For almost 50 years, ITT Technical Institute has offered technical and vocational training in everything from nursing to engineering to criminal justice.  

You probably first heard of ITT Technical Institute through one of their inspirational and increasingly self-aware commercials, like this one starring two brothers who said they were the first in their entire family to earn college degrees.

It's one of the largest for-profit schools in the country, meaning that unlike a regular college university, ITT is a privately owned, publicly traded company.

Well ... it was anyway.

Recently, ITT Tech announced that it would be closing its doors for good, ceasing all classes and operations across the country.

Not to mention officially crystalizing the utopia-like vision of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" into stark reality.

Hundreds and thousands of ITT's students and alumni will be affected by the closure, a fact the school was quick to point out. Not to mention the 8,000 staff members who lost their jobs.

It's hard not to feel for ITT's students, who have just had their education ripped out from under them. When you look at the questionable practices of for-profit colleges, though, it's clear that their students, and all of us, will probably be much better off without them in the long run.

ITT's closure is the result of a long-term crackdown on for-profit colleges led by President Barack Obama.

In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Education stopped letting ITT enroll students who rely of federal aid because the school failed to meet accreditation standards. ITT, which relies heavily on that federal aid to make its money, very quickly found itself unable to operate.

It's just another example of the closures and legal issues that for-profit institutions have begun to face. As Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said, ITT's announcement should put the entire for-profit college industry "on notice" because "predatory practices, the exploitation of taxpayers and the deception of students have no place in our higher education system."

What's ol' "Gloomy-Blumey" talking about?

Here's a quick look into the dark abyss of for-profit colleges:

Some have been known to encourage their recruiters to intimidate low-income students by exploiting their pain and fear, essentially making students feel like they have to enroll if they want a better future.

Because of those predatory recruiting practices, ITT Tech schools have alarmingly low graduation rates and alarmingly high student loan default rates.

Worst of all, though? When the government restricted the ability of for-profit colleges to profit from federal loans, veteran's benefits — such as the GI Bill — remained exempt. Some schools (including ITT) found that loophole and started targeting veterans for recruitment, in one case even going as far as sending recruiters to a Wounded Warrior camp in North Carolina to talk to veterans with brain injuries.

Much like prisons, when you add the words "for profit" to the education system, things get real gross.

Again, it's hard not to feel for the students, who are completely innocent of the wrongdoings their schools are committing. Most of ITT's students came from low-income families and communities — two factors that have been proven to be a barrier to higher education. Not to mention America as a whole needs more vocational and technical schools, not fewer — something that Obama has supported for the entirety of his presidency.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

All that said, the displaced ITT students are not without (better) options.

The U.S. Secretary of Education himself wrote an open letter to ITT students urging them to continue their education and stating that the Department of Education is committed to helping them do so.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. Photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images.

Plus, ITT was never really helping low-income students in the first place. A Senate committee investigation found for-profit colleges can be up to four times more expensive than community colleges while providing significantly less opportunity for success.

Down the line, the closure of ITT could put a big chip in America's positively gargantuan student debt problem.

Students at for-profit schools often take out loans at higher rates than anywhere else and are more likely to default, leaving them with crippling debt, which means for-profit schools like ITT aren't just fueling the student debt problem, they're profiting off it.

There's a long way to go, but when for-profit schools go down, student debt might go down with it. America gets better when fewer of our students are being taken advantage of by a corrupt system disguising itself as opportunity.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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