my husband was in the military, and I had spoken with several military wives who had lost classes to transferring schools when they moved.  It was for this reason that I chose an for-profit online school because no matter where I moved, I could still attend classes.  There was one major difference between the first time I went to college and the second, this time; I had a stable home.  I went to school full-time, worked a job, managed my son’s therapy schedule and volunteered for a local environmental group.  When I graduated with a 3.95 GPA, I was thrilled.  I had a BS in Psychology specializing in ABA Therapy.  My husband had just gotten out of the military and had given me his GI Bill so I could go to grad school.  For the second time in my life, I let myself give into the thought of going to a brick and mortar school.  I was a fool!

Lab experience, every brick and mortar school wanted it, and I loved the idea of going to get it.  I looked into a program at a local college, but it was for those still getting an undergrad, so I did not qualify.  Everywhere I looked there was lab experience IF I was able to volunteer.  With my husband having just been separated from the military before a pension due to cut backs we were struggling.  I had to go to work, and my son had gotten to a point where he needed me in the afternoons.  With housing becoming a problem for the second time in my life I had to choose and with my son, it was no choice.  I had to work.  That did not stop me from applying to colleges but with financial issues, I could not afford a lot of applications so I restricted myself to those who did not require the GRE so I could cut down on cost.  Interview after interview I was a rejection.  Finally, the last interview came, and I knew it was going to be another dismissal, so I got bold.  When they asked if I had any questions and I pushed for them to tell me bluntly and critically about how my interview went and where my flaws were.  My biography was too personal because there was not enough professional experience in it.  I interviewed flawlessly, but even though this school did not require lab experience many of the applicants had it because other schools required it and it put me at a distinct disadvantage.  In short, the college loved that I came from a non-traditional background, but it didn’t matter because I still had to meet the minimum requirements.

Tears again, so many tears I felt like I would drown in them.  All I ever wanted to do was learn, and I had suffered and would suffer more than most to achieve that.  In the last few classes I took I ended up with gallstones, and I voluntarily chose to live with them until I was no in classes so surgery would not affect my academics.  A month filled with moments of feeling so bad that in the moment death seemed like a blessing and a few ER trips just to get drugs to stop the pain.  Everyone told me “just volunteer” but while I was willing to suffer to achieve my goals I could not risk my sons home for it.  There had to be a line, and I would have been beaten to within an inch of my life to see my dream, but I would not let it hurt him.  Once again I gave up on my dream of a brick and mortar school, and it was all the worse for picking the dream back up.  Worse, the GI Bill gives housing money based on the zip code of the school, so if a school had taken me in then, the very reason I could not get lab experience in the first place would have vanished.

Back into the for-profit college system, I went, and I got into a grad school program so fast my head spun.  The cut in money for housing was extreme.  If I went to a brick and mortar school in this area, I would have gotten $1,700 more than I would be attending school online.  I had looked forward to going to grad school and not having to work a job also but focusing entirely on my academics.  That was now right out the window.  Why couldn’t I get into a traditional school? Why were these for-profit schools viewed so badly when they would give people a chance that a regular school wouldn’t.

In studying schools, one thing came up a lot, graduation rates.  A school’s success is determined by their graduation rates.  If a school is successful, it is a high rate.  Then I started thinking about that and realized how evil it was.  If I wanted to make a school that was “successful” then the first thing I would need to do was determine the group that was most likely to graduate.  Good grades in school, experience in the field outside of academia, basically all the things these schools set as minimum requirements.  Then I would only accept those who could meet those standards, and if there were a spacing issue, I would eliminate those who seemed the least qualified.  Schools do not want to spend resources on someone who is going to drop out and make their school look bad.  However, these practices negatively affect those from low-income families and those from non-traditional backgrounds.

Suddenly graduation rates took on a whole new appearance in my eyes.  Low graduation rates could indicate a bad curriculum or a school that is scamming the students.  It could also indicate a school that gives an opportunity to those who would not otherwise have one.  The ones who don’t meet the basic standards for the other schools who are a risk to take.  They give something valuable to people in my position, a chance!  Of course, this is where we also start falling into the predatory nature of for-profit schools.  These schools prey on the fact that these are students who come from communities where they have no other choice.  It doesn’t matter the price tag they put on it because now students are paying the extra price tag just to get in the door.  Like paying a bribe to the doorman at a club.  Because these demographics are more likely to fail, they get hit with huge amounts of debt for trying to succeed and failing.

My hometown is an affluent area, so I have heard all the arguments.  Students should have gone to a traditional college. They should have worked harder.  They completely ignore the fact that for many people they are working as hard as their bodies will let them.  I am keenly aware that I could have abandoned my family and let them live on the streets.  I could have let CPS take my son away for neglect because I chose to go volunteer instead of taking care of my son.  What I could not have done was live with myself after.

Traditional colleges speak to how much they love non-traditional students and will speak out about their efforts and inclusion.  However, getting a lucky few and putting them on pedestals while turning your back on the rest is like having a token black friend.

I still love college, and I want to teach at one someday.  However, they have HUGE problems.  For-profit colleges are horrid in many ways, but some of the hate we as a society feels toward these schools should be directed at the public colleges.  It is the exclusionary practices of these schools that force hard working good students to run into the arms of financially abusive institutions.  I know I am financially screwed over, and I am still going to my school.  Why? I want to help those with autism, and I don’t care if it cripples me financially for the rest of my life because these individuals are in need.  I wanted to get into neuroscience and do research, but now I am having to take a different path and get a Masters in Psychology focusing on ABA.  However, if I can make a name for myself in the community, the areas I want to research can still get done even if I have to partner with a neuroscientist and give them most of the credit for the research.  It doesn’t matter as long as the research gets done.  I just wish wanting to help didn’t hurt so damn much!


Getting Into the Right Placement

Navigating the school system can be a nightmare.  Trust me I did it this past year and even knowing what is going on it was still challenging.  There are groups out there designed to help you and be advocates for you in the IEP process.  I do not know much about these groups as I did my work independently.  One of the biggest challenges is navigating a system you do not understand.  This post is designed to help break down some of those illusions.  Yes, they do give you rights and give you the whole “speech” but being told what your rights are is different than understanding them.

  • Your child is money. The first and in most ways the evilest part of the system is that your child is a check.  Ever wonder why schools are so dead set on attendance.  They give out awards which seem like punishments to students who got sick.  If you miss more than a few days you can get in trouble with the law and even when schools neglect other issues they are OCD about checking and reporting attendance.  Well, each school gets money each year based on enrollment.  In an ideal world ,they would get a set amount and if the child had to move that amount would be prorated for that month and split between the schools.  In the real world, most schools get paid on a day by day basis. If your child is in the seat 3 out of 5 days in a week then the school only gets paid for those 3 days.  That creates a huge insentive to keep your child in school.  If you kid is having a bad day, needs a break, or you both just feel emotionally abused by the system that is just to bad.
  • Extra programs cost more without a comparible pay bump. If your child needs additional services with the district then they have to pay for the additional staff to support it.  Now often special education students will bring in a bit more money per days in their seat than a normal student.  However, many of these systems have been in place for a long time and have not adapted for inflation so what they need vs. what they get is not comparable.  Now schools are often rated based on their test scores which can also determine funding.  So it becomes a tug of war game.  It might become profitable for them to spend lots of money to boost special education children if it raises the average on their testing scores.  A school that specializes in or has a high demographic of special education students can hurt the score.  If they have enough they can cover it with grants but if they don’t then they will be out money to help that they are unlikely to see returned.
  • Admitting failure is costly. My son was transferred to a nonpublic school after a bunch of school transfers.  For several months he basically took a cab back and forth 30 minutes a day to school.  If you have ever taken a ride in a cab you can just imagine that cost.  Then they have to pay for the tuition.  If they can they are going to hold onto your child because it is a significant loss to let them go.
  • Pushing for your rights can hurt you. If you feel your child needs special placement fighting for it can hurt.  You have a few avenues.  Giving up on the system entirely there is the homeschool option.  For some students this is better but in most cases it isn’t because they need to learn social skills.  If you choose to pull your child out of school yourself expect to pay for it yourself.  There are some public electronic schools that use district funds but you teach at home such as K-12.  You can kiss any full time job goodbye though.  Some parents choose to put there kids in private school and charge the district.  First, you have to pay upfront out of pocket and the district can fight you if they feel your child could have been served within the school district.  Expect paying out of pocket, potential legal issues and you might lose. Some schools have the option to move the child to a different school in the district.  If you request it and the district doesn’t back you then they do not have to cover transportation.
  • Better scoring schools do not mean better schools. One of the most diverse and amazing schools in our district has the lowest score.  Many of the parents bought into the idea that better scoring schools where better and transferred their kids.  So at the amazing school there are a lot of low income families and minorities.  The more parents transferred the lower the scores got because low income frequently have troubles with academics.  They also have a higher population of special needs students.  What they are is receptive and they work hard to help the students.  One of the worst schools in the district is one of the best scoring!  I transferred my son there though this was due to location and carpooling rather than score based.  The school had a high population of wealthy families and tons of extra curricular activities.  Except for a bully problem the school is amazing for a neurotypical child.  My son tried to run off campus multiple times because he wanted to “come home and be with mom mom.”  Since I was in school in the afternoons a friend would pick up her and my son from the school.  Running was a huge issue with him so the school requested that she pick up the boys in the office.  Due to a lack of parking if you pick up your kids you have to park across the street.  She requested special parking privileges and the principle basically told her no.  I was there (and since she was the one picking them up I let her handle it) and she said “I am concerned about having to take a child who is prone to running across a busy street.” The principles response was to the effect of “I don’t know what to tell you it is what you have to do.” Fortunately my friend can be b*tchy and manipulative.  She drove right up to the pick up line, moved the blockade that is up before school hours and drove up.  When maintanance saw her and challenged her she stated “I need to pick up a special needs child from the school office.” She got her way because she did not give the school a choice. Other problems happened at that school and if I had the skills to cope with it at the time I would have sued.  I went in with a fever and was told about his behavior and started to cry.  The special education teacher turned to my son and said “look at what you are doing to your mother” and I did not have the presence of mind until I lowered my fever to realize how abusive this statement was.  With the income level in that part of the district I got the feeling most parents with autistic children had them placed in private school out of pocket and this school had never had to deal with it before.  It was a mess.
  • Even good schools might be a bad placement. We ended up in a behavior intervention program in a special school.  The teachers were amazing and trained well and we loved them to death.  That said, my son got worse because it wasn’t the right fit for him and we cried when he had to leave.
  • You are protected from extended expulsions. Your child can be expelled but not for long because they are protected because they have autism.  If they try to expell your child for more than 10 days they have to prove it was because of something not related to their autism.
  • In some cases your best option is to wait and suffer. My son was running off campus, not accessing the curriculum, and hurting people.  It took multiple school changes to finally get him in a good school.  I never had to pay anything out of pocket because I waited and suffered and since the school came to the determination that they could not service him they had to pay.  You might be able to speed up this process if you vocalize your belief your child is not in good placement at IEP meetings.  There are hidden costs, at the behavior intervention class the principle had to deal with my crying and when I appologized she said she was used to it.  Often when parents got to that point they had already had to quit jobs or lost them because they were called into the school so often.  I was lucky that I worked for the school district (hard for an employeer to fire you for not showing up when they are the same people calling you away).  It hurt though and while money issues are looking on the up and up we will likely end up homeless between now and when the money comes in. (See my gofundme link at the bottom of this post).  I wish I had an easier road to recommend but if you don’t have the funds and means to fight back there is little you can do.
  • You can put conditions on transfers. The last school my son was sent to had a later start time and pick-up time would have been 10 minutes after I needed to be at work.  I made signing the IEP contingent on finding a way to get him transportation that did not cause me to lose my job.  In the end took him to work with me (20 minutes farther away) so they could pick him up before I had to start and still get him there in the approprate time phrame.
  • Remember you do not have to sign the IEP. Schools will sometimes make it sound like what they recommend is what your child needs.  This puts parents in the position of feeling guilty if they don’t sign.  If you don’t understand it sign it later, take the time to think about it and don’t ever feel pressured to sign.
  • If you fear for the safety of your child do not wait homeschool. Another friend thought her child was being abused at school.  He would often come home hungry and she was concerned he was not getting the food she sent in.  She walked into the classroom to see other students beating her childs head into the wall and the teacher did nothing.  While she fought to get him removed she kept him out of school as long as she legally could but she had to send him back.  Her child was nonverbal so he could not report what was happening for himself!  When a hearing was done with the school board they took the word of the teacher over hers.  She pulled him out to homeschool him.  Collecting his things on the last day of school the teacher handed her a large trash bag, containing all the food she had sent in (and toward the end she started sending in junk food she knew he would not refuse just to make sure he ate).  Even now the district tries to call her up and pressure her to put him back in public school (cause as I said your child is money).  Not all places are equal.  I am in a decent state for autism care and they messed up other places are far worse.

It is hard to see your child struggling and it is hard to know where to turn to get help.  When your in the cycle of watching your child struggle it is easy to lose hope.  There is light at the end of the tunnel and there are proper placements that will work but it is a process.  The process can hurt, and even now with my son in proper placement my family is still struggling with the long term effects.  However, you can get there if you are willing to stand your ground.

Feel free to share this blog with others! Here is the link to my gofundme page.