Why ITT Tech closing down is a good thing for all of us.

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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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