CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against a national for-profit college for allegedly engaging in deceptive practices that left Chicago-area students with debt for degrees and limited job opportunities.
The lawsuit alleges that through the marketing of its criminal justice program, Westwood College falsely convinced students that they could pursue a law enforcement career with agencies such as the Illinois State Police, the Chicago Police Department and suburban police departments. In reality, these employers don't recognize a degree from Westwood due to its lack of accreditation, Madigan says.
Westwood has campuses in Woodridge, Calumet City, Chicago's Loop and in five other states.
"Westwood officials lied to potential students about almost every aspect of its criminal justice program, from its exorbitant costs to a graduate's slim career prospects," Madigan said. "Now, many of these students are left with thousands in debt in exchange for a college degree that has very little value in the real world."
Many of the students allegedly only learned that their degrees would not get them the law enforcement jobs they were originally seeking after graduating and compiling up to $70,000 in student loan debt. Because Westwood isn't recognized by accredited colleges, students allegedly found that they couldn't transfer their coursework to alternative programs so that they could complete a degree.
Madigan filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging multiple violations of the state's Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The lawsuit also alleges that the college engaged in deceptive advertising. The college allegedly regularly promoted its criminal justice program in radio and television ads depicting graduates as police officers.
The college also allegedly used deceptive online advertising by purchasing search terms such as "State Trooper College," "Become a Police Officer in Chicago" and "Regionally Accredited College." Users searching for those terms would allegedly see links to Westwood College appear at the top of their search engine, giving them the impression that a degree from the college was regionally accredited and recognized by law enforcement agencies.
Madigan's lawsuit alleges that Westwood downplayed the cost of attending the college, failing to provide students with sufficient information about their loans. Westwood has higher tuition rates than most state universities and community colleges, with 2012 tuition rates for a Bachelor's of Applied Sciences totaling more than $71,000. The lawsuit alleges that when private and government loans couldn't cover a student's costs, the college financed the balance at interest rates as high as 18 percent with financial aid officers misrepresenting the financing terms.
Madigan's office and the Chicago Better Business Bureau have received more than 100 complaints from students living in Ogle, Kane, DuPage and Cook counties. The lawsuit seeks to rescind contracts between former and current students and Westwood that are found to be illegal and to provide the students with restitution. In addition, the suit looks to shut down Westwood's criminal justice program and to impose civil penalties on the college.