In response to a story posted by the Associated Press, Zenith Education Group released the following statement from Dave Hawn, president and CEO of ECMC Group and interim president and CEO of Zenith Education Group:
“With our country facing a growing skills gap, ECMC Group, the parent company of Zenith Education, wanted to try to help stave off the abrupt closure of dozens of schools owned and operated by Corinthian Colleges Inc. and attended by tens of thousands of students. We believe there is a tremendous need for career education to bridge that gap. Therefore, our ultimate objective in acquiring a subset of Corinthian College campuses last year was – and still is – to answer that call by creating a new nonprofit model for the career college space – one that features quality education with high-touch support services and a laser focus on arming those students who need more support with the skills and behaviors necessary to succeed in today’s labor market.
“While some have argued that closing the schools and displacing thousands of students is precisely what should have happened, in reality, most of the students disagreed. One of our first actions was to offer more than one-third of our acquired student population – those enrolled in various programs with poor student outcomes – a choice of continuing in the program (despite the decision to ultimately end the program or cap enrollment), transferring to another better-performing program, or a full refund. A substantial majority of students chose to complete their existing program. This ‘Student Choice’ program was fully funded by ECMC Group, and was just one of several initiatives enacted to improve outcomes for students. We are doing this because we believe in career education and want to try to make a real difference in improving student outcomes.
“Unfortunately, a recent Associated Press story by Jeff Horwitz portrayed what we see as an unbalanced review of our journey to transform heavily distressed schools. Most surprising is his assertion that ‘the business model…hasn’t fundamentally changed.’ In fact, it has changed – fundamentally. In contrast to the prior owner, Zenith is a nonprofit company focused on a mission to help students succeed – not on shareholder return. Zenith has installed a new senior management team, without a single executive officer coming over from the prior owner. And Zenith’s parent company, ECMC Group, has invested heavily in fixing issues and supporting students.
“Without question, I continue to reaffirm that we have a long way to go in transforming our schools into a model of what career school training is meant to be. As we told Mr. Horwitz multiple times during the course of his reporting, no one knows better than we do that we still have work to do. Our disappointment is that the story failed to report on the magnitude of change we have made in our first year.
“Thus, while largely overlooked by this reporter, we offer just a few areas where we’ve made particularly substantial progress, including improving affordability, implementing a thoughtful and robust curriculum reform effort and creating student-centered admissions. Along with immediately reducing tuition by 20 percent for all of our Everest programs, we’ve awarded $18.8 million in need-based and non-need based grants and scholarships. In fact, as a testament to our commitment to our students’ success, we have in our first year awarded more than $100 million in tuition reductions, scholarships, grants and financial assistance across all Zenith campuses.
“In addition to terminating or in some cases capping enrollment for programs with unacceptable student outcomes, we’ve also made great strides implementing a thoughtful and robust multi-year curriculum reform effort to help ensure skills being taught in the classroom reflect the real-time needs of employers. In admissions, we’ve completed field-testing and rolled out new assessment and financial aid approaches to help ensure prospective students’ career interests match our program offerings and that they understand the basic academic skills and financial investment it will take to successfully complete their programs before they enroll.
“To be clear, since the closing of the transaction, we have worked tirelessly to inculcate a student-centric, highly compliant culture throughout the organization, eliminated thousands of positions and reassigned hundreds of employees. In particular, substantial changes have been made to the compliance function since acquisition, including new leadership of the division, a new call monitoring function, a process to continually monitor and improve admissions calls and a revamped placement verification process newly consolidated within the Compliance Department. When students have complaints, we work quickly to resolve them through our dispute resolution process, while also offering access to voluntary arbitration – at Zenith’s expense – as well as the opportunity to file an individual lawsuit if they remain unsatisfied. The volume of complaints is low, and every student inquiry or complaint is tracked and responded to in a timely fashion. Finally, we have ceased all Everest national television advertising in favor of a more locally based approach and have updated many Everest ads and marketing pieces, with further changes underway. We know we have a responsibility to ensure accuracy and transparency across all of our public-facing materials and websites and in any advertising we do. This is a responsibility we take seriously and for which we will continue to strive to meet the highest bar.
“We’re continuing to work across the board to advance ongoing initiatives aimed at promoting the long-term success of our graduates. Our job is far from done, and we’re as committed now as ever to transforming our schools into a model of what career school training is meant to be.”