For only the second time in the U.S., a college has been formally accused of targeting minorities and women in TV and online advertisements. And a group of students claims the for-profit institution fell well short of accreditation requirements, costing graduates jobs over the past two years.
The Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm, filed a formal legal complaint July 18 against the Virginia College, which has national accreditation, but allegedly lacks regional accreditation. Many medical assisting students were only made aware of this after earning their degree and being turned down for jobs because they lacked basic experience.
Virginia College, the recipient of $292 million in federal student loans last year, has also been accused of targeting African Americans and women in local advertising campaigns, which included online efforts like pop-up ads. The school’s recruiters guided these prospective students toward hefty educational loans, some as high as $26,000 for a 15-month course in medical assistance at the college’s Jackson, Miss., campus.
The college’s YouTube channel, recently taken down, its website, and print and bus advertisements in and around Jackson mostly featured African-American women. Officials from the Mississippi Center for Justice said 80 percent of the school’s students are women and 90 percent are African American.
“The institution pushed loans they know these students won’t be able to pay back,” said Whitney Barkley, consumer protection staff attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice. “They get them to take out a ton of money to take courses that won’t help them.”
Targeting women and minorities and urging them to take expensive school loans could be in violation of a federal law that prohibits such practices, according to the legal complaint.
Virginia College, a private for-profit school with 5,000 students at more than two-dozen campuses in the Southeast, is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), according to the school’s website.
The legal complaint charges that the school is not regionally accredited. Virginia College officials did not respond to an interview request from eCampus News.
The National Heatlhcareer Association (NHA), an accrediting body, requires phlebotomists to have taken blood at least 30 times from a live person during their college careers, along with 10 finger sticks during in-class training. Many former Virginia College students said they had only drawn blood once or twice in the school’s medical assistance program. Some said they had never drawn blood in their time at the school.
Employers said they wouldn’t hire these students because they had not met these training thresholds.
“The plaintiffs worked hard to earn their degrees, only to find out that they don’t have a degree that meets the employment market standards for certification, and they’re now in debt,” Barkley said.
Crystal Larkin, a Pearl, Miss., resident and a 2010 graduate of Virginia College’s medical assistance program, said local hospitals and clinics wouldn’t hire her after she earned her degree because the college wasn’t regionally accredited.
“The instructors were really hard on us, so I never expected this,” said Larkin, 36. “I was devastated. … We all really worked hard there, always studying with each other and doing our best. I cried for a long time.”