The Inside Story of For-Profit Education

Corinthian Colleges fosters a learning environment that meets the needs of the nontraditional student

“Our primary competition is the under-consumption of education. We help people who are afraid to go back to school—our job is to help them understand they can be successful.” —Stan Mortensen

Corinthian Colleges Inc.’s mission is educating the underserved—those left behind by the traditional higher-education establishment. There has been a lot of skepticism in the broader higher-education community about for-profit schools over the last four years. However, Stan Mortensen, executive vice president and general counsel of Corinthian, together with a law department of five attorneys and three legal assis-tants, views his mission as defending the legitimacy of the college’s type of educational services against both legal challenges and those who call into question the for-profit educational model.

“Every educational system has its strengths and weaknesses, but I think the unfair criticisms levied against for-profit schools over the past several years have been driven by a relatively small group of critics who fundamentally distrust the ‘profit motive’ in higher education,” Mortensen says. “Our job is to defend the hard work of our students, employees, and graduates.”

Corinthian operates over 100 schools in North America, with three subsidiaries: Everest, WyoTech, and Heald colleges. Most of these schools have a student body between 500 and 1,200 students, and educate in such areas as allied health, business, accounting, criminal justice, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and automotive. Corinthian primarily offers nine-month diploma training programs and two-year associate degrees, and its students are those who are eager to learn, train, and get a job. In 2011, Corinthian graduated 49,000 students and helped more than two-thirds of those graduates obtain jobs in their fields by June 30, 2012.

“We train for entry-level positions,” Mortensen says. “Our programs—both the nine-month diploma programs and associate degrees—are designed to help graduates get jobs. They are not necessarily designed to lead the student towards a bachelor’s degree or graduate program. Most of our students want to get training, graduate, and get a job; that’s why they come to us.”

Corinthian’s focus is providing a learning environment that meets the needs of nontraditional students. Smaller classes, qualified and caring instructors, and hands-on learning are essential components to a student’s success, and why Corinthian continues to support, validate, and defend its education. Mortensen and his colleagues steadfastly defend the value of a Corinthian   education in our society.

Under Mortensen’s stewardship, Corinthian’s legal department consists of nine people in a company that employs 15,000. Mortensen has been working as an attorney for Corinthian for 13 years, during which time he has seen tremendous growth in both ground campuses and online education. “The online modality, in particular, provides tremendous flexibility for students, but it is still evolving,” he says. “We are continuously striving to make it a better experience for our students.”

The legal department views its role as helping Corinthian provide high-quality services to students, while defending it against wrongful claims and detractors. Corinthian’s law department is divided into two groups of attorneys: three who focus primarily on transactional matters and three who focus on dispute resolution. Corinthian’s transactional attorneys work on mergers and acquisitions, real-estate transactions, general business issues, securities law, compliance issues related to being a publicly traded company, credit-facility negotiations, and student-lending issues, among other matters.

On the general advisory and transactional side, Mortensen explains that the legal department’s mission is to provide high-quality advice to management so that Corinthian’s schools comply with their legal obligations while minimizing legal and business risk. “We like to think of ourselves as business people whose particular expertise is the law,” Mortensen says. “There are ways to structure our operations in a compliant, ethical, and responsible way while also accomplishing our business objectives.”

The dispute-resolution attorneys defend the company against claims by former employees, students, and regulators. “If, on occasion, we find we have not met our high standards of fairness to our employees and students, or compliance with the complex regulations applicable to us, we attempt to resolve those matters quickly,” Mortensen says. “Far more often, though, we are faced with wrongful claims, and in those cases we defend our schools, employees, and the reputation of our students and graduates vigorously. It’s a sense of mission we have in defending the quality of our educational offerings.”

Mortensen believes that Corinthian is part of a broader societal movement to make education more accessible and responsive to the needs of nontraditional students. Corinthian’s employees are proud of their schools, what they teach, and how they change the lives of their graduates. Corinthian is on a pathway to success with Mortensen and his legal department defending every step of the way. “Our primary competition is the under-consumption of education,” Mortensen says. “We help people who are afraid to go back to school—our job is to help them understand they can be successful, and that we have the resources and commitment to help them succeed.”