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For-Profit College Chain Wants In To Charter School Business

The schools are meeting opposition, largely because of the organization behind them: ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit college with a checkered reputation

I used to work here. It was the worst six months of my life. No, no, no. They are crooks. They are lawbreakers. They sign up anyone with a pulse. The only thing that's kept them from being shut down is that they contribute to so many politicians. They have been under federal compliance orders at least twice. They are the poster child for the failures of for-profit education:

Starting this past spring, parents in Indianapolis; Troy, Mich.; Jacksonville and Tampa, Fla.; and Houston, Texas, heard about a new option for their children's last two years of high school.

In each city, a charter school called Early Career Academy planned to offer students the chance to earn associate degrees, either in network systems administration or software development, alongside their high school diplomas. Students were offered laptops to work on and ebooks to use. All for free.

But the schools are meeting opposition, largely because of the organization behind them: ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit college with tens of thousands of students, 145 physical locations and a checkered reputation. Like the rest of the for-profit college sector, the value of ITT's educational offerings is coming under increased federal scrutiny.

This fall, the Indianapolis Early Career Academy postponed its opening for a year, citing governance issues. Enrolled students had to find spots elsewhere. The Tampa opening was postponed too, and the Duval County school board rejected the Jacksonville school for similar reasons as in Indianapolis. A public hearing for the proposed Houston location is set for this week.

The school in Troy, an outer suburb of Detroit, is currently up and running with about 40 students, and four faculty members listed on its website. Executive director Amy Boyles declined to speak with NPR Ed, saying that ITT Tech handles all communications for the school.

The story of ITT and Early Career Academy illustrates the intersection of two trends: the changing business models of some for-profit education companies and the changing governance of charter public schools.

Experts say this is the first time a proprietary college has sought to get into the charter school business.

In an interview with NPR Ed, the CEO of ITT Technical Institute, Kevin Modany, characterized the new venture as an experiment. He said it could prove to be a logical extension of his company's educational mission: "an opportunity to be part of the solution to access, affordability, and completion rates."

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