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by Willette Coleman

They’re everywhere – TV, radio, online, billboards, magazines, newspapers, social media, even in your mailbox.  Their representatives have bombarded people with phone calls, driven by their homes, even recruited veterans in hospitals and wounded warriors’ centers.  They promise: “We’ll give you the best education.”  “We’ll put you on the right career path.”  Who are “they”?  Or, should I say, what are they?  “They” are for-profit colleges and universities – ITT Tech, Strayer, Everest, Kaplan, DeVry, the Art Institute, etc.

Their ads suggest that it’s better to attend a for-profit college/university than a community college.  (A little over a year ago, one ad stated this outright, but has since been pulled from the airwaves.)  So, I asked:  Are for-profits superior to community colleges?  Will they deliver on their advertised promises?  Will you get that much needed bang for your buck?  If you’re unsure whether to attend a community college or a for-profit, may I suggest you do as I did and take a closer look?

A closer look reveals a huge education scandal wherein state and federal lawmakers are suing for-profit companies for “overly aggressive marketing practices and financial aid fraud” and high tuition.  After investigating nearly 30 for-profits, Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) found that “most charge significantly more than similar programs at community colleges….”  Everest’s tuition, for example, “…is nearly $60,000 compared to less than $4,000 at some area community colleges” and its “…degrees appear to be less valuable on the [job] career marketplace, “ reported the Huffington Post.  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) expressed outrage that Corinthian, ITT Tech, Kaplan and DeVry Universities were among the schools under government investigation that also revealed that, in many cases, the credits students earned at for-profits were not transferable to community or 4-year colleges.

Look further and you’ll find that the Department of Education data concluded that “The situation for students at for-profit institutions is particularly troubling,” after its investigation showed that:

  • Students who attend a two-year for-profit institution cost a student four times as much as attending a community college.
  • Eighty-eight percent of associate degree graduates from for-profit institutions had student debt, while only 40 percent of associate degree recipients from community colleges had any student debt.
  • Students at for-profit institutions represent only about 11 percent of the total higher education population but receive 19 percent of all federal loans and make up 44 percent of all loan defaulters.

Then there’s the fake university that’s made media headlines.  In 2013, New York’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, filed a $40 million suit against Trump University (yes, that Trump) for “operating a phony university.”  (See: NewYork Attorney General’s Suit Against Trump University May Proceed, Court Rules and

Donald Trump University Lawsuit Is Lesson For All For-Profit Colleges.)  The paper billionaire engaged in “deceptive recruiting tactics into expensive programs that offer certificates or degrees with little value and poor job prospects,” Schneiderman said on Good Day New York.


Thanks to Everest, I did it,” declared the young optimist to TV audiences.  Another “student” said “Everest for life.”  Well, ask the nursing students where more than 90 percent attending nearby community colleges last year passed California’s required state licensing exams, while “Fewer than 70 percent of Everest students passed the exams, registering the lowest success rate of all nursing programs in the state.”

While some for-profit advertise:  “You’re set up for success,” one student, in Adam Rust’s report, said he felt like he was “…set up to fail” by the for-profit.   Jaqueta Cherry, who has incurred massive debt, is featured prominently in the report, and is among thousands of students with for-profit cautionary tales.  “Too often [for-profits] leave students with high debt or either no degrees or worthless degrees,” Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said.  (See also: For-Profit Colleges Draw Minorities, Stir Murky Debate On Student SuccessUntil recently, there has been no accountability for for-profits’ promises.

(See:  6 Things to do to Keep from Becoming a Cautionary Tale Yourself at the end of this post.)

Student Loans Debt

Data shows high rates of for-profit student loans default.  Collectively, students have been burdened with nearly $100 million debt from For-Profits such as Corinthian, which operated Everest.  (See: Student debt amnesty: Victims of for-profit college fraud to get relief)  Before filing for bankruptcy in 2015 after a federal investigation, Corinthian colleges’ “…revenue doubled to $1.75 billion…from 2007 to 2011, and generated $1.2 billion in government loans in its last year,” proving that For-Profits make BILLIONS from loans they know students can’t pay, especially since investigations show that the chances are slim to none that the graduate will get a good paying job or have a successful career.  Where “only about one in five students at community colleges takes out loans” wrote Chris Kirkhaminfour of 5 students at for-profit two- and four-year schools sign off on loans.”

For profits also block students of their right to pursue legal action and force them into arbitration.  (See: Senators: No More Federal Funding To For-­Profit Colleges That Strip Students Of Legal Rights.)

For-profits’ unscrupulous tactics were also dramatized on the national TV show, The Good Wife, that emphasized student loans debt.  (See ‘The Good Wife’ tackles for-profit colleges and student debt.  The episode, Payback, is at the CBS website.)

In my experience coaching young adults, one applicant told me that afor-profitproceeded to coerce her into getting a loan, after falsely telling her she “didn’t qualify for FAFSA.”  And, speaking of lies, investigators learned that recruiters have misled or lied to service members and veterans about their military benefits covering the full cost of tuition.  The more unscrupulous, among these “predatory cash cows’,” have been busted, on video, telling students to lie on the FAFSA application.  (See: For-Profit Colleges Caught on Video Encouraging financial Aid Fraud.)

Targeted Population/Recruitment

“Civil rights advocate Wade Henderson criticized what he called the ‘cruel,’ ‘unjust’ and ‘immoral’ attempts by some for-profit colleges to actively recruit low-income minority students…,” particularly single parent households with annual incomes below or near the Federal poverty level of $19,530 for a family of three; persons of color and are the “first generation” in their families to attend a post-secondary education institution.  For-profits declare that “…its schools welcome the least advantaged, hardest-to-educate students….”   “Hardest to educate?!!!”  Sounds insulting.

In 2011, “US Department of Justice filed a massive lawsuit against the company behind the schools [that included The Art Institutes], Education Management Corporation, accusing it of fraudulently collecting $11 billion in government aid by recruiting low-income students for the purpose of collecting student aid money. Whistleblowers claim that student’s graduate loaded with debt and without the means to pay off the loans, which are then paid for with taxpayer dollars.”  According to, The Art Institutes Use Predatory Admissions Tactics To Trap Students.

Veterans are another group that has become “a stable source of revenue for many of the schools” stated former Education Secretary, Arne Duncan.  He explained that for-profits, (such as ecpi university), which filed a suit against Florida for not allowing the school to use veterans’ education benefits) carved out their own GI Bill, meaning “they didn’t count federal student aid toward the 90 percent ceiling if it went to combat veterans of the U.S. armed forces.”  These under-reported tax dollars are administered by the U.S. Departmentof Defense, instead of through the Department of Education.

In the past five years, for-profits have taken about 40 percent of G.I. Bill tuition benefits.  “Corinthian Colleges… received $186 million in military tuition funding.”  Tom Caper (D-Del.) said, “We need to use common sense here.  It doesn’t make sense for taxpayers to send veterans to for-profit schools that can be 100 percent subsidized using taxpayers’ dollars.” (See: For-profit colleges aggressively target veterans for enrollment. These Democrats want it to stop and The Wall Street Journal Praises For-Profit Colleges That Prey On Veterans.)

In addition to marketing, for-profitsrecruit students though an intriguing “lead generation” system.  Bet you never heard of this undercover activity.  Neither had I until I read  Rust’s post that explains the process, which includes accessing and tracking your digital footprint, including your activity on your smartphone, etc.

90% of Student Aid Money

Student aid money is our tax money, but for profits can take 90 percent of it.  90%?!  How did policy makers consent to these companies getting 1 percent, much less 90?  It’s call the federal “90/10” rule which allows for-profits to receive up to 90 percent funding from student aid programs including Pell Grants, prompting critics to label these companies “welfare queens.”  (See: Why for-profit colleges are the real welfare queens.)  President Obama’s administration significantly increased funding for Pell Grants available to low-income students.  “For-profit colleges have captured approximately 25 percent of Pell grants,” despite educating only 12 percent of college students nationwide, Henderson said.  Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Caper (D-Del.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation in 2015 to close the 90/10 loophole.  The companies have scammed “the 90/10 rule in ways that are particularly ‘unconscionable’,” said Duncan.

Greedy corporate bosses, however, think 90 percent isn’t enough.  They use loopholes in the 90/10 rule to take MORE.  These “Wall Street darlings,” as critics call them, “…lobby aggressively on ‘both sides of the aisle [and] have enough friends in Washington that a majority of the House of [Republican] Representatives voted to block regulations that President Obama attempted to instate in 2009,” that were finally enacted in 2015.

Who pays for those incessant ads?

You… and I.  Tax payers.  Students hooked into taking out a loan are the same students that pay for for-profits’ advertisements that targeted and hooked them initially.  “To be very clear,” said Duncan, “this is your money.”

Despite opposition from advertising companies and the Association of National Advertisers, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) “introduced legislation to ban colleges [for-profits and nonprofits] from using federal student grants and loans for advertising, marketing or recruitment,” in 2015.  In the meantime, after being sued for fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last year, ITT Tech Education Services recruiting ads continue to run on our tax dollars.

A Brief BackStory

Once upon a time vocational/career-oriented studies (art, fashion, culinary, machine shop, auto mechanics, electrical and plumbing, construction, etc.) were taught in high schools (I got a certificate in shorthand and typing, along with my diploma).  Then, during the 1960s, state and federal governments began cutting high schools’ and community colleges’ vocational classes budgets.  Star Trek’s Mr. Spock might agree…this action defies logic.  Why would government policy makers take our tax dollars away from high school and community college budgets then give that money to for-profits?  Now, government personnel spend more time, money and energy investigating and charging them with fraud.  Really??!!!  Those tax dollars should return to high schools and community colleges.  It would further decrease the national 1.2 million drop out rate among high schoolers.  (See:  Drop Out Nation.  Time Magazine)

One other reason our tax dollars should be returned to community colleges is, in many cases, the dismaying issue of location, location, location.  Nationally, most community colleges are difficult for students, without reliable transportation, to get to.  And, even with online classes, most students situated in the targeted demographic can’t afford a computer and home Internet service (the Census Bureau reported in 2013 that 17 percent of households didn’t have a computer and 48 percent of citizens earning under $25,000 don’t have access to broadband at home according to the Federal Communications commission/FCC) .  So, as Rust described, for-profits’ structural aesthetics and state-of-the-art equipment are more appealing (with our tax dollars) than at most community colleges.

Another Cautionary Tale

Another student, we’ll call her Lydia, was attending Bartending School of America.  She’d planned to keep her day job as a teacher and work weekends to earn extra income.  Lydia attended classes for one week.  The following week, she knocked on locked doors.  Giving no prior notice, the for- profit had closed.  You can imagine how she feels.  Now she’s going through the trouble and anxiety of trying to get part, if not all, of her money returned.  Had Lydia looked closely beforehand, she would have learned that a certificate from a bartending program as a prerequisite for employment varies from state to state.  Lydia might not have even needed to get a certificate, since “Some bars simply rely on good old-fashioned experience when making a new hire,” stated bar/lounge owners and managers in The Truth about Bartending School.

Some bar owners/managers might even train an individual who demonstrates outstanding customer service skills.  If  Lydia doesn’t get back her money, she’ll need to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, now headed by John King (acting Secretary of Education), who announced in February 2016 that the Department “…is creating a Student Aid Enforcement Unit to respond more quickly to allegations of illegal actions by higher education institutions.”

6 Things to do to Keep from Becoming a Cautionary Tale Yourself

While you are a target, you don’t have to be a victim.  Before filling out an application, do some snooping

  1. Find out if the discipline/vocation you wish to learn (training) is offered at your local community college.
  2. Compare tuition at community college against the for-profit if the same vocation is offered.
  3. Make sure your school has regional accreditation says Jennifer Abel at Consumer
  4. See for schools that have been evaluated to have the best score card.
  5. Google the name of the school; include the words “investigation,”  “complaints” or “law suit” in the search field.  See a list of for-profit colleges and universities here.
  6. Check on the usefulness of the diploma or certificate and employment success rate of the school you choose.

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,


Forget Loans! GET FREE MONEY!!!

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by Willette Coleman

You have a dream – Computer programmer, gemologist, tattoo artist (see Tattoo Schools – outstanding artists may have a Fine Arts background), musician, singer, dancer, actor/actress, educator, health professional, minister, video games audio technician, video game designer, engineer – there are many types; scientist, writer, truck driver, filmmaker, or owner of a lavender flower farm business (the ancient plant is prized for its medicinal properties, fragrance, culinary uses, and pests resistance).  To make your career dream a reality – whatever it is – you need….(dramatic pause)…..knowledge/education/training/skills.

Education/training, etc. costs $$$$ – on the low end, nearly $10,000/year (i.e., University of Akron); nearly$60,000/year on the high end.  So, students and parents seek out loans.  But, millions of borrowers end up in debt.  Even low interest loans, such as the Federal Government’s Perkins Loan Program, can be difficult for some to manage.  The Atlantic magazine reported in The Disproportionate Burden of Student-Loan Debt on Minorities that U.S. citizens “hold about $1.2 trillion in student debt.”

Instead of loans, I advocate getting FREE MONEY… in scholarships and grants (I’ll discuss similarities and differences between the two in another post).  Sadly, despite the plethora of FREE MONEY opportunities, millions of students don’t apply for these hundreds and thousands of dollars and apply for the near “instant gratification” of getting a loan.  Why?

Four common fears (what I call self-created barriers/self-sabotage thinking) I hear from high school, college and vocational school students are: 

“I’ll never win one!” 

Or, you could win a bunch!  Yes, applying for scholarships is a competitive pursuit.  So is hours and hours of playing video games.  Like video games, those who work the hardest are the winners.  Winning at games takes commitment and dedication.  So does applying for scholarships and grants. Also, video games are associated with “fun.”  Well, winning $500 or $5,000 is more than fun.

“I don’t like to write” or “I don’t write well.”  

First.  Not all scholarships require an essay, such as No Essay” College ScholarshipTM  where you apply every month for $2,000, the $500 High School Senior Scholarship and Cappex $1,000 GPA Isn’t Everything Scholarship.  You can also search “no-essay scholarships” on, and  

Second.  Once you’ve written the first 1-2 essays, you can cut/paste some of the  information into other applications.  Soon you’ll have fun applying to 1-2 applications per week; then per day.  Winners send out an average of 60-100 applications a year.  One/day equals 365 applications/year!!!

I Don’t Have Time!

Really?  Think “time management” and “investment”…in YOU.  Scholarship winners say, “If a $200 scholarship application takes two hours to complete, and you actually win, that’s equivalent to $100 per hour of your time.”  A GREAT return on your TIME investment don’t you think?!  Honor yourself and commit 1 or 2 hours out of your busy schedule or “just messin’ around” day (like talking hours and hours on your cell phone) to search for and identify donors, assess guidelines, complete applications, organize and submit documents and write essays (where required).

“My GPA is below 3.0.”

Plenty of scholarships exist for students with 2.0 and 2.5 GPAs.  I just mentioned Cappex $1,000 GPA Isn’t Everything Scholarship (no GPA/no essay).  Another is The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards (2.5 GPA) provided to students that have volunteered for someone or an organization in their community.  Others include:

Courage to Grow Scholarship (2.5 GPA/Essay) Scholarship (2.5 GPA/Essay)

Global Lift Equipment Scholarship (2.5 GPA/Essay)

Got A Spine Scholarship (2.5 GPA/Essay)

Regions Riding Forward Scholarship Essay Contest (2.0/Essay)

Applicants must live in the states where they conduct business.

“From Failure to Promise” Essay Contest (2.5 GPA/Essay)

High school seniors and graduate students are eligible for a $10,000 award.

Resume Companion (I saw no required GPA in the guidelines.)  Note:  Applications submitted now through July 14, 2016 will be eligible the scholarship for the Fall semester 2016. (2.5/Essay)

For more help on getting scholarships, check out (from the library)

Winning Scholarships for College:  An Insider’s Guide.

A Few Words of Caution:

  1. Be careful applying for scholarships that are in the form of contests. These “donors” might secretly be “data collectors” for marketing purposes and “information sellers.”
  1. Be leery of scholarship donors that say “you must be 13-years-old to apply” but don’t require a parent’s or adult guardian’s approval. Could be a predator.  Remember:  Scholarship website can be made to look authentic/credible.
  1. If a scholarship donor asks you to scan your student ID, “to verify student status,” as Scholarship requested last year, don’t apply. Scanning your ID leaves you vulnerable to identity theft and predatorsHackers constantly phish.  You never know who’s looking at your information.

Two More Things

  1. After you WIN your scholarship or grant, always send a “Thank You” letter or email to the donor. Actually, some donors – particularly colleges and universities – require a “Thank You” letter before they give the school or you any money.  (More on this in my next post.)
  1. If you already have student loan debt, check out Loan forgiveness programs. Note:  This program is only for federal student loans.  Private loan borrowers are not eligible.

Wishing you Magic, Miracles, Blessings and Much Success!  And, remember, share your success with others.


“When You Learn, Teach. When You Get, Give. ~ Maya Angelou

~     ~      ~

Are you a Scholarship recipient?  Share your search experience.  How much time did it take?  Did you develop a fast-track search strategy?  How many scholarships did you apply for?

SELF-DEFEATING JOB INTERVIEWS: Do You Display Annoying Behaviors? (Updated)

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by Willette Coleman (c)2014

People talk.  And Human Resource people talk to each other about workforce issues – from new labor policies and regulations, to how some people they interviewed behave. One interviewer told her peer that an applicant said “if he was hired, he’d teach me ballroom dancing at no charge, and started demonstrating.”

Following is a short list of a long list of examples of obnoxious and ridiculous (although humorous) behaviors that resulted in self-defeating job interviews.

– An applicant “returned that afternoon asking if we could redo the entire interview.”

– Another “took three cellular phone calls; said she had a similar business on the side.” – Applicant “walked in and inquired ‘why am I here’. ”

– Another, “After being asked a difficult question, wanted to leave the room momentarily to meditate.”

– Candidate was told to take his time answering, “so he began writing down each of his answers before speaking.”

– Another “arrived with a snake around her neck; said she took her pet everywhere.”

– Applicant “handed me an employment contract and said I’d have to sign it if he was going to be hired.”

– When asked about his ambitions, an applicant said, “Losing 20 pounds and getting along better with his little sister.”

– Another “walked in and sat in my chair and insisted I sit in the interviewee’s chair.”

– Candidate “said he left his last job when his computer started speaking to him.”

– Another “wanted to borrow the fax machine to send out some letters.”

Then there is the candidate who annoyingly, albeit unconsciously, repeatedly responds with “like” and “uh”.   I overheard a candidate say in a 20-minute interview:  “Uh, like, I was responsible for organizing,like, uh, the files, that, like, had to be set up in a way that the managers could, like, uh, get to right away.”

Other examples, such as “No problem” or “No worries,” are found in Annoying and Overused Phrases to Avoid on Job Interviews.  Pay close attention to distracting mannerisms you may unconsciously exhibit.

Ask yourself:  Do I

  • – bite my nails,
  • – fidget with my clothes,
  • – shake my leg/frequently cross and uncross my legs,
  • – chew and pop gum (an absolute NO NO!),
  • – suck my teeth?


– Tell jokes.  They have no place in an interview. “Humor and a degree of casualness can be fine, but win over the interviewer with well-informed answers and a bit of humility,” says career adviser, Trudy Steinfeld.

– Mention politics and religion. They can cause discomfort and controversy.  Interviewers are interviewing you because of your credentials and experience, not your religion or politics.

– Wear enough cologne or perfume to choke two cows and a horse.  An interviewer could be allergic to or turned off by your chosen scent.  Even perfumed lotions can be annoying.  Best bet?  Keep it clean.

Before going on an interview, ask a professional, friends and relatives to gently point out any annoying habits you may fail to see, or video tape yourself doing a mock interview.  Keep in mind that behavior is as important as appearance (attire), knowledge and experience.  Showcase the professional you.

See more self-defeating behaviors at 15 Ways to Annoy Your Job Interviewer.

Thanks for reading,

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,



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by Willette Coleman ©2014

“Are there any scholarships for older adults who want to go back to school?”  I get that question often. You’d be happy to know you could be eligible for state, federal, corporate and private organizations’ scholarships, or free tuition, to earn an undergraduate or Associate’s Degree, or a certificate, as I told listeners of  “Part II – Learning Forever: Who else is Returning to the Classroom and How to Pay for It?” on the Sage-ing Baby Boomer Show

Some individuals go back to school to gain new or update skills to compete in today’s job or business market.  Others just like the challenge.  Charlie Ball, an 89-year-old veteran, graduated from Arkansas Tech University in May 2012 (see video here).  Whatever your reason, consider these scholarship (or free tuition) opportunities.

American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) – Community CollegePlus 50 Initiative. Over 130 community colleges across the nation receive grants from AACC to give scholarships to unemployed older adults to train and help them get back to work.  If your school of choice isn’t listed on their website, contact AACC and ask if your school is eligible.

American-Opportunity-Tax-Credit   You could claim up to $2,500 per year for tuition and other school-related expenses.  

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  THERE IS NO! AGE LIMIT to apply for –

Pell Grant:  $555 – $5,550 for undergraduates who demonstrate financial need.

Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant:  $100 – $4,000 for undergraduates with exceptional financial need.

Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  Awards up to $1,000 to students age 55 and older for 350 hours of volunteer service can be used for your own education or transferred to your child, foster child or grandchild.  On the website, click on “Get Involved,” select your state or jurisdiction, select the service you want to provide, and sign up.

Talbots Women’s Scholarship Fund awards five (5) $10,000 scholarships and fifty (50) $1,000 scholarships to women seeking an undergraduate degree.  Check here for guidelines and watch their online video.

AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship Program.  Low-income, 50-plus women can qualify for this scholarship for “education, training, and skills upgrades….” in any course of study at an accredited education institution or technical school.   You might also qualify for another AARP scholarship which is offered through community colleges and universities that train mature workers in health care fields.  For example, Anne Arundel Community College (Arnold, Md.) provides two free online webinars to older students interested in health care careers in the college’s “Allied Health Pathway for Encore Careers” initiative.  More details here.

Emerge Scholarships are offered to “women whose educations have been interrupted, who have overcome significant obstacles, and who give back to their communities.”

Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier –Sister to Sister Scholarship annually allocates $500 to “two recipients, 25 or older, that are returning to college without the moral or financial assistance of a spouse.”  

Jeanette Rankin Foundation Grants for Low Income Women provides “scholarships and support for low-income women, 35 and older, to build better lives through college completion.” 

TheAmerican Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (AFL-CIO) Union Plus Scholarship targets adult members, spouses and dependent children.  Awards range from $500 to $4,000.  If you or family members are in a different union, talk to your union representative.

The AMVETS National Scholarship Program annually awards scholarships to veterans, their offspring including grandchildren of deceased veterans.  

The AFCEA EducationalFoundation offers scholarships and training programs to individuals of  ANY AGE who served in the military and are engaged in the “hard science” disciplines related to C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance].


Contact the Financial Aid Office at the institution you choose and ask the Officer about

  • scholarship opportunities for mature students,
  • tuition and fee waivers,  
  • a reduced tuition rate for credit, or 
  • taking non-credit classes.   

Also, check the Higher Education Assistance Authority in your state or territory (e.g., google Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority) to learn about more opportunities for mature adults.


Mature adults have mucho experience and skills that can correlate to any number of academic subjects.   To shorten the number of subjects and hours you may need when you return to school, consider earning college credits for your life experience through the College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP), which is administered at more than 2,900 colleges and universities and costs $80.  

Numerous companies, such as McDonald’s USA National Employee ScholarshipProgram that “selects one outstanding student-employee applicant from each state and the District of Columbia to receive a $2,500”, encourages returning college students.  Their “McScholar of the Year” gets a $5,000 scholarship.   

To find other businesses check here.  If your company isn’t on this list, talk with your supervisor or human resources personnel.  Ask about any age limit.

NOTE: Employers might stipulate specific criteria for financial education support, such as you agreeing to work for the company for a designated number of years after graduation.  Others like The Target Tuition Reimbursement Program, pays “for job-related courses at accredited technical schools, colleges or universities.  Operative words:  “job-related”.

So, all you mature adults thinking about going back to school……GO FOR ITThe $$$ are out there!
Thanks for reading,

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,


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by Willette Coleman ©2014


People who are desperate for a job may give potential employers all kinds of personal information.  Should a copy – yes, a COPY – of their Social Security card – yes, CARD – be included?  Is it even legal?



That’s the question Marie (name changed) asked personnel at a temp-to-perm executive employment agency.  She had filled out the job application with her social security (SS) number, so why did the employer need a COPY of her card on file?  “You can’t work for us if we don’t have a copy,” the company’s associate stated flatly.  This was Marie’s first experience with an employer making this demand.  Usually recruiters looked at her card, then, initialed the application to confirm seeing it.  “What do you do with the copy?” Marie asked.  “We scan it into our system for E-Verify,” the associate quipped.  Marie almost laughed when the woman declared, “your information is secure.” 
Your Information is Secure…HA!
Charles C. Mann’s and David H. Freeman’s book, At Large, “blows the lid off the frightening vulnerability of the global online network, which leaves not only systems, but also individuals, exposed.”  According to the Pew Research Center, 11% of Internet users have had personal information stolen.  Studies also show that “21% of users had had an email or social network account compromised.”
In 2013, hackers stole millions of social security numbers and IDs, including First Lady, Michelle Obama (Michelle Obama’s IDdetails hacked from data brokers), “Bill Gates, Beyonce Knowles, Jay-Z, Ashton Kutcher and many others,” before being shut down. 
According to experts, hackers break into systems numerous ways, from using computer programs like “Trojan horse” (spyware disguised to look like one of Unix’s or Windows’ legitimate components), that are available on the Internet, to obtaining or guessing “root-access, which, [experts say], is as easy as getting your or my password, because servers are often shipped from the factory loaded with supposedly default ‘backdoor’ passwords…” meant to be “used by vendor technicians….”  Also, hackers can access individuals’ PCs “through a PC in a nearby home or a neighborhood cable switch,” because “cable companies that provide home Internet access treat entire neighborhoods like one local-area network,” said Freeman.
You’d think that government agencies and financial institutions would be invincible, but “Banks get hit by cyberattackers all the time and typically have some of the best defenses against them. This time, they were outgunned,” David Goldman wrote in, Major Banks Hit with Biggest Cyberattacks in History.  The 2008 World Bank Hacked, Sensitive Data Exposed article reported, the bank had “had multiple hacks…..”  If I were going into e-crime, I’d hit a bank,” said security specialist, Jon David, in Forbes Magazine‘s How to Hack A Bank.  Hacked companies include Sony, Google Inc., Lockheed Martin,  Target is still reeling from the 2013 security breach.
An employer (or anyone) who has a copy of your SS card – which contains your signature – puts your identity at risk.  In 2011, “More than 11.6 million adults became a victim of identify fraud in the United States,” Javelin Strategy & Research reported.  The risk is equally great when you put your SS number on online job applications.  Months before the 2012 tax season, applicants couldn’t submit H.R. Block’s job application without inputting their SS number.  Consequently, H.R. Block has and will receive hundreds, maybe thousands, of applicants’ SS numbers.  With many employers using resume scanners to search keywords and phrases to select compatible candidates, what’s the point of having SS numbers of individuals in whom there’s no interest?

Job scams, which go hand-in-hand with identify theft, are another reason to NOT put your SS number online, nor allow an employer to make a copy of your SS card.  Not all companies are as legit as they appear.  Even legitimate companies may – unknowingly – have an unscrupulous employee who steals IDs.  Considering the risk, you’d think that an employer’s common sense would dictate that having individuals’ SS cards – hard copy or online – poses a security threat.
CareerBuilder is among few job search databases that alert job seekers:  
“For your privacy and protection, when applying to a job online:
Never give your social security number to a prospective employer;
provide credit card or bank account information, or perform
any sort of monetary transaction.”  (Author’s emphasis.)

Curious about the associate’s by-the-book spiel about “e-verify,” Marie learned that E-Verify is “an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.”
Her online search also revealed an employer that queried online human resource advisors whether it’s “illegal to make and keep copies of employees’ social security cards.”  Part of the reply stated:   “…the I-9 form specifically gives employers the right to make copies of the supporting documents the employee presents….”; it would “be unlawful for you to require that job applicants — as opposed to employees — fill out an I-9 or give copies of identity documents. That is why the I-9 is completed AFTER a job offer has been accepted, but before the employee has worked for 3 days.”  (Author’s emphasis.)  Since Marie was an applicant, not an employee, no one asked her to complete an I-9.  Yet, they wanted a copy of her SS card.  

While the I-9 form “gives employers the right to make copies of the supporting documents…,” (e.g., SS cards), under Section 2, on the I-9 form, it clearly states:  “Employers may, but are not required to photocopy the documents presented.”  (Author’s emphasis.)  Even had she been offered and accepted the job, the employer wasn’t REQUIRED to copy her card despite the recruiter’s emphatic reply to Marie’s email thanking them for the interview and confirming her refusal to allow them to copy her card.  Marie stood firm knowing that the employer’s “copying policy” is ILLEGAL.

In today’s “wired/wireless” world, when and where possible, I minimize threats to my personal information.  I don’t my put home address on my resume and marketing materials.  I have a P.O. Box.  As I stated in 6 TIPS TO AVOID JOB SCAMS, anyone, I mean ANYONE, can see where you live via electronic “maps.”  Research shows that twelve percent of users have been stalked or harassed.  Just having his email address on his resume, Tyrone (name changed) said he’s noticed an increase in spam urging him to: “Follow up on your job application,” or claiming “Job application status pending.”  The point is: He NEVER applied for a job to these individuals or entities.     

So, to be as safe as reasonably possible, take CareerBuilder’s advice and just say “no thanks” should an employer request your SS number online.  [NOTE:  Government online applications, such as, force you to input your SS number.]  And, if an employer reaches for your SS card to make a copy, quote the I-9, Section 2  Homeland Security law. 

Share your thoughts on this issue.
Thanks for reading.
Magic, Miracles & Blessings,


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by Willette Coleman ©2013 

IT’s enough to be out of work and struggling to pay the rent; it’s worse that heartless and unscrupulous people prey on individuals who simply want to work and take care of themselves and their families.  These predators use unmonitored job search websites, like craigslist, to “phish” for personal information (e.g., home addresses on resumes; Internet maps can show your exact location), or lure unsuspecting applicants into job scams.  So, we all need to be careful in this “unseen virtual” world and use good instincts discussed in How to Avoid Job Scams onCraigslist.

“Angela” (name changed) didn’t follow her instincts and soon became anxious about her social security number and fingerprints being in the hands of….who?, and would she lose her money? 

This all began when Angela’s qualifications matched a tutoring job description on craigslist.  Observing no contact information and no website link, red flags waved; her gut said “let it go.”

~ Tip 1 ~

Listen to your gut!  If it doesn’t feel right, do not apply!

Angela ignored her gut.  The perfect part-time hours fitted her schedule and, unlike other tutoring jobs, she didn’t need a car.  So, she Googled the company’s name.  The website looked authentic (but that’s easy to do).  She clicked on the“contact” tab, and dialed the Northern Virginianumber.  The person who answered seemed surprised that someone was calling.  Angela explained that she wanted to be sure the ad wasn’t another job scam because no contact information was provided.  The woman, who didn’t identify herself (and Angela failed to ask her name), gave the name and email address of the individual to whom Angela should send her resume.  Within two hours,“Sallie” (name changed) acknowledged Angela’s cover letter and resume and scheduled an interview at a popular book store in a mall in a nearby suburb.  Angela was hopeful.

The November llth interview went well.  Angela was even encouraged to be a Tutor Coordinator and given documents explaining the company’s policies, and the job’s tasks and responsibilities; some documents needed her signature.  Sallie confirmed the job post’s statement that Angela would need to get a background check and fingerprints, and said she’d be reimbursed for the cost by the 15thof the month, “when we cut checks.”   

~ Tip 2 ~

Don’t Pay a Fee for a Background Check Without ASSURANCE You Have the Job! 

Angela paid for the process without an official offer.  A week later, Angela met Sallie outside (not inside) another mall and handed her the signed documents containing her social security number, the card with her fingerprints she’d secured through the local police department, and the original receipt for the $10 fee.  Sallie, in athletic attire and pushing her carriaged one-year-old daughter, thanked a professionally dressed Angela, and reassured her she’d be reimbursed. 

~ TIP 3 ~

Don’t Fill Out Forms Online that Require Your SSN

Angela had kindly declined to put her social security number on forms via email.  Sallie said she understood.  Only the hard copies she gave Sallie had that information. “I would prefer to keep that number safe until hired, but it is not always possible,” wrote Susan M. Heathfield in You Want My Social Security Number?“It might cost you the employment opportunity,” but she suggests you write in the required space, “SSN available upon job offer.”  {Note:  You have no choice when filling out government job applications on}

~ TIP #4 ~

Document Emails, Receipts – Everything!

Angela did the right thing here.  She has all her emails and hard copies of documents and the receipt.  Over the course of two weeks, Sallie emailed Angela and other candidates she’d interviewed about public and charter schools that needed tutors, and that she would confirm assignments soon.  Then, on December 6, Sallie emailed all candidates saying:

Sadly, I decided Commonwealth Education is not a good fit for me at this time.

Randi Franklin or Ryan Garton will be taking over – I forwared all of your paperwork – please check with them regarding new students, reimbursement, and payroll. For those of you waiting to be reimbursed, Randi will be sending checks out on the 15th of the month. For those of you still waiting for background checks, I will send them to Randi as I receive them.

I was such a pleasure meeting everyone and I’m sorry if this causes any future inconveniences. I wish you all the best of luck.

[Email printed with permission, and includes the actual spelling and grammar errors.]

Two weeks later, Angela hadn’t heard from either individual Sallie had said would contact candidates.  She began to feel uneasy about her exposed social security number and fingerprints.  They were in the hands of….who?  So, she emailed three other individuals Sallie had interviewed and inquired whether they’d been contacted.  One person responded saying that “Janice” (name changed) had contacted her.  Angela asked for Janice’s email address and emailed her December 21.  Janice replied the same day:  [Email printed with permission.]
Thank you for emailing us.I did receive confirmation of your fingerprints and am in the process of checking with PrinceGeorges Countyto see where we stand. You are on my list and I will get with you next week to let you know what I have found out.

Thank you for your patience and have a very joyous holiday!

Angela thought it odd they were “in the process of checking… to see where we stand.”  The craigslist’s post and Sallie’s emails had listed confirmedlocations and stated that tutors only needed to be assigned.  Angela also noted that Janice didn’t mention why she hadn’t contacted her since Sallie’s departure, nor said anything about reimbursing her.  Another two weeks later, Janice hadn’t kept her promise to get back to Angela.  So, on January 17, Angela emailed Janice:

I am following up on your last email on December 21.  Although you said you would get back with me a week later, I’ve not heard from you.

I am a little concerned that no timely communications is coming from [*company name].  Therefore, I have moved forward in my job search and may not be available to tutor should a schedule be finalized.

In the meantime, when [Angela gave “Sallie’s” real name] interviewed me, she said that the company would reimburse me the $10 I paid for my fingerprints.  To date, I’ve not received the reimbursement.  I would appreciate it if you would inform me of the status of reimbursement.  Also, since it appears I will not be in (*company’s name) employ, I am inquiring about your policy for returning to me my fingerprint card and all information that shows my social security number.   *Author omitted company’s name.

With no response, on February 2, Janice called the number at the start of this situation.  The individual (Angela got her name that time) took her information and concerns, and said that Janice would call her back.  She didn’t.

Angela felt scammed, and rightly so.  The company possessed her social security number, fingerprints and background information.  No job and $10 short, she had also spent valuable time and commuting funds in this employment effort.  Concerned that her identity could be at risk, Angela considered emailing the Better Business Bureau (BBB) until she learned that filing a complaint could be a waste of time. 

BBB is a private franchise – yes, franchise – not a local, state or federal government agency.  Companies can purchase membership.  Which provoked one person to ask the BBB in Canada: If all your funding comes from business, how can you be fair to the consumer?  BBB‘s reply was more like a promo statement.  As a franchise and a non-profit (yes, non-profit) “…the BBB receives millions in grant money every year from the US Government,” according to Rip-off Report .  The ABC News program 20/20  investigated the BBB in November, 2010. 

While Angela’s situation may not be a scam in the word’s exact meaning, it clearly is a rip off. From now on, Angela says she won’t bypass her gut reaction, puts her P.O. Box number on her resumes (she has 5) instead of her home address, and is extra diligent about giving out her SS number. 

~ TIP #5 ~

Take the Time to Check Out Companies

Searching whether a company has a bad rap sheet takes vigilance and patience.  It’s time-consuming and tedious, but it’s worth it in the long run.  Ask:

1.    Does the company belong to a professional association?  At the time, Angela didn’t think to check the National Tutoring Association, or the American Tutoring Association.

2.    Is it licensed?  According to, “Every business needs one or more federal, state or local licenses or permits to operate.” Licenses can range from a basic operating license to specific permits.  Regulations vary by industry, state and locality.  None-compliance with regulations can lead to fines. 

3.    For a fee, Angela could have viewed the company’s business details in Dun &Bradstreet or databases.

4.    WetFeet.comand, as I noted in POWER INTERVIEWS: How to Sharpen Your Query Skills, are helpful for searching information about companies.  Keep in mind that not all companies are listed on these sites, and opinions can be bias for valid or invalid reasons.

Afterwards, Angela contacted the Virginia State Attorney General’s office and a representative said they covered such cases and instructed Angela to download and mail the multi-page complaint form on their website.She sent the document by certified mail.Some four months later, the Attorney General’s office replied:  “Your complaint is not in our jurisdiction.”

Six months later, another Commonwealth Education representative emailed Angela: [Partial email printed with permission.]

Regarding your query about fingerprints, I do not believe we ever received anything from PG County with your fingerprints.  If we still have any docs in our office with your ssn, we will gladly mail them back to you (along with a check for $10).  Please send me your address so we can get a check sent to you.

Again, my sincerest apologies for our oversight on this matter,…

Angela sent her address, and corrected him that:

An email from Randi Franklin on December 21, 2011 confirmed that Commonwealth Education received confirmation regarding my fingerprints[Author’s emphasis.]

Angela never heard from anyone from Commonwealth Education again.  Frustrated, she filed a review on

At least Angela’s experience wasn’t deadly as it was for three unfortunate men who responded to a job posted on craigslist to work on an Ohio cattle farm.  On November 18, 2011, WEWS-TV reported the scam led to one man’s death and the other injured.   Another man’s body was found on the farm  ten days later.

~ Tip ~

Don’t Let a Desperate Need for money Place You in a Questionable Situation



If you’ve been scammed, ripped off or undeservedly disappointed, I’m listening


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Fun & Work: Can They Just Get Along?

by Willette Coleman ©2013

Generally, you look for a company where you can efficiently and effectively use your knowledge and skills in your job search.  Right?  Right.  Well, there’s one other thing you might look for – Fun.  

Knowing whether a company’s culture includes fun will give you some insight into the employer’s management style.  Are employees made to feel like prisoners?  Or, does management show appreciation and incorporate fun?  “Putting subtle cues in the environment that can suggest fun can be a powerful motivator,” Juliano Laran, Assistant Professor, Marketing, University of Miami, School of Business, said in Hans Villarica’s article, To Keep Willpower from Flagging, Remember the F-Word: ‘Fun’ 

Some managers consider fun in the workplace to be a distraction, unprofessional and not taking your work seriously, assuming that joking and laughing on the job means you’re goofing off.  If done too often and for long stretches of time during the work hours, those concerns have merit.   Nonetheless, employers are embracing the F-word to the extent of creating “fun committees” or appointing “a mirth manager” to schedule joyful and de-stressing events during work, without employees sacrificing their lunch hour.  “This openness” says Paul McGhee, PhD, author of Changing Corporate Perceptions of the Value of Humor, “has led many CEOs to consider the idea of putting humor and fun to work, to support the bottom line.”

Playfair, with a mission to increase fun-in-the-workplace awareness, says that business managers are beginning to understand that, “Having fun isn’t the same as goofing off.  It is a way to bolster productivity, teamwork and company loyalty by showing workers they are appreciated.”  In 1996, Playfair designated April 1st (or the first Thursday in April, if April 1 falls on a weekend) as International Fun at Work Day.  Initially, they were reluctant to associate the occasion with April Fool’s Day, “Then we realized it was actually the perfect time to spotlight the notion that fun, especially at work, does not have to equal foolish.”  No foolishness means, “non-toxic humor; absolutely no sarcasm, put-downs, or offensive jokes that targets any particular group or minority.” 

I’m fortunate to have worked in two environments where the managers embraced the F-word.  The former branch manager of the DC Public Libraries was unique among the 25 neighborhood branches.  Major Shackleford encouraged staff to participate in events – yoga, dance classes, meditation, health seminars, lectures, movies and plays – that took place at the library.  Without shirking our duties, we could get involved in any activity, if we chose.  Staff also had fun planning and managing the monthly yard sale fundraiser.  Mr. Shack, as many employees called him, encouraged me to produce a quarterly newsletter for the “Friends” of the branch, as he’d observed that, for me, writing and researching, while labor intensive, was (and is) fun.  A kind and caring man, Shack made sure staff celebrated birthdays, retirements or promotions.  He also gave each staff member a generous appreciation bonus each Christmas, out of his own pocket.  Even after retirement, Mr. Shack continues to surprise us with his generosity. 

The former executive director of a small national profit, Linda Haithcox, who loves to bake, make homemade ice cream (yummy!), and entertain, is the other F-word embracer.  The loyal sports fan orchestrated football fantasy competitions, betting (no money) whose team would win the season.  Staff birthdays and milestones were always celebrated at an upscale restaurant of choice.  We went to Atlantic City and danced until 3:00 A.M for her birthday.  Charitable events included buying new clothes for orphans during Christmas, and having staff and board members participate in community service, such as at the organization’s 2010 Economic Development Conference, where they got sweaty, dirty and laughed a lot while helping Habitat for Humanity help New Orleans, LA Katrina victims rebuild their homes.  And, I’ll always remember the fun staff had decorating individual White House Christmas tree ornaments.  “I’m afraid I won’t find another place to work where there’s so much laughter,” an intern lamented as her year’s stay at the organization ended. 

Fun is a healthy component to work that increases productivity and reduces stress what with going to meetings, traveling, and meeting company deadlines and goals.  Reduced stress and relief from corporal tunnel syndrome, eyes, back and neck strain from long hours sitting at computers translates to better health.  Better health translates to employees taking fewer sick days.  Decreased sick days translate to a cost-saving bottom line for employers that provide health insurance for employees.  

Finally, the F-word makes us smile.  “Smiling is a natural drug,” Dr. Stibich, adjunct faculty member of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in Top 10 Reasons to Smile.   “Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin.  Together these three make us feel good.”   

Finding Companies that Embrace the F-Word.  Olivera Perkins’ article, Northeast Ohio Companies Encourage Employees to Have Fun at Work, sites examples of companies that subsidize on-site message therapy sessions; have free fitness centers and offer rejuvenation stations with cushy recliners and cleansing ocean sounds.  To find F-word-friendly companies, you’ll need to do some research.  Technology companies, the arts organizations and those that focus on education, philanthropy and enriching the lives of others appear to lead the pack as fun places to work.  Some careers, such as cartoonist, photographer, writer, website designer and clown, are inherently fun.  McGhee says companies today must “find ways to make work enjoyable, if they want to survive and thrive in the 21st century.” 

Fun Ideas for the Workplace. 

  • Traveling Bouquet.  Give a bouquet of flowers to a co-worker.  Say:  “Keep this on your desk for the next hour.  Then pass it on to someone else and tell them to do the same.” 
  • Company Limo Lottery.  Hold a lottery where the winner is driven to and from work in a limo for a day or week.  Don’t have a company limo?  Rent one.
  • Offer employees unusual gifts (e.g., free housecleaning certificates) to show your appreciation.
  • On-site Masseuse  – weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
  • Pop-champagne Wednesday (or sparkling apple juice).  Comedian Sinbad  popularized Wednesday as “hump day.”  Each Wednesday, toast each other for successes and fabulous failures of the past week.
  • Add 5-minute “stretch-n-breathe” breaks (preferably every hour or two)
  • Take “Joy Breaks” during the day, and enjoy low-tech games like marbles, ball-and-jacks, or building a 5,000 piece puzzle.
  • On-site exercise, yoga, dance or juggle classes (juggling has HUGE brain benefits).
  • Celebrate new accounts, employees’ career milestones, or the company’s existence. 
  • Chili or barbecue cook-offs; Easter egg dyeing and decorating.
  • More tips at 11 Easy Ways to Make Work Fun.

Hal Rosenbluth, former CEO of Rosenbluth International, and consultant for Walgreen’s healthcare services, told Dr. McGhee that it’s “almost inhumane if companies create a climate where people can’t naturally have fun….  Our role and responsibility as leaders and associates is to create a place where people can enjoy themselves.”

So, the verdict is in:  Fun and work CAN get along!  They merge to create an environment where people WANT to work and are motivated to provide quality services and products. 

Is your workplace F-word friendly?  If so, share.

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,


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