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FRONTLINE: A Subprime Education

FRONTLINE presents two films that build on its education reporting. “A Subprime Education” examines allegations of fraud and predatory behavior in the troubled for-profit college industry, and the collapse of Corinthian Colleges. Then, “The Education of Omarina” shows how an innovative program to stem the high school dropout crisis has affected one girl’s journey, from a public middle school in the Bronx to an elite New England private school, and now on to college. The hour airs as part of PBS’s “Spotlight Education,” a week of primetime programming focused on the challenges facing America’s education system.
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FRONTLINE presents two films that build on its education reporting. “A Subprime Education” examines allegations of fraud and predatory behavior in the troubled for-profit college industry, and the collapse of Corinthian Colleges. Then, “The Education of Omarina” shows how an innovative program to stem the high school dropout crisis has affected one girl’s journey, from a public middle school in the Bronx to an elite New England private school, and now on to college. The hour airs as part of PBS’s “Spotlight Education,” a week of primetime programming focused on the challenges facing America’s education system.

Airs Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

As part of PBS’s “Spotlight Education” initiative, FRONTLINE will present two films examining the realities of education in America on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

First: In "A Subprime Education," correspondent Martin Smith returns to the story of for-profit colleges—which FRONTLINE first examined in the 2010 documentary "College, Inc."—to investigate allegations of fraud and predatory behavior in the troubled industry.

The colleges say they’re expanding access to education and preparing students for success. But Smith finds that, in many cases, they’re just collecting money and leaving students in debt, without degrees, and unprepared to face the job market.

"In an effort to get students in the door, and federal student loan money flowing their way, many for-profit colleges have acted like banks did during the subprime mortgage bubble: signing up virtually anyone, including homeless people and drug addicts,” says Smith.

Drawing on interviews with regulators, executives, and former students, the film examines the collapse of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain, one of the largest college shutdowns in history. "A Subprime Education" also asks tough questions about how the government polices—and participates in—the for-profit college sector: Up to ninety percent of the revenue generated by a for-profit college comes from government student loans and grants.

“This is the most heavily subsidized private business sector in America,” Sen. Dick Durbin tells Smith, adding, “It's basically the federal government that is being duped, in many instances, into subsidizing loans and education that are worthless.”

With over 1.8 million students enrolled in for-profit schools across the country, "A Subprime Education" is a must-watch look inside a sector that’s in the hot seat.

FRONTLINE: A Subprime Education: Trailer

Then, in a second segment, FRONTLINE explores a very different educational experience. "The Education of Omarina" continues a story FRONTLINE has been following since 2012 — showing how an innovative program to stem the high school dropout crisis has affected one girl’s journey, from a public middle school in the Bronx to an elite New England private school, and now on to college.

Omarina Cabrera. "The Education of Omarina" continues a story FRONTLINE has been following since 2012 — showing how an innovative program to stem the high school dropout crisis has affected one girl’s journey, from a public middle school in the Bronx to an elite New England private school, and now on to college.
Courtesy of WGBH
Omarina Cabrera. "The Education of Omarina" continues a story FRONTLINE has been following since 2012 — showing how an innovative program to stem the high school dropout crisis has affected one girl’s journey, from a public middle school in the Bronx to an elite New England private school, and now on to college.

When FRONTLINE viewers first met Omarina Cabrera, she was struggling in middle school and had a chaotic family life. Luckily for her, her middle school had recently implemented an experimental program based on the research of Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University. Balfanz’s theory is that the make-or-break moment for preventing kids from dropping out of high school actually happens in middle school. When Omarina’s teachers identified her as being at risk for dropping out, they intervened and helped her find her footing.

Now, FRONTLINE continues the story of Omarina and her twin brother, who—four years ago—fell off track. Today, as Omarina is heading off to college, her brother has become a parent and gotten into trouble with the law.

“Middle school intervention is not sufficient in itself, but it’s essential that it starts there, and we can see that in these two kids’ life trajectories,” Balfanz tells FRONTLINE.

These films premiere Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 on PBS and will stream in full, for free, online at pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/watch.

CREDITS:

"A Subprime Education" is a FRONTLINE production with Rain Media. The writer and producer is Marcela Gaviria. The correspondent is Martin Smith. "The Education Of Omarina" is a FRONTLINE production with Left/Right Docs. The producer and director is Mary Robertson. The writers are Frank Koughan and Mary Robertson. The senior producer is Frank Koughan. The executive producers for Left/Right Docs are Ken Druckerman and Banks Tarver. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

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