Ashworth College Settles False Marketing Claims

     (CN) – Ashworth College promised to refrain from unfounded claims about its programs to settle federal charges the for-profit college misleads students about its career training programs and credit transfers, the Federal Trade Commission announced.
     Under the terms of the agreement announced May 26, Ashworth, also known as the Professional Career Development Institute, from misrepresenting how well it prepares students for vocational licenses and whether its course credits are generally accepted at other schools.
     A 23-page complaint filed the same day the settlement was announced, lays out Ashworth’s marketing strategy and the reality of its programs, which the FTC says contradicts the school’s promises that its graduates will qualify for jobs in their desired fields and that their credits can be transferred to other colleges.
     “PCDI, through its advertising materials and its representatives, tells consumers that its courses of study will provide them with the comprehensive training and credentials they need to switch careers or obtain a new job, often presenting specific careers or jobs in various fields that its graduates could purportedly obtain,” the complaint says. “In numerous instances, however, such representations are false or misleading, or are not substantiates at the time they are made.”
     According to the complaint, PCDI doesn’t accept student loans, and students are required to make full or monthly payments, which range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
     PCDI employs “Admissions Advisors” to read pre-written call scripts to potential students. They work on a partial commission and can be fired if they don’t meet enrollment quotas.
     “Despite their titles, these Admissions Advisors are, in reality, professional salespeople who are trained to use high-pressure tactics to persuade consumers to enroll,” the complaint says. “In numerous instances, PCDI Admissions Advisors have reinforced over the telephone representations in PCDI’s advertising and marketing materials that PCDI’s programs provide consumers with the ‘credentials [to] apply for jobs’ and ‘the comprehensive preparation . . . to start a new career.'”
     The Admissions Advisors are taught a tactic called “rebuttaling,” in which they ask the potential student about their personal and background information, or “pressure points” to later use in persuading them to enroll.
     The complaint says, “a salesperson was instructed by his supervisor to ‘[r]emember what [the consumer] told you in the discovery section. Needs a job, has a kid, etc. Use those against her.'”
     The Admissions Advisors, like PCDI’s marketing and advertising materials, promise consumers interested in changing careers that “[g]aining an education from Ashworth in a new field will prepare you for the move into a new career” and “[l]earning new skills and gaining knowledge here at Ashworth will make you more marketable and appealing to future employers.”
     In reality, many of PCDI’s programs don’t meet state prerequisites that would enable graduates to obtain licenses in their fields. Ashworth College is nationally accredited by the Distance Education Learning Commission, and many of the programs’ fields are state-regulated.
     “In many instances, PCCDI’s status as a nationally-accredited entity means that, contrary to PCDI’s representations, its graduates lack the educational requirements to become licensed or to obtain a job in their field of study,” the complaint says.
     The FTC also says that in many cases, other institutions won’t recognize or accept credits earned at PCDI because it is nationally accredited.
     “Indeed, many students have complained to PCDI about their inability to transfer credits earned at PCDI to other schools,” the complaint says. “A 2012 report sent to PCDI by its accreditor acknowledged that fact, stating, ‘Students frequently voiced concerns about transfer credit into and out of Ashworth.’ Yet despite these frequent complaints, PCDI has represented that its credits will transfer, even though in reality the credits have limited transferability. Nor does PCDI appear to meaningfully track or otherwise analyze whether its credits transfer to other post-secondary institutions.”
     The FTC says PCDI’s practices violate Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, which prohibits “deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.”
     The school currently has more than 35,000 students in its vocational certificate and college degree programs.
     In a statement, the college said it “emphatically disputes that its practices did not comply with federal regulations” and that the agency wrongly focused “a few isolated incidents” that are not representative of Ashworth’s practices and policies.

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