Ashford must also organize a free two-week online orientation for all incoming associate and bachelor degree students who have no previous college experience. The institution must allow students to withdraw from their first course within the first three weeks without being charged.

Miller said the idea with this provision is to avoid snaring students in obligatory fees when they aren’t yet ready or qualified for certain programs.

A settlement administrator will be appointed and charged with ensuring Ashford and Bridgepoint, based in San Diego, comply with the terms of the agreement. The administrator will provide annual reports to the state for three years.

Pat Kean, a military veteran from Madrid and former Ashford College of Education student, said he used higher education funds earned through his service to pay for online classes, only to discover in his final days as a student that his teaching degree wasn’t valid and his credits weren’t transferrable. Even the land-based campus in Clinton wouldn’t accept his credits, he said.

“It’s a totally useless degree,” he said. “They just wasted my time for two years.”

About 5,000 Iowa students who participated in online courses could be eligible for reimbursement under the agreement. Kean said this makes a “world of difference” for students like himself.

-Courtney Liepelt, the Associated Press

Add your opinion to the discussion.