For-profit online university agrees to $7 million settlement

For-profit Ashford University to pay $7.25 million following allegations of misleading students


DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa-based Ashford University and its parent company Bridgepoint Education Inc. have agreed to a $7.25 million settlement following allegations that they misled students and misrepresented their program, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said Friday.

The announcement caps a three-year investigation into complaints that alleged the for-profit online school used coercive recruitment efforts and omitted information necessary for students to make informed decisions. The money will go toward a program to reimburse current and former Iowa students affected by the school’s conduct.

“We were very concerned about this environment — how it affected students in Iowa and students throughout the country,” Miller said at a news conference

Ashford and Bridgepoint officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The agreement prohibits Ashford from employing practices such as developing misleading advertisements, using coercive tactics to increase enrollment and implying licensure or certification are guaranteed upon completion of a degree program when additional steps may be necessary.

(Next page: How the university may have taken advantage of student veterans)

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

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