A CBC Marketplace investigation into CDI College, one of Canada’s largest for-profit career colleges, has found a pattern of misleading practices being used to pressure would-be students into signing up for online programs that can cost upward of $20,000.
Marketplace has documented some CDI admissions representatives misleading journalists posing as potential online students on accreditation, salary and job rates after graduation, as well as signing up unsuitable candidates and pressuring students to enrol.
Higher education expert Prof. Glen Jones, from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), calls Marketplace‘s findings on the college “abysmal.”
“I think it is terrible,” Jones said. “We’re talking about a life choice here. We’re talking about something that’s very important to an individual who is aspiring to improve themselves within their life and in their career, and to be lied to, to not have complete information about the program they’re about to take, that’s terrible.”
WATCH | Marketplace investigates CDI College:
CDI College has been in operation for more than 50 years, with more than 20 locations in five provinces. It is now operated by Eminata Group, the parent company of a number of private colleges in Canada, including CDI College, Visual College of Art and Design (VCAD), Vancouver Career College and Reeves College.
The founder and chairman of Eminata Group is Peter Chung, from Vancouver, who previously operated Wilshire Computer College in California before it was investigated by the state attorney general in the early 1990s, in part for misleading students.
CDI College, while not responding to specific Marketplace findings, said “it is possible there [might] be cases where employees may do something not condoned by the school.”
Current and former students feel taken advantage of by CDI
Marketplace has spoken with more than 20 current and former CDI online students across the country, many of whom say they have been left thousands of dollars in debt while no further ahead in their careers.
To investigate what CDI promises would-be students prior to enrolling, Marketplace producers posed as potential students and documented what CDI admissions representatives tell those who inquire about CDI’s online programs.
We never offer any programs where it’s not accredited or recognized. We would not.– CDI College recruiter
In conversations with three different CDI admissions representatives, Marketplace journalists were provided misleading and contradictory information regarding accreditation for various online programs offered at CDI.
When asked if the Human Resources and Payroll Coordinator program is accredited and recognized, the recruiter said: “Oh, of course. We never offer any programs where it’s not accredited or recognized. We would not.”
The admissions representative also said that students in Ontario get jobs “only because it’s an accredited program.”
But Marketplace has found that the majority of CDI’s online programs are not accredited by a third-party or accrediting body. One CDI education manager in the online division admitted in an email to a former student, after they enrolled, that “very few of our programs are accredited.”
These findings were no surprise to Jennifer Adamache, who calls her experience at CDI College “horrific.” Adamache, who hails from Edmonton, was looking for a new career in 2021 when she inquired with CDI about the online Human Resources and Payroll Coordinator course, priced at $15,625 for a 50-week program.
“I did my due diligence,” said Adamache, who says she asked a CDI admissions representative repeatedly if the program was accredited and was assured it was.
Only once Adamache had enrolled and invested thousands of dollars did CDI tell her that while three of the courses come from the National Payroll Institute, which provides payroll educational content to affiliated institutions, the other 17 courses and the CDI program itself are not accredited.
In response to her concerns, a CDI representative told Adamache, and other students who participated in a video call after they discovered the program wasn’t accredited, that the college would investigate, but without any written “proof” that they were misled, there is really nothing it could do. The students said they had been misled about program accreditation in phone conversations with their admission representatives before enrolling.
Adamache decided to ultimately withdraw from the program, but still owes $4,636.77 in student loan debt.
“I cried. I was depressed for a good couple months. I wasted 2.5 months in that program learning nothing,” she said. “It broke me.”
Questions about accreditation
Accreditation, according to Jones, is fairly specific in Canada, and generally applies only to programs, not institutions.
“When we have accreditation for medical programs or law programs, the notion [is] that a program has to meet a minimum standard,” Jones said. “If it meets that standard according to the accrediting body, it becomes accredited and that credential has greater value within the system.”
Up until Marketplace contacted CDI College, its “accreditation” webpage stated: “Each Canadian province has its own regulatory body that awards accreditation, or grants a licence to, private educational institutions,” and that “CDI College campuses are either accredited, licensed or registered appropriately depending on the province they reside in.”
However, provincial regulatory bodies in Canada do not “accredit” private career colleges.
Provinces will provide a licence and approve a program.
Marketplace shared its findings with the five provincial regulators where CDI College operates.
B.C. regulator ‘concerned,’ expanding review of CDI
In response to Marketplace‘s findings, British Columbia’s Private Training Institutions Branch (PTIB) of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training sent a statement, saying it is “concerned about and [takes] seriously the issues raised by Marketplace‘s investigation.”
It also said it is now expediting its planned inspection into CDI College, and “the registrar will be appointing a team of external-to-government inspectors to support staff in a comprehensive review of the institution’s programs.”
Alberta’s Ministry of Education said it takes all allegations and complaints seriously, and an external body has been conducting an audit of Alberta’s private career colleges.
A Manitoba spokesperson said the number of complaints the province has received about CDI College compares “quite favourably” to other similar-sized private colleges. The spokesperson added they’ve received four complaints regarding CDI College in the last three years, all of which have been resolved.
The Ministère de l’Éducation, in a French statement, said of the CDI courses licensed by Quebec: “Their implementation, in terms of quality, is not the responsibility of the ministry.”
After Marketplace reached out to CDI College about the use of the term “accreditation,” it did not address the findings directly. However, the CDI website was changed and now clarifies that regulatory bodies grant “approval,” and not accreditation.
CDI also told Marketplace that it takes all complaints seriously, has implemented processes to address student concerns and is working to address what it calls “growing pains” in CDI’s online course offerings.
The college also said it encourages students to engage in CDI’s dispute resolution process, which it said has been recently updated. Adamache said when she asked for a tuition refund, the dispute resolution process did not work for her.
Marketplace also reached out to the National Association of Career Colleges [NACC], which represents 450 provincially regulated career colleges across the country, including CDI College.
In an email, the NACC stated: “Like all post-secondary institutions, our members have dispute resolution processes in place and work closely with their respective regulatory bodies. We support our members in ensuring issues are resolved in a timely and appropriate manner for all parties.”
Marketplace has found hundreds of complaints online including on Complaints Board, Reviewopedia and the Better Business Bureau, calling CDI “liars,” complaining of “false advertisements,” being “ripped off,” and using the word “scam.”
Marketplace also heard from online students about concerns over the quality of the education provided at CDI, including consistent IT and technical issues, problems accessing the website, “chaotic and disorganized” schooling, and constant staff and teacher turnover, in addition to a lack of communication from both teachers and CDI staff and representatives.
Many CDI students told Marketplace some of their problems started after they clicked a CDI advertisement on Facebook or Instagram, and were quickly contacted by a CDI employee with the title of assistant director of admissions.
‘We were badgering’ people, says former recruiter
Adam Pollick worked as an assistant director of admissions at CDI between 2020 and 2021 — a recruitment job that he says was “essentially a telemarketing role.”
“They don’t tell you that from the get-go in your interview — it’s made brutally obvious to you when you show up for orientation day one,” he said. “There are hundreds of people in a call centre calling students that are people looking to find a better path or education.”
CDI recruiters would “hustle” anybody that saw a Facebook or Instagram ad and just wanted basic information on a program, he says. “We were badgering them to enrol.”
“If they don’t answer, you call back 10 minutes later … you call back four hours later and you’ll continue to call them at least once a day until they answer or they mark us as spam or fraud,” he said.
CDI College had targets and quotas that all assistant directors of admissions, or recruiters, had to hit, he said.
“The targets were minimum two enrollments a week … and minimum 100 calls a day,” Pollick said.
If targets weren’t reached, he said, people would be fired.
In addition to quotas, CDI recruiters were rewarded for new student enrolments with a two per cent commission paid on each student’s tuition — as long as they stayed enrolled for 60 days.
CDI College also provided dog tags to some recruiters with the amount of tuition dollars brought in to the college. Pollick received a CDI dog tag etched with his name and the amount of $787,987.68.
The high-pressure sales environment, he says, would sometimes lead recruiters to mislead and use unscrupulous recruitment practices like those documented in Marketplace’s undercover calls with CDI.
‘Eighty to 85 per cent of all of our graduates find jobs,’ recruiter says
One such claim focused on employment rates after graduation.
“Eighty to 85 per cent of all of our graduates find jobs in the field that they study, across the board,” said one CDI recruiter when Marketplace inquired about the online paralegal program.
Marketplace examined the latest CDI rates from Ontario from 2019 and learned the overall graduate employment rate in the field of study for all in-person CDI programs from three Ontario locations was just 34.3 per cent, far below the 80 to 85 per cent claimed.
The same rate for all private career colleges in Ontario in 2019 was 58 per cent.
Job rates after graduation are not posted for online programs or in all provinces.
When calling CDI as a would-be student, Marketplace reporter Travis Dhanraj was also given misleading information regarding the income he could expect to earn and how quickly he would be able to recoup the $20,278 all-in cost of the HR and payroll program.
“Whatever you’re paying, students make that money in a couple of months,” he was told.
“Absolutely not,” Jones, the professor at OISE, said. “This is a lie. A medical doctor coming out of school is not going to make that kind of money in two months.”
‘Day drinking is okay,’ recruiter says
Marketplace‘s investigation into CDI also found that an admissions representative was willing to flout the college’s own enrolment requirements in an effort to sign up students.
CDI’s online Child and Youth Services Worker program has a sobriety requirement, wherein students enrolling need to be sober for a minimum of 24 months. The program is geared toward those training to work with at-risk youth.
However, after a Marketplace producer told a recruiter they weren’t sober, and still struggled with substances and illegal drug use, they were told “day drinking is okay,” and that they are a “perfect fit” for the program.
Pollick said the pressure to hit targets meant unsuitable candidates would often be pushed to enrol.
“Essentially we’re just OK-ing anybody for a program,” he said.
Marketplace is not the first to question the quality of education and questionable tactics being employed at a private college operated by Peter Chung.
Chung operated Wilshire Computer College in California when it was investigated by the state’s attorney general in the early 1990s.
State of California sues previous college
Margaret Reiter was the deputy attorney general in the consumer law section of the California attorney general’s office in 1991, and was a prosecutor on the civil case that was filed against Chung and Wilshire Computer College.
Reiter told Marketplace the court found over 5,000 violations of false advertising regulations and over 10,000 violations of unfair competition regulations. Some of those violations related to advertising to students, job placement and potential salary rates.
In the judgment, the court said the case involved a “long lasting, persistent pattern of fraud, consisting of thousands of violations, harming thousands of individuals, at a cost to each of several thousand dollars; defendants’ conduct was willful and defendants profited greatly by their wrongful conduct.”
The court judgment ordered a $2-million civil penalty, and a $12-million order for restitution to students who had been harmed, Reiter said, noting they were able to collect only a small portion of the judgment.
“If you think about the impact of a young person trying to get a skill and winding up owing thousands of dollars and then not having received the education necessary to get the so-called high-paying jobs, you can just imagine the impact on them then, and for many years to come,” Reiter said in reference to the lawsuit.
Reiter said no Canadian regulators have ever reached out to her regarding the case.
While CDI College and Chung did not address the California lawsuit in their responses to Marketplace, in an interview with the Vancouver Province in 2012, he said: “I never admitted to wrongdoing — to this day I don’t.”
In response to Marketplace‘s investigation, Chung told Marketplace in a statement that: “Student experience is always our top priority. As an organization, we have been helping Canadians change their lives through education for almost 30 years. We always strive to prepare our students with industry relevant training, leading them to excel in the field of their choice after graduation. We are sensitive to any complaints that do arise and are continuously looking at ways to improve based on that feedback.”
CDI College says it has graduated tens of thousands of Canadians who have gone on to new and rewarding careers throughout its 50-year history.
The college acknowledged there have been issues in several areas of delivery, and said it is committed to continually evolving and improving its delivery of education. “All feedback received is reviewed and changes implemented if we find flaw in any of our processes or policies.”