You’ve seen the ads on the train or on the bus. Normally, there is a young man or woman with an encouraging smile on their face and some caption explaining that they got an education or learned a trade and are now earning enough money to take care of their bills and provide for their family; they have achieved all of this with the help of some for-profit school or career-training program.

For-profit school and training programs have been the target of much media and legal attention for a few years. The focus has been to educate people about the risks of enrolling in for-profit schools. With New York City being the home to more than 300 for-profit programs, various legal groups and the Board of Education have taken on the campaign to provide students with the information necessary to make an informed choice about their education.

For-profit schools and training programs have seen a drastic increase in enrollment since the turn of the decade. According to the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), enrollment has increased by more than 200 percent in the last decade. This has much to do with the increase in advertising. Aggressive advertising has helped to focus recruiting methods.

“These schools advertise to minority communities in New York City, especially because New York has such a large amount of what they call ‘unconventional’ students,” said Eileen Connor, a senior staff attorney with NYLAG.

The marketing strategy for for-profit schools is to focus their ads toward low-income, minority demographics. According to NYLAG, students of for-profit schools and programs are very likely to be minorities or foreign-born and be supporting a family. These groups of “unconventional” students are often looking for a kind of instant gratification. They have families to support and are looking for work, so rather than using more conventional methods such as earning a GED or enrolling in nonprofit schools, they turn to programs that promise fast career results.

After hearing a promotion for one of these programs on the radio, Victor Rodriguez, who currently works for a window company, attended a for-profit technical training program in November 2009. Rodriguez said that after he completed the program in December 2010, he received little to no help with finding a job. “They helped me get two interviews, but the interviews had nothing to do with the courses I had taken.”

Students who choose to enroll in for-profit schools also do so because of the shorter process of admissions. There are no standardized tests like the SATs or the ACTs and students are practically guaranteed placement as long as they can find funding. This stands as both an incentive and a defect of the system. Senior staff attorneys for NYLAG say that the process usually begins with a student speaking with an admission representative, who first takes the student’s information to begin the application process for federal loans.

“This is a red flag,” said Jennifer Magida, a senior staff attorney at NYLAG. Often, when students are considering for-profit schools, they are pressured into making a quick decision. Representatives can be aggressive; they stress to the student that money will not be a concern. Things like classes and fields of study are second thoughts.

“This is where you can see what the priority is. If you feel like you are being pressured, you should not enroll,” Magida said.

Rodriguez said that he was initially interested in studying auto-body mechanics but was “convinced” by a representative to study heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Only a month after he provided all the necessary paperwork, the school applied for federal financial aid on Rodriguez’s behalf, and he started classes a little over a month later. Rodriguez said that in the end, he still was not able to find work in the field that he studied. He works the same job he had before attending the for-profit technical training program.

Many students who choose for-profit schools are promised a career but are left with debt. Students often need both federal funding along with private loans; however, at the end of a program, students are not able to pay back this debt with the job they have or because they are still unemployed.

It appears that for-profit education and debt go hand in hand. According to a 2008 Department of Education survey, 96 percent of for-profit school graduates leave with debt. Between 2009 and 2010, for-profit schools received 25 percent of federal aid.

The skills that for-profit schools teach also tend to be a major issue. Many have found issue with the out-of-date skills being taught in certain programs. Students also find that after they complete the program, the skills they were taught are not the skills they need. Rodriguez said that at his school, the equipment was a major issue.

“The building was kind of run-down, and the equipment was already messed up from other people using it.”

With all this information provided by the media, one might question why young minorities would even consider for-profit schooling. The answer to this question has much to do with the constant, aggressive advertising that draws students in. Advertising targets young people of color and foreigners. NYLAG attorneys say that doing research is the key to weeding out the scams.