At the time, Bobby was an A student. Hoping that homeschooling would deliver something better for their son, his parents had pulled him from the troubled Detroit schools. He told the recruiter that he wanted to be a doctor. She assured him that Ashford could be a stepping-stone to that dream.
Never mind that he was only in the eighth grade. "She said, 'You'll be working toward a degree as a medical doctor, so when you do graduate high school, you're almost there,'" Bobby says today. "I'm like: 'This is great. I'm going to talk to my mom.' And she's like: 'No, I wouldn't tell your parents because that would take away from the shock when it happens. If I were you, I'd complete the program, and when graduation comes around, let them know. Mom and Dad will be super excited.'"
Admission to Ashford requires a high school diploma or equivalency. So when it came time to fill out the financial-aid forms, the recruiter told Bobby to claim that he'd already graduated. He objected, but she insisted "the loan-processing company will go back and correct everything." Still, he left the graduation date blank. Someone filled it in, because Ashford was soon receiving federal-student-loan money on his behalf.
Of course, it's illegal for kids Bobby's age to receive financial aid. But for-profit colleges haven't always been scrupulous when it comes to raiding the federal treasury. Between student-aid and GI Bill programs, most schools receive 90 percent of their revenue from the American taxpayer. And the recruiters—often little more than salesmen paid largely by how many people they enroll—are driven mercilessly to keep those cash registers ringing.