29 June 2011

Class Action Suit v. Westwood College By Students Derailed

The United States District Court for the District of Colorado has denied class action status to a class of students suing Colorado's for profit Westwood College, who allege misrepresentations in its marketing materials. The court ruled on the basis of an arbitration clause with a class action waiver in its enrollment documents, which recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have established is enforceable, despite the fact that absent the ruling that the judge would have found the provision to be unconscionable. The named parties were ordered to arbitrate pursuant to the agreement. The ruling was made on June 6, but apparently didn't receive much press at the time. The ruling was Bernal v. Burnett (D. Colo., June 06, 2011) 2011 WL 2182903. This class action suit was filed in August, 2010.

Another class action lawsuit brought by students in Texas against Westwood was dismissed in January, 2011 on the ground that the class representative was inadequate.

This doesn't mean that Westwood College has escaped any legal repercussions for its conduct. It settled a federal government lawsuit in May of 2009 for $7 million, in which " the government charged Westwood was not the college it said it was, and that it did not provide careers for its students. The lawsuit covers a period from 2002 to 2005[.]"

The college was placed on probation by its accrediting agency and the State of Colorado in late 2010:

The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges put Westwood College on probation in September and issued an order of continued probation Dec. 9, state officials said. "Under the spirit of consumer protection, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education decided to put Westwood College under probation," commission spokesman Chad Marturano told 7NEWS.

Westwood's Colorado accreditation was restored in March of 2011 and it was licensed in Wisconsin in February of 2011.

It also faced regulatory action from the State of Texas for failing to make refunds to students there in September 2010 that could cost the college its accreditation there. Around the same time, Wisconsin ordered it to stop enrolling students because it was not accredited under that state's laws.

Texas officials fined its local affiliates of Westword College $41,000 and put its license on probation in January of 2011.

As Wikipedia notes (and confirmed here):

"In March of 2011, the Veterans Administration disqualified three Westwood College Campuses from the GI Bill Program. The VA took this step after finding, "erroneous, deceptive, and misleading advertising and enrollment practices at these institutions."

Westwood College laid off 100 online admissions office employees based in Colorado Springs, Colorado in January of this year, effective March 23, 2011.

Earlier this month, (more here) Westwood College announced that it would provide what amounts to an unemployment payment for graduates who had decent grades and are looking for work, but have not found it, up to $500 a month for six months (less for some students).

The Internet is also awash with personal rants and testimonials from former students denouncing the Westwood College. Probably no other for profit college system has a more tarnished brand.

Thus, while Westwood College has won some battles, with the end of the class action lawsuit against it in Colorado being the most recent, it remains to be seen if the institution can survive.


Anonymous said...

check out the new Illinois suit.

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