“You don’t expect a school to see you as dollar signs.”

Bryan Babcock

Bryan Babcock, ITT Tech in Anaheim, California, and Seattle, Washington

Bryan Babcock was sitting at home when he saw a commercial for a fast-paced criminal justice program at ITT Tech, a for-profit college. “It looked really professional,” Bryan remembers. “They had people in the crime laboratory doing CSI stuff, working with microscopes and beakers. It got me interested.”

Growing up, Bryan always felt called to serve. Out of high school, he enlisted in the Marines and served two tours in the Philippines and Iraq, including the Second Battle of Fallujah. In 2005 he returned to civilian life with a dream of continuing service as a special agent for a federal law enforcement agency like the DEA or ATF.

Bryan knew his chosen career would require a bachelor’s degree, and the TV commercial convinced him to call ITT Tech. They quickly scheduled him for an on-campus visit. There, a recruiter pitched ITT’s criminal justice bachelor’s program, focusing on the program’s speed—three years compared to four at a state college—and flexibility. As a new father, Bryan especially liked the idea of being able to work full-time and take classes at night.

When it came to the cost of the program, Bryan remembers the recruiter quickly glossing over the details. “She didn’t want to focus on how much it was going to cost, she just wanted to keep talking about how great of a fit the school was going to be for me.” When he asked whether his credits would transfer to another school or if he could earn a master’s degree after finishing his bachelor’s, the recruiter assured him that his credits were transferable. “She would say ‘a bachelor’s degree is a bachelor’s degree no matter where you earn it.’”

Bryan recalls what ITT Tech’s recruiter told him about the criminal justice degree:

Bryan decided to enroll and was quickly set for a meeting with the school’s financial aid officer, where he finally learned the full cost of the program—$80,000 for four years. The school offered Bryan a $10,000 Veteran Tuition discount and told him that his G.I. Bill education benefits would cover a portion of his tuition, but he would need student loans to cover the rest. Bryan agreed.

Throughout his time at ITT Tech, Bryan enjoyed his classes. In 2008, Bryan, his wife, and young daughter moved from Southern California to Washington state, and Bryan transferred to the ITT Tech campus in Seattle with just a few classes left to graduate.

Shortly after moving to Seattle, Bryan saw a commercial for the Washington Army National Guard advertising a student loan repayment enlistment bonus. By that point, Bryan had well over $50,000 in student loans. Drawn to the bonus, Bryan enlisted and within a few months was deployed back to Iraq for a nine-month tour.

While Bryan was serving in Iraq, his wife began researching law enforcement job opportunities for him upon his return. After reaching out to police department and law enforcement agencies, she was told they only recognized degrees from schools with regional accreditation, which ITT did not have. That’s when it hit them: the degree he had spent so much time and money on would be worthless.

When Bryan returned home, he was met with a $4,500 collection bill. Without his knowledge, ITT had charged Bryan an additional $4,500 for transferring to the Seattle campus. When Bryan tried to fight the charge, the collection agency referred him to ITT Tech who then referred him back to the collection agency. The agency said if he paid roughly $500 in an installment payment, they would not report it to the credit bureaus. He paid the installment, but the collection still showed up on his credit report.

Bryan and his wife are still paying down his student loans, which, at the time of the interview, totaled over $45,000. Bryan never returned to school after finding out his degree would amount to nothing. By that point, he had used up nearly all of his G.I. Bill education benefits to attend ITT. “ITT Tech is supposed to be an institute of higher learning and you don’t expect a place like that to take advantage of you. You don’t expect them to see you as dollar signs.”

In 2016, ITT Tech collapsed, shuttering over 130 campuses across the country. ITT Tech had faced years of ongoing lawsuits and federal investigations into predatory recruitment and lending practices.