Nursing Students Accuse Excelsior College of Fraud

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Aspiring nurses from around the country brought a federal class action for deceptive trade practices Thursday against Excelsior College.

Filed in Brooklyn by Hermina Law Group attorney John Hermina, the 28-page complaint says Excelsior’s profit-focused scheme hinges on making enrollment easy but graduation nearly impossible.

“Excelsior benefits from keeping consumers enrolled for longer periods of time,” the complaint states. “Enrolled consumers pay annual fees and pay for every time they fail a test known as the Clinical Performance in Nursing Examination, which costs nearly $2,300 each time a consumer takes it. Without the CPNE no consumer can graduate. Excelsior misrepresents the period of time for scheduling and taking CPNE, which results in consumers waiting for months.”

Emphasizing the school’s nonprofit status, a representative for Excelsior called the allegations against the college “without merit.”

“Excelsior College’s nursing program has been continually accredited since 1975 and over the years has provided a pathway for more than 44,000 adults seeking an associate degree in nursing,” spokesman Mike Lesczinski said in an email. “The National League for Nursing has designated us a ‘Center of Excellence in Nursing Education’ four consecutive times.  The most recent designation, which extends to 2021, recognized the college for ‘creating environments that enhance student learning and professional development.’”

Students like Texas-based working mom Shewanda Williams, one of 13 named plaintiffs behind Thursday’s class action, say Excelsior’s correspondence-learning program was an attractive opportunity.

What they really learned, however, was that Excelsior merely presents itself as college.

“Excelsior’s primary function is not the presentation of instruction,” the complaint states quoting rulings from state and federal cases in New York about Excelsior’s offerings.

“There are no teachers, no classrooms, and no clinical training,” one 2004 ruling from the Northern District of New York says.

A year earlier, as quoted in the complaint, the state Appellate Division said Excelsior’s “external degree program does not provide education.”

The students say Excelsior conceals its graduation rates and subjects enrollees to “outrageously long wait times for the CPNE, all while collecting additional registration fees.

“Plaintiffs would not have enrolled in defendant’s program if they knew the truth about the CPNE wait-times or about the problems EC [Excelsior College[ has with its CPNE testing sites,” the complaint states.

More than half of the complaint recounts each lead plaintiff’s experience with the college, and the significant time and resources they expended trying to pass the CPNE.

Nursing is one of several areas of study offered by Excelsior, which describes itself on its website as a “regionally accredited, nonprofit distance learning institution founded in 1971 focused on providing educational opportunity to adult learners.”

The class seeks reimbursement of their costs taking the CPNE and another test called the FCCA, or Focused Clinical Competencies Assessment. They also seek lost wages and damages for emotional distress, alleging deceptive business practices and breach of contract.

Class counsel Hermina, of Laurel, Maryland, filed the complaint with Glendale, California, attorney Gregory Allen.

Hermina also represented a group of 17 nursing students who sued Excelsior in 2014.

His new clients hail from Texas, Maine, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Idaho, South Dakota, and Connecticut. 

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