Interview: Jason Aquino, Former Neumont University Student, Reveals Rampant Fraud, Lies, Harassment
Below is an exclusive CollegeTimes interview with Jason Aquino, a former student at Neumont University, a for-profit “computer science” institute – that happens to lack ABET accreditation – based in Utah. Despite having been threatened multiple times by Neumont University CEO and President Edward Levine, Jason agreed to provide our team with unique insight into the shameful – and often illegal – activities that Neumont University takes part in while reaping massive profits from the hundreds of students that enroll in their computer and video game programs each year. PHOTO: Edward Levine (sitting at left) with various staff members from Neumont University.
- See also: Interview: Jeme Deviny, Former Neumont University Director Of Financial Services, Spills The Beans
When and where did you attend Neumont University? What did you study there, and/or what did you initially hope to study?
I attended Neumont (known as Northface at the time) in April of 2005. I was told the main focus of study would be C# .NET [computer programming] using Visual Studio .NET. There was a lot of C# focus in the first year. After that, I was forced to take Java which did not work out very well; let’s put it this way – I didn’t learn any Java. There was some PHP, XSLT and classes with algorithms. I wanted to learn C++ as I felt it was a language that could [offer] a deeper insight on how to program and how computers really worked. But Neumont did not support C++ because according to them it “was out of date.” But the reality is that it was too hard [for Neumont] to teach due to its complexity; that is the impression I got anyway. But what I really wanted to learn was algorithms and math … [but] the math classes at Neumont were not taken seriously; they gave us cheat sheets in Trigonometry and Calculus. [Eventually] I was so lost in algorithms no matter how hard I tried, so I either should have not [proceeded at Neumont] or the teachers did not know what they were doing … I even [had initially] told Karick Heaton, the sales rep that got me into the school, that “I should go back to junior college and get more math and problem solving skills before I make this huge step.” He told me: “No, you have been accepted in the school if you don’t sign up now, you can never attend.” Bullshit, he just wanted his commission, that guy ruined my life for a percentage!
CT: Do you know why Neumont abandoned their Virginia campus? Have you met any of those Virginia students?
JA: I saw some of them but never formally met any, they didn’t look too happy about the situation, as you know, they had to pack up and leave home and move across the country. They abandoned the Virginia campus due to financial reasons; they didn’t have the money to support it. I believe the original guys who started the school (who were bankers) jumped ship after that.
CT: Why do you think Neumont returned to Utah after failed attempts in Virginia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts?
JA: From my understanding they [have] a lot of relationships with technology companies in Utah. Those companies hired most of the students at the school. Like Extend Benefits – that place is or was a melting pot of Neumont students. [Personally] I was very eager to go back to Los Angeles when I graduated. I asked the worthless job services rep what kind of positions he had in LA. He basically told me “none” … so I think it just came down to Neumont’s presence in Utah with employers.
CT: How did you first hear about Neumont University? How did they initially convince you to attend their school?
JA: Unfortunately I got a flyer in the mail … I think everyday “if I just would not have gotten that flyer I would not be in $60,000 dollar debt in federal loans for absolutely nothing.” I toured the school and talked to Karick Heaton; he showed me around and talked about how the school is all about C# and .NET [programming languages]. I kept asking him if I did not understand something would the school hold my hand until I did [understand]. He seemed to think so. I was scared, getting into a computer program curriculum with poor critical thinking skills. I mean I have an IQ of 80! But I [was] assured they would take care of me and financial aid said I had bad credit, so they did their tricks or whatever and said I could attend … so regrettably I took the plunge. My best friend was the only person that told me I was too dumb to go to that school, I should have listened to him … Neumont should have kicked me out and refunded my money based on negligence on their behalf. But just like the housing market in 2006 they where handing out loans to anyone, no matter how unqualified.
CT: Did Neumont make it clear, while recruiting you, that they were not regionally accredited, and that they were for-profit? Did their staff clarify to you that credits earned at Neumont would likely not be accepted by most colleges or universities?
JA: No, all they emphasized to me was that it was a “real” four year school; a “real” bachelors degree that would be recognized like any other university (like UCLA for instance) in front of employers. I think they did tell me they were nationally accredited and that was the “better one to have” … As far as credits being transferred they didn’t talk about that … I even had one employer in Los Angeles email me saying he did not believe the school [Neumont] really existed.
CT: Who was in charge of recruiting you? Who was the President or other staff while you were attending Neumont?
JA: Karick Heaton recruited me. The president at the time was Graham Doxey (the banker). There was Sam Puich, Matt Curland, Tony Morgon, Terry Halplin, Mark Ensign, Penny (my math tutor), Erin (school staff), Paul Coleman and a John something he was the open source programmer teacher. That is all the names I remember.
CT: Was there any vetting process to make sure you qualified? SAT scores? Skill tests? Financial questions?
JA: NO NO NO AND NO!!! That is why I am ruined financially. Let me put it this way, there is a school called Full Sail. They have video game programs and such, they’re a lot like Neumont except they focus more on digital media. I called them up asking about the school. The first thing they told me was, “ok before we talk about anything we want to send you an algebra II test.” I said ok. I got the test in the mail took one look at it and said “I can’t do this” and that was that, I wasn’t going to Full Sail. If Neumont would have given me the proper vetting for computer programming, there is no way in hell I would have been accepted – and life today would be good, for everyone … The school is great if you are a super smart programmer that can handle an accelerated program. [Neumont often attracts] experienced programmers that have been doing it for years and just want a quick Bachelors Degree.
CT: What is the typical Neumont student like? What types of interests, hobbies, or struggles do they have?
JA: World of Warcraft is pretty much all the students did … a lot of them were really into pizza and playing WOW. 90% of the school was your stereotypical nerd; arrogant little white dudes … I didn’t have many friends there … there was a large drinking and drug base at the school as well. That was probably the only thing at Neumont that resembled a real four year university.
CT: Do you believe Neumont tries to target so-called “loner” students – wannabe hackers, gamers, military, etc – or teenagers with certain personality disorders?
JA: As Neumont is a for profit school, money is all they care about. If you have basic motor skills and show them you want to be a programmer and get the financial aid – you’re in. Maybe it is different now I don’t know. But I will say, if you start going off [about] how you hack, or you made a game then yeah that will increase your chances of getting in. Military types are especially good for the school as they can get jobs a lot easier then most, even if they are not very good. I heard a story of a Marine who went to Neumont, sucked at programming, but got a job at an Aerospace corp, simply because he had security clearance. But that is just what I heard… students who struggled or had personality issues were treated like they didn’t exist; by students and staff. Neumont tried to pretend they had no problem students. The reason for that in my opinion is because the school had [enough] smart and experienced students there; any casualties of war so to speak didn’t matter to them. I mean [some students] who went to Neumont were … kick ass programmers and would get a high paying job … but the ones with any kinds of problems that would [have trouble] getting a job … were swept under the rug. Neumont’s staff closed their eyes, trying to wish them away. That is how is felt to me anyway.
CT: Neumont has repeatedly denied any connection with Mormonism, or the LDS Church, despite nearly all of their investors being Mormon, most of their staff being Mormon, and high ranking leaders of the LDS Church such as Eric Denna being on their board of advisors. Any comments?
JA: I have to say the whole Mormon thing was weird just living in Utah … [Neumont] would have prayer sessions sometimes but that was a club, not forced on anyone. I know Graham Doxey was Mormon so they probably did have ties. But it does not surprise me that they would lie about it. Neumont will do and say anything to make a profit that is their only agenda. Why do you think Doxey started the school? … He [had] no teaching experience or … school experience from my understanding; maybe he did but I don’t think so. I understand the school is a business and making money is important but when it’s the only point of the school, then you have disasters like me happen.
CT: What sort of qualifications do most Neumont professors have? Is it true they hire certain students to teach?
JA: Well, Tony Morgan, Terry Halpin, Matt Curland were the super star teachers at the time. But not because they could teach, it was because they were “super stars” in the computer industry. Matt Curland was [apparently] a genius programmer, that sounds great and all but he was so socially inept that he could barely relay an understandable sentence. This is how Matt Curland’s class went; he would spout off a bunch of highly complicated gibberish and [smart students] in class didn’t have to listen because they knew the material already. But for people like me, lost … [we didn’t get any] help. I wish to this day I would have raised my hand and said “Either you’re a really terrible teacher, or I do not belong in this class.” … I mean what the hell was I doing there? I had to take [one] class twice, like many others and still have no idea how I passed. I walked away not knowing anything practical, you know to get a job. And that’s how most of the teachers were; some were straight hacks, had no teaching experience but had IT experience so they hired them on that basis … as far as hiring certain students to teach, I don’t really remember. I think they hired a few but that was not a common practice.
CT: Both you, and former student Ryan Elkins, have gone on record claiming that President Edward Levine has threatened and harassed you or your families. What type of man is Mr. Levine? What type of behavior does he encourage among Neumont’s staff? Why does he threaten Neumont students, and what methods does he use to accomplish his goals?
JA: Mr. Levine is a slime ball. He is an unprofessional drunken idiot. I think he drinks a lot and that is why he is an idiot. All I know is, I wrote on a legitimate website for some legal advice – I basically asked if I could sue for my federal loan money because the school accepted me into a program I was not qualified for. They told me I would have to prove fraud. So somehow Levine finds this and calls my father to speak to me, he sounds drunk and starts yelling at me saying “do you know what a lawsuit is?” I feel bad because I should have told him to go fuck himself and hung up. But I wimped out and had the website take the post down. I mean this guy is so stupid; he has an all student assembly at school one day. The reason for this is because someone put a note on Sam’s Puiche’s [administrator] house door saying “Fuck you, fuck Neumont and fuck your family.” Levine [stood] in front of the whole school with a mic [reading] the note to the students. Then he goes on about how they will find the person responsible. He looked like a fool; no real university president would disturb school activities over something like that. You call the cops and have them do an investigation. What’s even more fucked up is one of the school staff took me aside into an empty room and tried to see if it was me who did that. With no proof or evidence whatsoever. What is even more stupid is that I had a good relationship with Sam, so there was no motive either. IDIOTS, I should have sued them on those grounds alone! As far as what kind of encouragement he imposes on his staff, I do not know. I imagine he does nothing at all; just surfing the internet for “slander” against Neumont getting ready to threaten people. I am sure he will end up in prison eventually.
CT: Neumont claims a 100% employment rate for their graduates, and $60,000+ salaries upon graduation. Is this accurate?
JA: I owe the government $60,000 dollars with no means of being able to pay it back … since I graduated I have never made more then $18,000 dollars a year. I never got a job as a programmer. I ended up teaching myself Cisco networking, but that has not gone so great. What’s even worse is I knew after the first year at Neumont there would be no way I could get a job as a programmer, not unless I knew someone, or got a very low level QA position. Neumont helped me get three interviews all of which I was not considered for the position. After that Neumont gave up on me. I knew in programming interviews they will throw difficult programming questions and algorithms at you; I simply could not do that at the time, or even now. I kept telling the school, I have no idea how I am going to get a job when I graduate, they didn’t care, they just wanted to suck as much loan money out of me as possible. My only option was to quit, which I should have done.
CT: So, does Neumont try to kick out “stupid” kids to retain a better looking “employment” rate from smarter students? Or, in any case, do most Neumont students seem to graduate successfully?
JA: If that were the case they would have booted my ass after the first semester as I flunked. My point is, they want to suck every last penny out of you as long as you don’t completely flunk two semesters in a row. But I will say, if you’re not qualified for the school, some of the teachers will [purposefully] not help you much as you’re a waste of their time. You will feel inferior and not welcome at the school especially by the arrogant “super star” programmers, you get treated like shit; its terrible. I mean look at me, I was considered a “stupid student” but by some miracle I graduated with 2.6 GPA. But guess what, I graduated so Neumont gets the federal loan money no matter what happens to me now. What’s funny is that Neumont has [enough] successful graduates you would think they would have the resources to focus on the ones who are having a really hard time, in school and after graduation. In my case, I have no idea how I graduated – my Algorithms class was my final class, which I took three times. My teacher basically did my final assignment for me. But, I was not the only person who went to Neumont that should have not been there – I can’t imagine they all graduated. If they did then the teachers were doing their work for them, or by their side. I had another friend who got into a fist fight with a student in the parking lot. They wanted to kick him out, but they did not because he was one of their best programmers. So maybe they do have a [decent looking] graduation rate, they will just do whatever it takes to get them graduated legit or not. The school is very shady in my opinion; I think it would take a government audit to really find out the truth. Neumont also let a gang banger and a drug dealer into the school, one was kicked out and the other, well if he did graduate there is no way he got a programming job, this guy was DUMB as hell.
CT: The CollegeTimes team has witnessed a massive effort on the part of Neumont to spam the internet, and our website, with fake student reviews, false information on their Wikipedia page, and so forth. Did you witness any conversations related to these spam efforts? Is is true that Neumont hosts pizza parties to encourage students to leave positive reviews online?
JA: They did have pizza parties all the time and it was ALWAYS pizza! I have seen fat nerds fighting over whole boxes of pizza; it was pretty funny actually. Papa Jones makes a lot of money from Neumont, just towers of PIZZA! Anyway, I would not put it past Levine to have students write false articles and reviews but that is just my opinion. Like I said it would take either a lawyer or the federal government to crack down on Neumont to see what the hell is really going on [these days].
CT: You mentioned earlier that Karick Heaton, the Admissions Director at Neumont, smokes marijuana with students?
JA: He did when I was there, he would go to parties at a student’s house and smoke with them … I only say this to show the integrity of the school’s staff. This is the guy that took no consideration for my life or future … because he wanted his stupid commission; so this guy participates in ruining my life over what, a couple hundred bucks? So the guy is a straight out crooked liar. And he is now an administrator of the school, go figure … he makes a lot of money for the school so he can do whatever he wants and get away with it. I highly doubt the rest of the Neumont staff is not aware of this guy’s [behavior].