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AG Whacks Profit-Seeking Chain Schools

BOSTON (CN) - A now defunct profit-seeking career college chain forged student signatures and falsified other documents to maintain its accreditation, while failing to provide the education it promised, the Massachusetts attorney general claims in court.

Massachusetts sued the Career Institute LLC, Advanced Career Technologies Inc. and ABC Training Center of Maryland, in Suffolk County Superior Court.

The defendants operated the American Career Institute (ACI), a for-profit school, until they closed their doors in January this year.

ACI had eight campuses, in Braintree, Cambridge, Framingham, Springfield and Woburn, Mass., and in Baltimore, Columbia and Wheaton, Md.

To maintain accreditation with the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, the "defendants routinely falsified enrollment records, attendance records, and student grades ... [in order to] remain eligible to receive Title IV funding" and "to continue collecting tuition payments for students who were no longer in school," Attorney General Martha Coakley says in the 19-page complaint.

"As a matter of policy, classroom instructors were responsible for recording student attendance. Instructors entered attendance into ACI's electronic SABA database. According to ACI's written policy, a student who arrived more than 15 minutes late, or left more than one hour early, could not receive a full day's credit. But instructors often recorded that a student was present for a full day of class, when in fact, that student had only briefly appeared in class or had not appeared at all," the complaint states.

The school's top officials "pressured instructors to inflate students' GPAs to ensure the student would complete his or her training program. Instructors routinely changed grades and attendance to push students through to completion. Students were occasionally pleasantly surprised to see that their GPAs and attendance rates increased from one day to the next without the student's participation," according to the lawsuit.

Destroying or forging documents before audits from accreditation officials was commonplace, the attorney general claims. One employee claimed employees they "'were there around the clock changing documents'" shortly before a 2012 audit.

The schools also failed to provide students with required learning materials and charged tuition to incoming students who were not qualified for its programs and dropped out soon after classes began, according to the complaint.

For-profit schools such as the defendants "typically focus on recruiting students from low or lower income families with modest financial resources who are eligible for government funds in the form of grants and loans," the complaint states.

It adds: "In 2009, for-profit schools spent 42.1 percent of revenue on profit and marketing. By contrast, in 2009, for-profit schools spent only 17.2 percent of revenue on instruction.

"Students at for-profit schools rarely realize a benefit commensurate with the debt they incur. Many do not graduate, and many students that do graduate are unable to obtain employment in their field of study."

Coakley seeks an injunction preventing the school from operating in a similar way in the future, reimbursement of tuition and other expenses to former students, and penalties for unfair and deceptive trade.

The complaint is signed by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey T. Walker.

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