They allege Everest used aggressive marketing to lure students and then skewed records to keep incompetent pupils in class so it could continue to collect their student loans.
At least it's over
Last week, Ontario's superintendent of private career colleges suspended Everest's licence to operate due to financial concerns. The move immediately shut down the school's 14 campuses in the province, leaving 2,400 students out of class and out of luck.
The next day, the U.S. parent company of Everest College, Corinthian Colleges, announced it had filed for Canadian bankruptcy protection.
"I'm grateful they are shut down. They can't take anybody else's money," says former student, William McKay, who graduated in 2012 from Everest's two-year massage therapy program in Windsor, Ont.
"To me, it's a scam," he says, adding that he's "dumbfounded" that a college like Everest was ever allowed to operate in Ontario.
The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities regulates the province's 411 registered private colleges. Its main mandate is to protect students.
The province provides much of the funding for private colleges through employment training programs and student loans. This past school year, it loaned $241.3 million to students attending for-profit colleges.
Claimed 100% success rate
Judging by his experience, McKay says Everest's main goal was not to provide a quality education, but to sign up as many students as possible and collect on their loans.
He said he enrolled at the college partly because the school told him that for the previous three years it had a 100 per cent success rate of students passing the required provincial board exam to become a registered massage therapist.
The single parent says he worked hard and had the third highest mark in his class. But he still failed his board exam after graduation because, he believes, Everest failed to give him a proper education.
Nonetheless, he must repay the Ontario government $25,000 in student loans — the cost of tuition.
"It's disappointing that I spent all that money and I'm really no further ahead," says McKay. "[Everest] wasn't about the quality education I was promised. It's basically a cash grab that thrives on [Ontario student loans]."
He says more than half of the 18 students that started out in his program shouldn't have been accepted by the school. "There were people in my class who were clearly on drugs all the way through. They couldn't do the exams."
McKay says many incompetent students still made the grade because the school allowed them to retake tests they failed.
"They would just bump these people up to give them the marks they needed to get them to the second semester just so [the college] could get their money."
A former student from Everest's Hamilton campus echoes McKay's concerns.
Karen Zahoruk recently completed the medical laboratory assistant program. She says two out of the five students in her class didn't deserve to graduate, including one who had an attendance problem.
"To think that someone can just not show up and get the diploma, it makes me feel like I've wasted my time," she says.
"I feel that my diploma's not worth very much as a result."
Ex-teacher weighs in
A former instructor in the massage therapy program also has complaints about the school. "I thought it was a scam from Day 1," Todd Miller says.
He taught at Everest College in Windsor from 2010 until 2012 when, he says, he was dismissed for speaking out about problems with his program.
"Half these kids couldn't even read. They weren't literate," he says.
He alleges that students who failed exams would then get to take makeup tests not provided by him. "These kids would be given the answers and pass," he says.
When asked about the allegations, Corinthian Colleges spokesman Joe Hixson replied in an email, "We stand by the quality of our education and our track record of helping students meet their educational and career goals."
Miller says he tried to give his students a quality education but, for the school in general, "the academics was not the first and foremost concern, none whatsoever. It was a money grab and the province was paying for it."
"[Ontario] should have shut that school down a long time ago," he added.
Signs of trouble
Graduate Zahoruk believes the province should have stepped in this past summer when Everest's owner put many of its schools up for sale, including the Ontario locations.
The move followed multiple U.S. lawsuits launched against Corinthian Colleges alleging some American campuses had falsified job placement rates, grades and attendance.
"Six months ago when the questions were first coming up, at that time, [Ontario] needed to swoop in and deal with it," Zahoruk says.
The province's position
When asked by CBC News about concerns with the school, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities responded that it is constantly monitoring private career colleges to make sure they play by the rules.
In an emailed statement, spokeswoman May Nazar said ministry staff routinely conduct inspections and "work closely with the sector to ensure students consistently receive the protections they deserve."
The ministry also stated that the Everest closure affects only a modest percentage of the more than 90,000 students attending private colleges in Ontario.
Nazar added that affected students will be compensated and that their best interests remain "the highest priority."
But McKay and Zahoruk feel no one was watching out for their best interests. Zahoruk is now looking for work and worries the school's fate will taint her diploma.
McKay gave up his dream of becoming a massage therapist and instead became a holistic practitioner. He says he doesn't even bother adding Everest to his credentials.
"I'm embarrassed now to even hang my Everest diploma on my wall. When people ask where did you go to school, I hate telling them it was Everest."
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