(CN) – A class action says Alta Colleges and Westwood College soaked students for tens of thousands of dollars for online courses though the “colleges” are authorized to provide “distance-learning” in Texas. The lead plaintiff says he owes nearly $20,000 for student loans after getting the hard sell from the Westwood sales force in Colorado.
In his complaint in Travis County Court, Austin, Courtland Walker says he was searching for online art schools when the defendants contacted him “aggressively” persuaded him to enroll in a degree program.
The class claims the for-profit colleges, which also operate three brick-and-mortar schools in Texas, violate the Texas Education Code because they are not authorized to offer online courses.
Westwood College admitted in a statement that Texas authorities “recently raised some concerns regarding the licensure of Westwood’s online college located in Denver,” but says the school is “actively working . . . to address these concerns” and has until this month to do so.
Plaintiff Walker says that “unregistered” representatives pressured him to sign up despite his misgivings about the program. He says that when he tried to quit the program because the school refused to allow him time to make up work after his power went out for two weeks in a hurricane, a financial aid representative asked him to falsify records and say that he was signed up for another semester, so the school could “collect his financial aid money.”
“As a purely profit-driven enterprise, Westwood College Online routinely uses unregistered representatives to solicit, contract with, and enroll students in a distance education program . . . without regard for the devastating impact on students who are seeking better lives through higher education,” the class claims.
But the college contends that it is “under attack by predatory Florida law firm, James, Hoyer, Newcomer, Smiljanich & Yanchunis,” which represents the class.
Westwood and Alta sued the firm and several Web sites in Denver County Court, alleging a “conspiracy to damage and defame” the colleges. The lawsuit accuses the firm and others of orchestrating an online smear campaign that includes “unsolicited, derogatory Twitter messages.”
Westwood, which has a public relations firm representing it, says the plaintiffs are attempting to try their case through the media. “It will not be as easy to sell that story in a court of law or arbitration,” Westwood said in a statement.
Also named as defendants are Trav Corp. and Wesgray Corp. dba Westwood College Online.
Walker seeks a refund, unspecified damages and a jury trial.