A Madison man seeking to earn his associate’s degree called for action after his for-profit college canceled the program halfway through the first semester.
Rudy Bankston uprooted his life in Milwaukee in the last year to move to Madison, a where he thought he could start anew.
“I know that old life and that hustle and those characters,” he said. “I needed a new beginning.”
For him, a new beginning meant pursuing a degree in audio for a future career in the music or film industry. Madison Media Institute seemed like the perfect fit. When he visited, Bankston said counselors encouraged him to take the recording and music program, an 18-month associate’s degree that would set him up for success.
“The counselor basically said, 'OK, you give me your all and I'll make sure you transition into your career path,’ and I said, 'Absolutely,'" Bankston said.
With some $7,000 in loans and $2,100 of his own money, Bankston paid for his first semester in January.
"First semester, my grades stayed excellent, and around April, that's when they dropped the bomb on us about (how) ‘Pro Tools’ certification was no longer part of the program, and ‘Logic’ was no longer part of the program," he said.
Without those classes, Bankston’s program dropped from an associate’s degree to some sort of diploma that would end much earlier than the 18 months for which he had originally signed up. His counselors assured him that next semester’s tuition would be much lower for the changed program.
"What we would be paying for is not what we initially signed up to take,” Bankston said.
When the president of MMI refused to respond to Bankston’s calls, emails and letters, he got in touch with News 3’s Call for Action volunteers. MMI declined to respond to the inquiries.
In an email to News 3, chief operations officer Jeffrey Bodimer said it is not MMI’s policy to “discuss enrollment, academic or financial matters pertaining to individual students with third parties.” In that email, Bodimer acknowledged that MMI had “received approval from its accrediting body for certain curriculum changes,” but said “it is not permissible to discuss” those curriculum changes.
The governing body that oversees Wisconsin’s for-profit colleges decided to get involved.
“The fact that the student signed up for a particular program and now isn't able to complete that program because of the change - that's troubling,” said David Dies of the Education Approval Board.
Dies said MMI’s curriculum change could be a result of the federal government’s “gainful employment requirements” for for-profit institutions – regulations that helped lead to the closure of the for-profit ITT Tech.
The federal requirements stipulate that when a student graduates and obtains employment, his or her salary must be within a certain ratio to the average debt taken on by the institution’s student body, according to Dies. Because that requirement is often hard to meet, Dies said for-profit universities will often change their curricula to a shorter, cheaper diploma option to decrease the amount of a debt that a student will accrue.
In Bankston’s case, the Education Approval Board was able to get MMI to reimburse him fully for what amounted to nearly $10,000 for a first semester of a degree thath he’ll never get.
News of a full reimbursement, coming hours before Bankston’s story was set to air on News 3, was welcome. Bankston said he had moved from Milwaukee to put down roots in Madison and never expected to find more of the same here.
“This feels like the stuff you encounter in the street life,” he said. “I’ve been robbed before, but I’ve never been robbed for that much.
“They robbed me without a pistol.”