By Derek Spellman
When Tami Hood, now 43, heard that Wichita Technical Institute planned to open a branch in Joplin more than two years ago, she enrolled, expecting college-caliber training in electronics.
Hood attended the Joplin branch of WTI from March 2004 to April 2005.
She was among the first to graduate from the new campus, which trumpeted an electronics curriculum marketable to employers in the Joplin area.
Nearly a year and a half later, Hood said she faces more than $15,000 in debt for an education she believes was not college quality at all.
"I was telling them (WTI officials), 'I've been to college before, and this isn't it,'" Hood said.
She also is one of several former students alleging that they passed national certification exams only because the school showed them test questions beforehand.
Brandon Davidson, 31, who graduated with Hood, said he knew what questions would be on an exam for licensing by the Federal Communications Commission.
"They told us they were not even supposed to give them to us," Davidson said.
As part of their education at WTI, students have the opportunity to take exams to become FCC-licensed commercial operators.
Some of the students kept copies of what they allege were "practice" tests they received, and they supplied those copies to the Globe.
Copies of three of those practice exams were faxed to the International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians, which is a commercial operator license examination manager and compiles exams from a database of questions maintained by the FCC, said Ed Clingman, the ISCET administrator.
Clingman said that database is a public record that contains hundreds of potential questions. But, the questions on the exams themselves are confidential, he said.
Clingman said the three practice exams sent by the Globe had the exact questions that appear on confidential tests compiled by ISCET, although the questions were in different order.
It is "statistically impossible," he said, that whoever devised those practice tests would select the same questions that appear on certification exams from the hundreds of potential questions in the FCC's databank.
"They shouldn't exist," Clingman said of the copies.
Hood alleged that the students were drilled on these practice FCC tests "almost every night of the class."
"To WTI administration, nothing was more important than ... drilling us and making sure every one of us passed that test," Hood wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.
Under lock and key
Rod Moore, director of WTI, said he is the proctor for the FCC exams. He said he keeps the tests under lock and key at the campus in Wichita, Kan., and that the questions were not released before the test. The only practice tests that students in the class took came from published study books that contained many potential questions but were not the actual exams, he said.
The exam results do not support the students' allegations, Moore said, because students' scores ranged from the high 90s to the mid-70s.
"If we were giving answers on all the tests, you would see all 100s," Moore said.
WTI officials also said those same students indicated that they would recommend the school to others in two separate surveys - one administered by the school and the other by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology.
They also said no student ever lodged a complaint with either WTI or the accrediting commission.
WTI is a private institution based in Wichita. Since it started in 1954, it has opened branch campuses in Joplin, Topeka, Kan., and Tulsa, Okla.
The Joplin branch now has 90 to 100 students between its electronics and medical programs, said Gary Hively, who currently is director of WTI's Topeka campus and was director of the Joplin campus when it opened. Classes at the campus start every 12 weeks, and are offered in the morning and in the evening.
But the complaining students are panning the education they received, even those who scored straight A's. Some said the grades they received inflated what they actually learned.
Hood said that at the end of each course, the instructors filled out a "skills sheet" for each student to assess the student's proficiency.
"Some of the things on the sheets we not only didn't have hands-on training as the sheet reports, we didn't even have some of the equipment or tools to accomplish them with," Hood wrote to the Globe.
Chris Crooks was in a different class but echoed Hood's complaints. He dropped out before graduation, although he said he, too, fared well in the courses.
He said his teachers graded him "very good" or "excellent" in areas in which he thinks he was less than proficient.
"They made me look decent, when really I don't know half the stuff in my portfolio," Crooks said.
"It was really a joke," said Dale Campbell, another WTI graduate with Hood and Davidson.
Hively, the former director of the Joplin campus, attributed the students' criticism to a single "ringleader," but he refused to provide a name.
"They all did decent here," he said. "No complaints. Everything is documented."
Hively also said he did not know why the students waited almost a year and a half after graduation to raise complaints.
Campbell, who first approached the Globe in late May, said the group went to the media after several unsuccessful attempts to find an attorney. He said none would take their case.
George Boyd said he had credentials both in the field and in the classroom before he began teaching at WTI's branch in Joplin.
After working for years at Xerox Corp., he obtained his bachelor's degree in teaching from Missouri Southern State University in 1976, then his master's from Pittsburg (Kan.) State University. Before he began teaching at WTI's branch in Joplin, he said, he taught at community colleges in Kansas City and in Iowa.
He said that when he arrived at WTI, he found a curriculum that was scripted by a school lagging behind the times.
"They just did not have the curriculum to match the technology that is changing real fast," he said.
So, Boyd said, he taught an updated curriculum to students.
Boyd said few of WTI's teachers had teaching experience.
Boyd alleges that eight weeks into the 12-week course, he was dismissed because he did not teach the school's curriculum as mandated.
"That's what they didn't like," he said. "They stopped me right in the middle of the course."
Moore, the director of WTI, said the school does not require its instructors to have teaching degrees because hands-on experience is central to teaching electronics.
Moore said the school's curriculum is updated yearly, if not quarterly, although he acknowledged that some of the fundamentals of electronics have not changed much over the years. Moore said he has taught in the classroom. He said Boyd was dismissed because he was teaching his own curriculum.
"He was a great lecturer, but he wasn't following the academic curriculum we wanted him to," Moore said.
Linda Lynch, co-director of the Joplin campus, said about 88 percent of all WTI graduates from the Joplin campus land jobs in related fields.
Lynch said there are safeguards in place to ensure the school's integrity, citing the standards and oversight by its accrediting agency, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology.
The school also publishes in its catalog the complaint procedure that students can pursue. Lynch said none of the complaining students initiated that procedure, either within WTI or with the accrediting agency. She said the school has the documentation to back up its position.
But five students who spoke to the Globe said they now owe a total of $60,000 in loans, including interest, and that they are working jobs that are a far cry from the vision that school officials offered.
Davidson said he now works a job that is not related to electronics and does not pay enough for him to pay back his loans.
The training he obtained from WTI amounted to the same training he received "in high school," he said.
"For ($16,000), I don't want to be refreshed on high school (material)," he said.
Grady A. Smith, 38, a placement assistant for Wichita Technical Institute's branch in Joplin, was suspended without pay in June after he was charged with sexual assault. Some female students accused Smith of making sexual advances. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7.
By Derek Spellman
- Brent Frazee: A record year for an Oklahoma lake
- TV series opens with Joplin murder cases
- Wind farms nearing completion in Southwest Missouri, Southeast Kansas
- Boyfriend charged in severe beating of Joplin woman
- Joplin native who helped create antibody drug happy to see it in use
- Duenweg man wanted on murder charge now in custody
- Wally Kennedy: One Big Lots store to open, and one to close
- Drone delivery could begin this summer over Southwest Missouri
- Construction crew finds buried relics on Schifferdecker property
- UPDATED: While groundbreaking set for Cornell Complex, fate of Memorial Hall awaits