“I refuse to pay for something I didn’t get.”

Marie Johnson-Lattier

Marie Johnson-Lattier, California Institute in Long Beach, California

In 1989, Marie Johnson-Lattier heard a knock at the door of her Long Beach, California, home. Unemployed and caring for her three-year-old daughter and newborn son, she opened the door to find a flyer advertising, “Get paid to go to school.” In the smaller text below, the flyer offered free lunch and free transportation to and from California Institute, a for-profit college in Long Beach.

Nearing the end of her unemployment benefits and needing to provide for her children, Marie decided to call the school. The recruiter who answered quickly asked when Marie would like to attend the school’s orientation program. Marie asked for more information about the school, but the recruiter promised her that her questions would be answered at the orientation, scheduling a bus pickup from her home.

When orientation day came, Marie arrived at the pick-up spot to find a dozen other residents from her housing project waiting for the same bus. The shuttle took them to orientation where a recruiter explained the college’s programs, promising a fast track to a high-paying career. Marie enrolled to train for a job as a bank teller, and school officials rushed to sign her up for student loans that would help pay for her classes and feed her children.



A few days later, Marie and her fellow classmates began a two-week-long prerequisite training course covering basic math and reading skills. In an interview with Student Defense, Marie said that many of her classmates struggled through the course because—despite having been accepted to the college—they couldn’t read or write.

Marie finished the prerequisite course and began the bank training program. But just three days into the program, she fell so ill that she was bed-ridden for more than a week. When she returned to campus, she was told she was no longer enrolled—California Institute had dropped Marie from the program.

Still recovering from her sickness, she decided not to re-enroll. Instead, Marie asked California institute to return her loans to the federal government. By law, the school was required to return at least 90% of the funds because she had been dropped from the program within two weeks of beginning it.

The financial aid department assured Marie that her loans were returned, but when she called her loan servicer to confirm, they told her the balance remained. She called California Institute repeatedly, and each time they assured her that the return simply hadn’t been processed yet by the loan servicer. After a month with no change in her loan balance, Marie took a city bus to campus where she asked for documentation proving that the loans were returned. Instead of providing the documents, California Institute had a security guard escort her off campus.

That was 24 years ago. California Institute never did return her loans, and Marie never got the education they promised. Today, after a long string of deferments and forbearances, her initial $5,425 loan balance has ballooned to more than $105,000. 



California Institute was shut down in 1990 after its owner was convicted of defrauding the Department of Education and making false statements.