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These students borrowed $35K plus for an unaccredited program that closed. Years later, their debts remain

Bob Fernandez, Philly.com on

Published in Business News

As graduation approached and they started looking for jobs in 2010, Jacqueline Franklin, Jami Reichardt, Bridgette Collins and about 14 other women at the Sanford Brown Institute in Trevose, Pa., came to a harsh realization: Their for-profit school wasn't accredited for its ultrasound program even though they had each borrowed tens of thousands of dollars from the federal government to go there.

Administrators at the now-closed school told the students not to worry. There was a work-around.

The graduates could work as uncredentialed techs for a year and then take their board tests. But the women -- and they were all women in the day and night classes -- asked how could they get ultrasound jobs in the first place without passing their boards to prove they had skills?

Reichardt, who borrowed $35,000, couldn't find a position back then. She took "man jobs, because let's be honest, they pay better for physical labor than, you know, working retail," she said. "I did security for private events, clubs, celebrity details. You name it, I did it."

She even subcontracted for PECO, southeastern Pennsylvania's energy utility, switching out electric and gas meters. "I did both of them together," Reichardt said. "I'd be trying to not get electrocuted during the day and not getting punched in the face at night."

Another student, Jacqueline Franklin, 38, of Burlington City, Pa., still owes $57,000 for her Sanford Brown ultrasound education.

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It wasn't until late in her education, she recalled, that she learned an awful truth about the school. The broader Trevose campus was accredited so students could get federal loans. But the Trevose ultrasound program was not. Franklin said she didn't learn this "until I went out to get a job."

"They said I would make $55 an hour." Almost a decade later, Franklin said she is earning $35 an hour with a mobile ultrasound service driving to prisons and nursing homes. She earned $25 an hour for years after graduation, she said.

'Terribly over-debted'

The two Philadelphia-area women are among hundreds of thousands of Americans who attended for-profit schools that closed or agreed to settle government investigations for high-pressure sales tactics, unaccredited programs, poor instruction, and forcing students to take courses they didn't need to run up tuition loans.

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