State takes action against ATI career schools

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by BYRON HARRIS

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WFAA

Posted on April 1, 2011 at 10:19 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 1 at 10:25 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

Last year, News 8 began an investigation of ATI, a chain of for-profit trade schools headquartered in North Richland Hills.

ATI schools have thousands of students located at 18 campuses in five states. The company takes in millions of dollars a year, mostly through federal loans and grants.

After the News 8 investigation revealed questionable job placements, ATI revised the job records of hundreds of graduates at three Dallas campuses.

To meet Texas regulations, for-profit schools have to place 60 percent of their graduates in jobs related to their field of study.

On Thursday, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) — which regulates for-profit schools — notified ATI's Chief Executive Officer Carli Strength of serious violations of job placement reporting rules.

In a "Summary of Violations," the state noted that a total of 300 graduates which ATI claimed to have jobs had no jobs at all.

An additional 427 graduates were not employed where ATI said they were.

The state also found that 5 percent of graduates — 34 of 750 — were listed as "employed" by ATI in a possible effort to pad the job placement reports.

Gaylon Johnson is one of dozens of ATI graduates located by News 8 who were either unemployed, employed in a field unrelated to their training, or employed as a result of their own initiative instead of ATI's actions.

Johnson said that despite his criminal record, ATI recruiters told him he would get a high-paying job after he studied business administration at ATI's Richardson campus.

When News 8 interviewed Johnson, he was working in a warehouse.

"I've been in warehouse jobs (before)," he said. "I ain't going to school for business administration to be right back in a warehouse job. I ain't spending $18,000 (tuition) to work in a warehouse job."

In analyzing ATI's records, the TWC found that six out of eight programs at three schools did not meet job placement requirements.

As a result, the Texas Workforce Commission is requiring ATI to:

  • hire a third party auditor to review records and verify employment claims through interviews
  • submit its records electronically for easier analysis

The TWC is also cutting off all state funding to the school through a program known as WIA.

ATI's Carli Strength officially replaced Arthur Benjamin as CEO last year. He and Benjamin both own stock in the company, according to state filings.

Benjamin resigned after the News 8 investigations began airing. Both men have declined to be interviewed through their attorneys.

ATI has threatened WFAA-TV with legal action on numerous occasions. The company maintains its job claims are accurate and certified.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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