A for-profit school with locations in Norwood and Wilmington has been sued for engaging in unfair and harassing sales tactics and misleading students about the quality of its Computer Network Systems program, and the success of the program’s graduates in finding jobs, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
The complaint, filed Thursday against ITT Educational Services, Inc. in Norfolk Superior Court, alleges that from 2010 through at least May 2013, ITT aggressively enrolled students in the Computer Network Systems program based on misleading information.
“These students were exploited and pressured to enroll with the promise of great careers and high salaries, but were instead left unable to repay their loans and support their families,” AG Healey said. “Our office has a history of going after predatory for-profit schools and will not stand for students in Massachusetts being treated simply as a source of income. We will continue to investigate and act against these deceptive practices and work hard to get the relief these students deserve.”
ITT’s two campuses in Massachusetts offer a variety of technology-related associate degree and bachelor degree programs. The Computer Network Systems program is the largest program at each campus, with enrollments exceeding 100 students per campus annually.
ITT’s admissions representatives allegedly told prospective students that anywhere from 80 percent to 100 percent of graduates obtained jobs in or related to their field of study. Real placement rates were actually 50 percent or less at each campus. ITT did not disclose that its placement rates included graduates with jobs outside their field of study and graduates with internships or short-term, unsustainable jobs who never received permanent, sustainable employment – including any job that somehow involved the use of a computer. ITT claimed that jobs simply selling computers at big box stores counted as placements, and even counted a graduate as placed who provided customer service for an airline checking travelers into their flights.
ITT’s recruitment strategy included soliciting prospective students in Massachusetts through advertisements, its website, direct phone calls and in-person communications. Former admissions representatives were allegedly expected to call up to 100 prospective students per day and were publicly shamed or fired if they failed to meet their quotas. Students were allegedly persuaded to visit a campus as soon as possible, where they were encouraged to apply, take an admissions exam, and complete a financial aid pre-appointment that same day. Admissions representatives pressured prospective students to enroll regardless of whether they were likely to succeed in the program.
ITT also advertised and promoted hands-on training and personalized attention through its program, but students said their experience involved the use of outdated technology, absent teachers, or being told to “Google” the answers to questions.
According to the complaint, federal loans accounted for most of the students’ debt, but ITT also extended short-term loans to students. When student borrowers were unable to repay, ITT steered them to expensive, private loans that they were unable to afford. The loans had high interest rates and high default rates.
The AG’s complaint seeks civil penalties, injunctive relief and restitution, including the return of tuition and fees to eligible students targeted by ITT’s unfair or deceptive acts or practices to enroll in the Computer Network Systems program.