Students claim they were misled by Kaplan University advisors.

Members of Congress likely won’t be swayed by the latest round of damaging personal accounts from former Kaplan University students released last week, but prospective students might exercise a bit more caution while researching online college offerings, industry experts said.

Change.org, a nonprofit organization specializing in web-based petitions, is publishing a series of personal stories from former students at Kaplan – one of the nation’s largest online institutions – who claim they were misled by the university and saddled with thousands in student loan debt.

The Change.org accounts are the latest in a string of charges claiming the fast-growing for-profit college industry has used unseemly recruiting practices and student loan tactics that lead students to a job that doesn’t pay enough to afford massive loan repayments.

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Visitors to Change.org can sign a petition urging The Washington Post Co. – which owns Kaplan – to “stop cashing in on low-income students.” More than 46,800 people had signed the online petition as of press time.

As the Obama administration makes its case for “gainful employment” regulations that would require for-profit online programs to meet benchmarks before they receive federal funding, education analysts said campaigns like the one pushed by Change.org wouldn’t impact  Republicans’ and Democrats’ stances on new regulations for for-profit schools.

“I don’t think these stories are anything new from Washington’s perspective,” said Andrew Magda, senior analyst for Eduventures, a higher-education consulting service based in Boston. “But this kind of report could increase coverage that will make prospective students weigh schools a little bit differently. … Stories like this may be seen by students and cause them to hesitate” before signing up for classes at major online programs like Kaplan, the University of Phoenix, and Strayer University.


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