DENVER (Legal Newsline) - Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced a settlement on Wednesday with Westwood College Inc., resolving allegations that the institution violated the Consumer Protection Act.
Under the terms of the settlement, Westwood will pay the state $2 million in penalties, restitution, attorneys fees and costs. The school will also credit an additional $2.5 million in restitution directly to students who financed their tuition with the school's institutional financing, called APEX. Westwood will also reimburse APEX finance charges to students for the school's alleged failure to follow state consumer lending laws.
"As students assess whether they want to obtain a degree or start a new career, it is important that schools are honest about their track records and the costs of their degrees," Suthers said.
"An education is no different from any other product and service. Colleges should not be able to mislead prospective students about their chances of success any more than any other businesses should be able to mislead consumers with false promises or guarantees."
As part of the settlement, Westwood must make multiple disclosures to prospective students, including an accurate representation of the number of students who successfully find employment in their fields of study by disclosing the employers and job titles that graduates report. In addition, Westwood must affirmatively disclose the full cost of a degree at Westwood and explain clearly that credits earned at Westwood are unlikely to transfer to other schools.
The settlement enjoins Westwood from, among other things, estimating the amount of a military service member's government benefits that will cover tuition. In addition, Westwood must take into account that a graduate cannot be included in its employment statistics unless certain criteria are met, including the verification of how sustainable the employment is. Another disclosure that must be made is the compensation of its admissions representatives based on the number of enrollments they bring in.
Westwood will be monitored for three years by Suthers' office in its admissions interviews and by yearly audits of data underlying the school's graduate employment statistics.
Westwood allegedly misrepresented and inflated its job placement rates by including in its employment statistics graduates who were described as self-employed or freelance but did work for as little as a few days.
Suthers' office alleged that Westwood inflated its job placement statistics by including graduates whose jobs had little to do with their fields of study. Prospective students allegedly had no way of knowing which jobs Westwood was counting toward its employment statistics because the school did not disclose actual employers and job titles. Instead, Westwood allegedly advertised job titles obtained by few students graduating from the school's most popular degree programs.
Westwood admissions recruiters also allegedly misled prospective students about the average wages of graduates, the total cost of Westwood degrees and the transferability of course credits. Westwood also allegedly misled veterans to believe that the GI Bill would cover the cost of their studies when it often did not.
Suthers' office alleged that Westwood failed to disclose the terms of its student financing, charged improper finance fees and failed to maintain records as made compulsory by Colorado's Uniform Consumer Credit Code.