JACKSON, Miss. (CN) – Seven students claim in court that Virginia College, which got $293 million in federal student loan aid last year, lures minorities into its medical assistance program at up to $20,000 a pop for “worthless degrees.”
Lead plaintiff Tiffeny Anderson sued Virginia College and the Education Corporation of America, in Federal Court. Both defendants are based in Birmingham, Ala.
The students claim the school’s medical assistant program “did not meet the minimal standards set by its own accrediting agency.” And, they say, “the fraudulent practices of Virginia College, and its failure to adequately train, educate, and certify plaintiffs has left them deeply in debt, unable to find employment, and unable to make minimum monthly payments on their student loans. The plaintiffs are left with the choice of either staying in perpetual deferment – causing loan balances to skyrocket – or facing default.”
The seven plaintiffs, all women, five black and two white, seek punitive damages for fraud, negligence, negligent hiring, fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. They also want the college to pay off the balance of their student loans.
Virginia College, founded in 1983, has 25 campuses across the Southeast; all of the plaintiffs attended its Jackson, Miss., campus.
Virginia College claims in its catalog that its purpose is to “provide its graduates with qualifications for securing the type of education that will enable them to make changes and advancements in their jobs as time and circumstances require,” according to the complaint.
But the students say: “Virginia College’s representations are fraudulent. The school did not provide the plaintiffs with the certification necessary to succeed in their fields. In fact, VC’s practices with regard to the Medical Assistant degree program did not meet the minimal standards set by its own accrediting agency. VC did not provide students with adequate hands-on experience, did not place students in relevant externships, and falsely certified that the plaintiffs are qualified to be employed as phlebotomists and EKG technicians.
“Nonetheless, Virginia College charged the plaintiffs between $13,000 and $20,000 for their worthless degrees. Indeed, the current cost of a Medical Assistant ‘certificate’ at the school is $21,900, and the cost for an Associate’s Degree is $35,040.
“Virginia College operates almost entirely with federal student loan dollars. In 2011, Virginia College LLC collected $292,658,424 in federal student loan aid. In the year 2010, the Jackson campus of Virginia College had $12,690,777 in revenues. Ninety-seven percent of these revenues were derived from tuition and fees, with the vast majority funded by federal student aid.
“The Virginia College, Jackson campus is active in collecting this money from the federal government. The school’s financial aid officers filled out the necessary federal aid forms with or for the plaintiffs, gathered the necessary paperwork, and submitted the loan forms to the United States Department of Education. Defendants provided little financial aid counseling to students.
“Given the exorbitant cost of the Medical Assistant Program, each of the plaintiffs became concerned about the high cost of the program. When plaintiffs Dianna Bond and Crystal Larkin asked for itemized bills to justify the cost of their degrees, they were refused. Plaintiff Crystal Larkin was told that an itemized bill regarding her program was unavailable because it is in ‘storage in Birmingham.’
“The fraudulent practices of Virginia College, and its failure to adequately train, educate, and certify plaintiffs has left them deeply in debt, unable to find employment, and unable to make minimum monthly payments on their student loans. The plaintiffs are left with the choice of either staying in perpetual deferment – causing loan balances to skyrocket – or facing default,” the complaint states.
The students claim the school targets blacks and women.
“Virginia College’s targeting scheme has worked,” the complaint states. “The school’s population is 89 percent African-American and 80 percent female. In comparison, Hinds Community College, the public, not-for-profit community college offering many of the same degrees as Virginia College, is 61 percent African American and 64 percent female.
“Targeting African Americans and women to take out loans on the basis of deceptive and otherwise unfair practices constitutes ‘reverse redlining.’ Reverse redlining has repeatedly been held to violate federal anti-discrimination laws, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The disparate impact of Virginia College’s pattern or practice of targeting African Americans and women likewise violates the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.”
Later in the 49-page complaint, the students say: “When plaintiffs made the decision to attend Virginia College, they did so because the school promised that their Medical Assisting degree would qualify them for three certifications: medical assisting, phlebotomy, and EKG technology. Virginia College uses these certifications to justify the high costs of their programs.
“However, students who graduate from Virginia College are not qualified to work as medical assistants, phlebotomists, or EKG technicians. Virginia College does not provide the necessary lab work to qualify students for even the minimal standards set by the accrediting agency it has chosen.”
The students’ lead counsel is Kenya Martin.