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Students Fight Back Against For-Profit Colleges: Westwood College Sued For Fraud

We’ve covered this topic time and time again (see Know Your For-Profit College ABC’s: Assertive, Bold and Cheeky. How I Almost Became a For-Profit College Statistic and Government Finds Fraud and Deception in Marketing for For-Profit Colleges); for-profit colleges and their deceptive practices to get students to enroll and take out loans they cannot afford. However, on August 21, 2010 NPR news brought a new story into the lap of the world, the story of Krystle Bernal, a former Westwood College student that is fighting back.

Krystle Bernal started classes in 2005 at Westwood College in Denver, Colorado. She vowed to be the first in her family to get a bachelor’s degree, she’s now a lead plaintiff in the class action suit against the school.

Bernal said she felt hesitant and the advisor at the school preyed on this. She said the representative would make comments such as “I don’t think you want to better your future” and “If you can’t commit to this, you can’t commit to school”.

Bernal, seeing more for her future, signed the papers and enrolled as a fashion merchandising major. She was told that she’d bring in an annual salary of $65,000 after graduation. Now, two years after graduating the best work Bernal can find is a part-time bank teller job for $12 an hour. Based on part-time hours of 30 hours a week (a generous amount of hours for part-time) the most Bernal will most likely bring home is just shy of $19,000 a year. Out of her field and earning $46,000 a year less than the admissions representative projected she’s trying to survive as well as make payments towards her $75,000 student loan bill for attending Westwood.

Bernal says she checked out a community college to see if she could pursue a second degree, but the school said none of her Westwood credits were transferable. Now she’s left with loans hanging over her head and few prospects in a poor economy.

“That’s what I wake up with every single morning — I think about my debt and where I’m at and how I thought my life would be different,” says Bernal.

The class action lawsuit was filed last week in Colorado and claims Westwood committed basic fraud and lied to students to get their money. Westwood College claims they are simply a victim of a predator law firm and that a relatively high percentage of students are pursuing a career in the field they graduated in. However, senior partner, James Hoyer from the Tampa based firm that filed this suit, has had an overwhelming response from near 800 former Westwood students that felt they had been cheated as well.

“There’s $20 [billion] to $30 billion in federal money going into these schools every year,” says Hoyer. “The schools get their money as soon as they get you to sign; and then it really falls on the shoulder of these kids and taxpayers.”

You can listen to the entire NPR news story here.

We’ve seen from the previous GOA undercover report that sent in disguised students to 15 different for-profit colleges and found many of them to encourage fraud and engage in deceptive practices.

What I found particularly interesting in the lawsuit against Westwood was the mention of an e-mail between admissions representatives at the college which showed their sales and competitive nature to a whole different degree. The e-mail included an illustration of a violent “drive by” cartoon image and a comment that let other representatives know that a drive by had occurred since one sales person has received their second application of the day. It can be seen in the screen shot below.

Students Fight Back Against For Profit Colleges: Westwood College Sued For FraudSource

For a deeper look into the sales and marketing of for-profit colleges please view the third segment of “For Profit Colleges – An Expose” by YouTuber “alowlyapprentice”.

The entire series can be found here.

It is appalling to me that these for-profit colleges are preying off of vulnerable consumers in this country. Most of the first time or even returning students are going to school to better their quality of life, not to get sucked into outrageous student loans. It’s a real shame because the concept of these schools, focused towards working individuals, would be a great tool for those that could not afford to go to class during the day due to work schedules. Unfortunately, this tool would be ill advised unless you want to work until you’re well into your 80s to pay off the mountain of debt you’d incur.

Students Fight Back Against For-Profit Colleges: Westwood College Sued For Fraud by

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About Amanda Miller

Amanda Miller
  • Alex, can anyone help?

    Hello,

    This was my “formal” complaint against Westwood. They ignored it of course. If anyone can help me and my family please email me!

    I’ll leave out the dates for my degree’s as you can pull them up more accurately than I can at my office. I received two degree’s from WOL. One was a Bachelors of Science in Game Art and Design. I was an excellent student and graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a mass amount of Dean’s list awards. After a short break I re-enrolled in the MBA program, I graduated with a 3.8 and several Presidents list awards. At this point I did not know the difference between Nation accreditation and Regional accreditation, if you ask the average person they think National sounds better, WOL did a very good job of leading me, guiding me down the path needed to make it through their program. They also took as much money from Sallie May as they could, racking up over $100k in debt for me, I could have gone to a highly accredited school for that amount of money.

    Throughout this time I had applied at many game design companies, I understand its a cut-throat and challenging business to get into. Rather than to blame others I decided to continue with my education and try for something else. That is when I enrolled into the MBA (after having received a recruitment call about it the week prior). After another year of trying to find a job with both my degrees and being ignored I tried to transfer my credits to my local community college.

    During my work search time I had been working at an after-school camp, where I found a true passion in educating and counseling others. Since I had no luck finding work in business but had two degrees I figured I could transfer a lot of my credits and fast track my way into an MAT program and begin a career as a teacher. That is when my local community college and University informed me about the difference between National and Regional accreditation, about “diploma mills”, and about how terribly sunk in debt I was, with no way of digging myself out.

    I tried other avenues, the most stringent of which was the Peace Corps Teachers abroad program, where English speaking professionals travel to other countries and teach English. This program had several benefits I wanted to take advantage of, one of them being that after 2 years of service many states would grant you an education degree in English. My degree from WOL was rejected from the Peace Corps.

    I now work two jobs, (I am bilingual English/Spanish and that got me the jobs I currently have) I hardly make any money and am barely making INTEREST ONLY payments to Sallie Mae. I can’t afford to pay more, but I don’t want to go into default. I am raising a family but have delayed getting married so as to not pass this debt to my future wife. I have contacted Sallie Mae but as far as they care I owe them the money, and that’s that. I have contacted lawyers but the most they can offer is to build a fraud case against WOL. I am not a sue happy person, I have never even been to court for anything other than a traffic ticket, but I am a desperate man that has found no way out.

    Please take into account that not only am I in debt financially but I also gave up years of my life, worked hard, went to school and worked to have it all be..a joke, a scam, and perhaps even a con.

    I really can’t continue right now, I’ve told this story countless times, to lawyers, businesses, family and friends. If you would like more information please feel free to ask. I am just overwhelmed right now.

    Thank you for your time,
    Alex De La Mora

    • http://www.facebook.com/blen.butterson Blen Butterson

      Hi Alex, consider filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General of the state that the SCHOOL is located in (not necessarily your state).

      The complaint forms should be easily found on the FTC and state attorney general websites. And then encourage everyone else you know who has experienced this to do the same thing.

  • Christine

    ————————————
    Friends,

    I just created a petition entitled Shut Down Westwood College and All Their Campuses, because I care deeply about this very important issue.

    I’m trying to collect 10000 signatures, and I could really use your help.

    To read more about what I’m trying to do and to sign my petition, click here:
    http://www.change.org/petition

    It’ll just take a minute!

    Once you’re done, please ask your friends to sign the petition as well. Grassroots movements succeed because people like you are willing to spread the word!

    Christine
    ————————————

  • Christine

    ————————————
    Friends,

    I just created a petition entitled Shut Down Westwood College and All Their Campuses, because I care deeply about this very important issue.

    I’m trying to collect 10000 signatures, and I could really use your help.

    To read more about what I’m trying to do and to sign my petition, click here:
    http://www.change.org/petitions/shut-down-westwood-college-and-all-their-campuses?share_id=JQmBEUlVMH&pe=d2e

    It’ll just take a minute!

    Once you’re done, please ask your friends to sign the petition as well. Grassroots movements succeed because people like you are willing to spread the word!

    Christine
    ————————————

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