Bijan Saniee
Illustration by April Gau, Staff Illustrator

As I sat down in the Theater and Dance lecture hall on campus preparing to tune in to my first lecture of the quarter, an incident reminded me of a pyramid scheme called Vemma that corrupted some classmates of mine back in high school; within one day of joining the company, some of my peers had converted their entire personalities and social media presences into Vemma advertisements, hoping to convince fellow students to join. 

Standing at the front of the hall was a representative for a company named College Works Painting. He had asked the professor if he could make a quick announcement to the students before the start of lecture. The professor, just as clueless as we students were with regard to the announcement, allowed the representative to speak.

What followed were a few empty sentences about an internship and “great” opportunities. The vagueness of the pitch, coupled with the fact that it was being advertised to over 100 totally random students, made it apparent to me, having heard the same mumbo jumbo from Vemma four years ago, that the “internship” in question was a sham.

Just this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided to take action against Vemma, a self-described “privately held multi-level marketing company,” after the commission decided that the company’s business practices were those of an illegal pyramid scheme. While the company’s tactics were unsustainable, as are those in all traditional pyramid schemes, it still made away with over $200 million in each of the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years and operated without great legal trouble for over a decade.

A pyramid scheme is an unsustainable business model which promises to pay employees for signing up others. Rather than producing some product or performing some service, companies which employ a pyramid scheme will make profits predominantly from the “joining fees” they receive from new employees.

To put their practices bluntly, pyramid schemes attempt to lure potential employees through a barrage of very generic, corporate-sounding statistics, hog-wash charts and graphs outlining potential earnings for newcomers, as well as the testimonies of other employees who laud the company and their job, all while actually aiming to take the joining fee from the pockets of the potential employees.

While College Works Painting is different from a pyramid scheme in the sense that it does not have a joining fee, it does operate on a multi-level-marketing strategy, as evidenced by a statement on the College Works website: “The more money an intern makes, the more money we make.”  What this means is that the College Works management profits from the cut it takes out of the work done by its interns. 

The company itself is essentially a door-to-door sales pitch job. Students who join the company work under a “student manager,” or a mentor, who essentially tells the intern how to run a door to door painting business.

The company specializes in painting homes using its student interns to pay for the supplies, paint and workers, while taking half of the money earned by that student and distributing it disproportionately to higher- and lower-end workers.

On the College Works Painting website, there is a chart with an estimated earning potential for student interns, with the lowest projected income, bracketed under a category called “Below Average Branch,” listed at $4900. The only issue here is that the chart makes no mention of number of hours worked, amount spent on supplies, etc. Despite their appearance, these estimated earnings say almost nothing at all to a prospective intern.

Scammers in all fields are those who you least expect. They approach you with a smile, make you feel cozy and comfortable and will proceed to take from you what they want without batting an eye. That said, it is completely up to each student to join College Works Painting, which continues to have a presence at UCSB and campuses all over the state; my only recommendation is that the student visits the website for a good laugh.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Yeah this article is a joke, there are so many things inaccurate about what you are saying, you didn’t even do the program and you are writing an entire article about it. Clearly you have no idea about how business works or anything in real world does although you are talking about it like you do.

    I did the program as a freshman and had nothing but a positive experience.

    Yahoo, CNN, Princeton review all rate College works as a top internship program, and it has been featured on TV multiple times, and rated with an A+ by the Better Business Buraeu

    To students looking for information about the internship, look for a legitmate source, not this student who researched the program and then decided to write an entire article about its flaws.

    Just to take a look at some of the laughable things this author wrote –

    “”The company specializes in painting homes using its student interns to pay for the supplies, paint and workers, while taking half of the money earned by that student and distributing it disproportionately to higher- and lower-end workers.””

    No, the company takes half of the revenue to pay the costs of running the business, and no the students do not pay for supplies or workers, the revenue they generate does. Revenue – expenses = profit, most people know that. I made about 18,000 as a freshman doing nothing but honest work and providing customers and myself a great experience.

    Another assinine statement
    it does operate on a multi-level-marketing strategy, as evidenced by a statement on the College Works website: “The more money an intern makes, the more money we make.”

    That is how business works. If you start a company and work hard to create an organization, of course you make money off of the employees beneath you, you spent the 10-20 years laboring to create an organization and provide an opportunity for them. The company operates on somewhat of a franchise model, and in any franchise it works the same. If I opened up a mcdonalds, mcdonalds would receive a portion of my revenue, and the larger my restaurant the more money they would make.

    The problem with the internet is that anybody can write anything and seem credible. Know where your information comes from. This kid literally didn’t partake in the internship and is telling everyone how it is. If he partook in it he would have nothing to say

    I would like to get this taken down, College works internship impacted my life in a very positive way and other people I got to know through the program, it almost makes me mad seeing some uninformed student tell everyone how this is a scam. If student admin has any questions about how credible this organization is or some of the statements made please feel free to email me.

  2. People just don’t like to work hard and get mad when they suck at their job. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Even if I didn’t do as well as I did (I made around 13k), the experience alone is worth it.

  3. Upon getting lured into the College Works Painting idea, I made it past the first round of interviews to the reverse interviews. Then I had to really sit down and weigh my options. Everyone will l have there own opinion, but here are my insights.
    You have to weigh the options according to your own personal values. What I mean by this, is if you get involved with College Works Painting I believe many possible outcomes could happen.
    Of course you will develop personally and professionally, but you can do that in many other ways rather than just CWP(college works painting).
    Personally, after reading all the articles and reviews about CWP, it in essence requires a huge amount of commitment and determination and drive. What bothers me, is that they’re not clear about the time commitment. Statistically do the math. Fuel, labor cost, personal time spent learning (thats a personal judgement you have to make whether its worth it to you or not) compared to the amount of money you will earn and personal development. I do believe many college kids will grow from this experience, but for me the investment isn’t worth the time. I’ve gained many insights from other companies, Vemma, Pure Romance, ect… (Pyramid based companies). These companies require a huge learning process, and you’re then rewarded after a huge time investment(training). Again, everyone will learn and grow differently so for some this is a great option. Personally, I’d rather take my odds and attempt to start my own business utilizing other resources rather than pay a company overhead fees.
    Some other red flags caught my attention, why is this CWP company trying so hard to recruit people? Why do they have to convince people they’re not a scam? Why do people question this scheme? They throw a lot of enticing facts at you like the potential to make a lot of money and vacations. Ironic, look at those other pyramid companies that seem to good to be true. Let me invest 1500 hours into the whole process, starting from training to just before I go back to school only to make $12000 over the course of a summer… No thank you, that’s about $8 a hour. Again, whatever time you put into this company is what you’ll get out of it. Yes, it’ll develop and hone your skills, but I’ll do that starting my own company using other resources.
    Do your research… then use the information and weigh it against your own thoughts, follow your gut instinct.

  4. To put it in a real perspective, Iv been with college works for three years now. I worked my ass off and was one of the top interns in my division. (I made about 18k my freshmen year) and now that Iv been with the company for going on the third year, Iv met the CEO’s and a lot of the other executive people in the company. What I have learned is that a lot of the people that rag on the company are people that have never done it. Also, I witnessed kids quit mid summer for the last two summers not because of any other reason besides they didn’t want to work hard. Or they talked to their parents and they reccomended they get a “real job” on campus or being a waiter/waitress. It is a difficult internship that isn’t meant for people who lack work ethic or willing to step outside their comfort zone. But calling us a scam is like never showing up for class and then blaming the teacher because of bad grade. People like you that write false articles and ragging on our internship might lead to a student missing out on a great experience that might change their life.

  5. The butthurt is certainly strong. Tyler, I just wanted to say your post makes you look extremely ignorant and naive. You can’t form an opinion and give others advice based on your research on reviews and act like an expert. I appreciate your intention of looking out for the fellow student 100% though, but you are hurting them more than helping.

    Bitching about how online there’s no set guidelines of the actual time commitments. This is clearly laid out in the interview process. And no they do not try hard to convince people. Princeton review rated it as one of the most selective internships, and for a reason. Its a great program but not for everybody.

    And yes you can start a company on your own. So could my little brother. College work not only handles all of the administrative, legal tasks that any student is not qualified for, they invest quite a bit of money and time into training you. If you don’t see the value in mentorship and think you can take on the world and wing it, you will be part of the 90% of small businesses that go bankrupt. I made great money doing this, more than 8$ an hour according to your “calculations” but I would have done it if it was unpaid like most internships. The experience and learning lessons, connections I made here will last a lifetime.

    I 100% agree with Cody that it is a terrible thing to do to rag on this when you have no knowledge of it and cause some other students to miss out on a life changing experience.

  6. It is pretty obvious that the people writing these long comments are also the same people that are trying to recruit students.

  7. “No, the company takes half of the revenue to pay the costs of running the business, and no the students do not pay for supplies or workers, the revenue they generate does. Revenue – expenses = profit, most people know that.” I’m sorry, what AJ? If the costs of hiring workers and buying supplies comes out of YOUR revenues, that means YOU are paying them with YOUR earned money. The expenses of these people come out of YOUR profits. So, yes, you are paying. Most people know that. Clearly a very selective internship… lmao

  8. I was interviewed by CWP earlier this year and it is most definitely a scam/pyramid scheme. The guy that tried to recruit me into this seemed to not care that I am a computer science major and believed a business internship would be of great use to me. I felt kinda off about it before the interview but a huge red flag was that the math for how much an intern gets was about $3000 too low. The next red flag was that I was immediately selected to go onto the next session of interviews. I did research over the next day or so and alot of shady reviews came up. I can’t be the only one that thinks that CWP having an entire page of their website dedicated to explaining why they aren’t a scam/pyramid scheme a little bit suspicious.

  9. I have worked with college works painting for a few weeks this semester just training and started my marketing. They tell you about how many “leads” you will get but forget to tell you how many hours it takes to get each lead until you are literally on the street going up to doors. 1 lead per hour is about average and you need minimum 150 before summer so you will spend at least that many hours just marketing your business before you see a cent, unless you get a 100$ bonus for the first 35 leads you get in the first weekend. They also say you will be making say 8-12k but forget to mention that you will be working about 1200 hours this half year for them or a about 10$ an hour for all of this work. Now there is a huge benefit of knowing how to run your own business and thats what you have to factor in. so As a college student do you want to gain this great work experience as well as making a poor $10 an hour working your ass off for 6 straight months is the real question. I haven’t even mentioned that you use your own car to transport painting equipment that potentially will ruin anything. I mean you see painting vans, there is a reason they have a painting van you can put those 10,000 miles you’ll put on it in a half year. I put 500 miles on my SUV in a little over 2 weeks and its not like i have a ton of cash just laying around being a college student. also you have to take out a loan with college works and pay it back with the 60% cut you get after they take 40%. a ton of benefits but at the cost of not seeing your friends all summer (working 70 hours a week) and gone every weekend in the spring. For me i had to weigh out the costs and benefits but no fun/friends for 6 months without making a ton of profit for that hot stressful work outweighed the experience i could potentially gain and im a guy who played high school football 4 years and didn’t start as a senior because i was too small but worked everyday trying to become strong enough, i dont consider myself a quitter or lazy but i tried this job and its just too strenuous if you have any sort of a social life or a hard major, which i have both. just too many variables. if this is for you i envy you and good luck but it takes a special person to throw away their life as they know it for a summer job.

    • Also to that they say they have a A+ BBB rating but the website reviews are 23% positive 73% negative so take that with a grain of salt.

    • I’m in the same boat with you..I’m just too afraid to quit, I have never really quit anything and I’m scared what will happen. My heart is not in it.

  10. The program is a total scam and lawsuit nightmare taking advantage of naive college students. I actually went through the program myself as a painter and came to understand the management side very well. The aforementioned comments are correct, the actual income for managers is relatively low. You work months going totally unpaid and put in a lot of extra work before you begin to see any pay checks. It seems great because you get large checks at once. You would be an idiot not to realize that the total sum you took home compared against hours worked is actually less than you would make at many paid business internships. The line of credit provided still means you are paying the cost of everything. Sure, it does come out of your revenue, but who did the work and put the time in: you and your workers, or the CWP label you signed off to when you took out the loan? The franchise model comparison is correct, but the monetary incentives are unethically represented and misleading.

    On the topic of ethics…
    Corners are cut left and right in this job. It is mentioned in the post and past comments. I myself worked as a crew chief and the regular message was always sacrificing quality for time to make budgets. Despite the ongoing argument with management to deliver a product we could stand behind, budget came first. The result was always a lost battle and employees being thrown under the bus to homeowners in disputes. The requirements on the budget outline are based on “averages” of past performance. In essence, those are absolutely arbitrary. A average does not account for global warming, heat waves, storms, and accessibility of what you’re painting. The argument for late jobs is always to just paint faster, but that’s easier said than done. This is especially true when management is grossly inexperienced in all aspects of the job. The work is done primarily over the summer, but the training for management is done in the Spring when they get to do some of their own painting and get a feel for it. After that you would be hard pressed to see much of that done. Granted they’re busy with other aspects of the business, but that’s the discord in the experience. Consider also that the averages are based on experienced painters. Many of the people I worked with were not experienced by any means and had no idea what they were getting into. This is where lawsuit city happens and how the tracks are covered. Numerous employees that I supervised showed signs of heat sickness, dealt with debilitating rashes, and were exposed to extremely dangerous situations. These employees were fired or given no work, instead of being cared for. The same painters that started the summer were definitely not the same ones that finished it. My job, and my crews, were regularly threatened if we did not go into areas that we did not feel comfortable with. This is not limited to painting within inches of live power lines (which were turned off only once over the course of a summer for a day at one job ever), dangerous reaches at 2-3 stories in the air, and working with a lot of lead. The company outlines strict safety mandates that are subjugated in actual practice once a budget is on the line. Lead suits were bought for us twice all summer and we went on painting in gear with holes patched with tape, despite requirements of new suits for each job. If you got sick, you were fired. If you complained, you were fired. If you didn’t meet the budget, you were fired. Or not given any hours the rest of the summer. Countless laws were also broken in the process and employees disappeared left and right as they were brought up.

    You will be hard pressed to find many reviews, much less positive ones, written by people that were not managers. Also, it is worth mentioning that people have DIED working there. My own manager was dumb enough to admit that. Every summer there are meetings that go on company wide and sometimes major accidents are brought up to emphasize safety. Ask yourself this (as a degree seeker): how much money (hourly) is it worth to risk a broken back from falling from a 20 foot plus tall ladder or roof, heat stroke, electrocution, bee stings, lead exposure, or being responsible for it? I doubt your answer is anywhere near $10 and hour. The risks don’t match up for the wages presented to painters, and management is getting undercut.

    Final thought…
    This is a bunch of totally inexperience students, taking on very high risk roles (financially, legally, and physically), with no policing or supervision with low wages. When what looks like a lot of money is on the line, all rules go out the window. You would be insane to let them paint your house, much less work for.

  11. CWP may or may not be a scam, but whatever you want to call them, their prices are ridiculous. I was quoted $20k to paint a 1500 square foot stucco house. I suppose if you want to massively subsidize a college student internship then maybe you’re okay with paying that kind of money. But honestly, even in Santa Barbara I could have three houses painted for that kind of coin.

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