Report: Many for-profit colleges ramping up social media ads during coronavirus pandemic

Many for-profit colleges have ramped up their social media ads during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.

The nonprofit group, Veterans Education Success, released the report that looked at the use of social media ads by 27 schools, mainly for-profit ones.

“We believe that the apparent push by schools that have a history of predatory and aggressive recruiting to use the pandemic to ramp up enrollment warrants attention by policymakers,” the report said.

>> 89 new cases at UD today as students referred for discipline, some sent home for violating COVID-19 policy

It looked at ads on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram and found many ads either directly or indirectly referenced the coronavirus pandemic and many pushed careers in healthcare.

“We get concerned about people enrolling in these programs not knowing that there are options that are more affordable,” said Aniela Szymanski, Senior Director for Legal Affairs and Military Policy at Veterans Education Success.

The report said many ads appear to specifically target vets and underserved communities.

“The advertisements tended to feature service members in uniform as well as people of color,” Szymanski said.

>> Coronavirus: Local cases, deaths, presumed recovered reported to Ohio Department of Health

Schools have a cap on the federal aid they receive but it doesn’t apply to veterans who receive aid from programs like the GI Bill, so veterans groups worry it means former troops are aggressively targeted for financial gain.

“High pressure sales and enrollment are a huge red flag so be very wary if you’re being pressured to enroll quickly,” Szymanski said.

But groups that represent schools that offer vocational training like Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU) said increasing social media ads right now makes sense to reach as many students as possible during the pandemic.

“These are not high school students who have a high school guidance counselor. These are adults out in the real world and the way we reach them is through advertising,” said Steve Gunderson, President and CEO of (CECU). “Obviously, schools have to abide by all of the appropriate standards. They can’t make false promises. They can’t offer things that they can’t provide. It has to be true.”

“Don’t sign up for any school or any program before doing your research,” Szymanski said.