For-profit colleges provide many people with a viable alternative to a traditional university setting. For-profit colleges have grown in popularity in recent years thanks to their flexibility, accessibility, and high acceptance rates. But students at for-profit colleges don't always have a positive experience.
For-profit colleges protect their financial interests first and foremost. As a result, students may not experience fair treatment from their school. Many for-profit universities are quick to disqualify students for infractions without providing them any recourse. In other instances, for-profit college students experience violations of their rights during disciplinary proceedings.
If you are facing trouble at your for-profit university, you must guard against unfair or biased treatment. You can fight back. Hiring an experienced student-defense lawyer can help you hold your school accountable and get your educational career back on track.
In this article, we'll review common issues that plague for-profit college students. We'll also outline ways to challenge for-profit colleges and how an attorney can help you through this process.
What is a For-Profit College?
Although they might look like any other school, for-profit colleges are very different from non-profit or state-run colleges. Private businesses own for-profit colleges, and make no mistake—their primary goal is to make money. Leadership makes decisions first to please stakeholders and drive profitability. They prioritize revenue over education.
Non-profit colleges, such as public and private universities, do not have owners or shareholders. A board of directors makes decisions rather than investors. Since non-profit colleges have no owner, their ultimate goal is to provide educational value. The board pumps proceeds back into the school to fund educational priorities. Non-profit colleges also receive federal and local funding that helps them provide quality education to their students.
What Are Some Issues with For-Profit Colleges?
On the surface, for-profit colleges have many benefits for students. Popular for-profit colleges offer a range of in-person and online classes. The virtual learning experience can make it easier for some students to pursue a degree.
For-profit colleges may make higher education more accessible, but they are not without their faults. For-profit colleges are often more expensive than non-profit colleges. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed just that. For-profit college students paid an average of $17,000 in tuition and fees per year compared to $9,000 for students at non-profit universities in 2018.
As tuition costs continue to rise, so does student debt. There is over $1.6 trillion student loan debt in the United States as of 2020. Many students at for-profit colleges find themselves burdened by student loan debt with no clear path to financial independence. The average student loan debt in America is over $30,000. Many for-profit students spend years repaying these loans and have trouble escaping debt.
For-profit colleges may have high acceptance rates, but they also have low-graduation rates. The six-year graduation rate for for-profit undergraduate students is just 25 percent compared to the national average of 62 percent.
Although for-profit schools are beneficial for some students, the majority of students fail to graduate. It's common for students to rack up debt to pay for a degree that never comes to fruition.
What Is a Code of Conduct Violation?
Both for-profit and non-profit universities adopt policies to ensure academic integrity. Most colleges and universities set forth their expectations for behavior in their student code of conduct. In general, codes of conduct require students to abide by university rules and state and federal laws. Failure to comply with student conduct rules leads to disciplinary action.
Many students at for-profit colleges who commit code of conduct violations face academic consequences. Sanctions may include probation, suspension, expulsion, and permanent notations on disciplinary records. Expulsions can wipe away years of hard work at a moment's notice.
Academic sanctions can also have financial ramifications. Without a degree, students may have limited upward mobility in their careers. For-profit students who do not graduate may struggle to repay their student loan debt.
Examples of Code of Conduct Violations
Universities outline prohibited behaviors in their student code of conduct. You can review your school's conduct code by reading the student handbook or visiting the university website.
Although code of conduct policies vary from school-to-school, many schools prohibit similar behavior. The University of Phoenix, for example, has standard misconduct rules in its Student Code of Conduct. Here are the violations of their conduct code that can result in disciplinary action:
- Actions and statements which threaten or violate the safety of community members
- Harassment that creates a hostile or offensive educational environment
- Sex discrimination/sexual harassment (unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexual violence, etc.)
- Stalking and unwelcome contact/communication
- Disruptive behavior that interferes with the educational process
- Professional codes of ethics violations
- Failure to comply with reasonable university directives
- Failure to cooperate in a university investigation
- Carrying weapons on campus, at campus-sanctioned events, or when meeting campus personnel
- Being under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs in a class, at campus-sanctioned events, or when meeting with campus personnel
- Failure to maintain confidentiality and respect the privacy of community members
- Falsification of documents for financial aid or lying during university investigations
- Violating the academic integrity code
- Violating the acceptable use of computing policy
- Hazing or endangering the mental/physical health of students
- Violations of university regulations and policies
- Violations of federal, state, or local laws
What Is Academic Misconduct?
One of the most common codes of conduct violations involves academic misconduct. Academic misconduct refers to acts that create an unfair academic advantage and undermine the learning process.
Schools often adopt honor codes that create academic integrity standards for students. Honor codes typically forbid students from engaging in behavior that is unethical or violates their trust.
The following list includes examples of academic misconduct:
- Forgery, alteration, or fabrication
- Unauthorized collaboration
- Unauthorized assistance
Academic misconduct undermines university integrity. For-profit colleges frequently invoke strict sanctions against students found guilty of an academic integrity violation.
For-profit colleges often take a student's prior conduct record and the nature of the offense into account when deciding sanctions. In some cases, students face expulsion for a first-time academic misconduct offense. You should speak with an attorney if your university accuses you of academic misconduct. A lawyer can help you challenge the accusation and achieve a favorable outcome.
How for-Profit Schools Deal with Misconduct
Every school has a different process for responding to code of conduct infractions. Most for-profit universities will investigate code of conduct violations. An instructor or school administrator will typically meet with the student to discuss the allegation. This meeting provides students with an opportunity to tell their side of the story. If they think the student is guilty, they will find the student responsible for the violation and proposed sanctions.
If the student disputes the charges, the university will usually hold a formal disciplinary hearing to determine if the violation occurred. Hearings provide both sides a chance to present evidence, interview witnesses, and make statements to support their argument.
A hearing panel makes decisions in student conduct hearings. These panels may include university staff, faculty, or students. After the hearing concludes, the hearing panel will create a written report with their findings. They decide whether the student committed the offense and the consequences for the violation.
Although disciplinary hearings are usually private, schools typically allow students to use an advisor throughout the process. The advisor can help students strategize and provide support during the hearing.
You should use an attorney as an advisor if your school allows it. Disciplinary hearings provide you with an opportunity to defend yourself against allegations. An attorney can help you prepare your statements, collect evidence, and follow procedures.
Since disciplinary procedures vary from school to school, you must also review your code of conduct before your investigation. A lawyer will review school policies and identify any language that impacts your case.
What Rights Do Students Have in Disciplinary Hearings?
Although universities require students to follow their rules and procedures, they don't always abide by their own policies. The unfortunate reality is that money comes first for for-profit colleges. For-profit college administrators fight to protect their bottom line, which often comes at the expense of students.
The good news is that for-profit universities provide students with rights throughout disciplinary proceedings. Chief among those rights is due process. Due process is the legal requirement to provide fair treatment throughout the judicial system. University disciplinary hearings may not be a courtroom, but schools must still give students the ability to defend themselves.
Schools provide a list of student rights during code of conduct investigations and other administrative proceedings to address concerns regarding a student's compliance with policies. The following would be considered best practices in matters which can result in disciplinary or other adverse action involving a student, with some schools providing greater protections to accused students than others. Here are some rights that for-profit colleges may provide students during disciplinary proceedings:
The Right to Receive Written Notice of the Violation
Universities typically require administrators to provide students with notice of disciplinary hearings. These notices protect due process and allow students to prepare for their hearings. They usually include details related to the violation, potential sanctions, and hearing.
The Right to Present Information During Disciplinary Hearings
Conduct investigations aren't just an opportunity for the claimant to present their case. They also provide students with opportunities to defend themselves. In most cases, students can respond to questions, present evidence, and provide witnesses to help their case. Students also have the right to refuse to make statements that might incriminate them of an alleged violation.
The Right to Innocence Until Proven Guilty
The presumption of innocence is one of the most fundamental principles of the criminal justice system. Although school hearings are not courtrooms, they follow similar standards of evidence. Most universities use the preponderance of evidence standard when determining student responsibility for conduct violations. The preponderance of evidence means that schools must prove it is more likely than not that a violation occurred to deliver sanctions.
The Right to Appeal Decisions
Students at for-profit colleges can usually appeal decisions made by disciplinary hearing panels. For a successful appeal, students must follow university guidelines. Many universities set deadlines for the appeal process. Most schools only allow appeals in certain circumstances, such as if new evidence emerges or if the student can prove the panel made a biased decision.
You should review your rights and contact an attorney if you feel you received unfair treatment from your school. An attorney-advisor can ensure that your rights remain protected. Attorneys will also hold your school accountable if they violate your rights.
An attorney can help you overturn hearing decisions. If necessary, they can threaten legal action if your school fails to comply with their rules.
When to Sue a For-Profit College
Attorneys are not only useful during disciplinary hearings, but they can also help you pursue litigation against your school. If your for-profit school dismisses you for invalid reasons, you may have legal recourse. An attorney can review your options and advise you on whether to proceed with a lawsuit.
In many cases, students have successfully recovered compensation from schools that violated procedures during the disciplinary process. Here are some reasons you might consider taking legal action against a school:
- Unfair Suspension or Expulsion: Academic misconduct and other conduct violations frequently lead to suspension and expulsion. In some cases, schools enforce these sanctions even if they failed to prove the student committed misconduct. Students may file a lawsuit if they feel the sanctions or outcome was unwarranted or the school interfered with their right to due process.
- Discrimination: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act forbids private schools from discriminating against students based on color, race, religion, or national origin. Students who experience biased hearing outcomes because of discrimination may have grounds for a lawsuit.
- Breach of Contract: Contracts are legally binding promises between parties. Students may sue a school for a breach of contract if they fail to fulfill verbal or written agreements. Some courts have argued that items in student handbooks and codes of conduct qualify as part of a school's contract. If a school violates its policies, it might constitute a breach of contract.
Some students have won lawsuits against for-profit schools for making false claims to gain enrollment. False claims may refer to misleading statements related to the following: course requirements, tuition costs, graduation rates, university accreditation, career opportunities for graduates, and more.
You must note that suing a for-profit school isn't easy. The road to a lawsuit can be filled with hurdles. Minor mistakes can derail even the most winnable cases. Many for-profit colleges require students to sign enrollment contracts that limit their rights. These contracts might restrict your ability to sue the school. An attorney can see if you qualify for an exception and determine if you have grounds for a valid lawsuit.
Meeting For-Profit College Progress Standards
One reason why for-profit college students fail to graduate is they do not meet academic progress standards. For-profit schools require students to stay on track to graduate and meet eligibility requirements. When students fail to meet academic progress standards, they risk disqualification from school.
Academic disqualification can occur at a moment's notice. Many students face disqualification for low-grade point averages, failing to meet milestones, or failing to demonstrate progress in their field of study.
Academic disqualification can impact students in all areas of study. Although it affects many undergraduate students, many graduate students suffer from this issue. Graduate programs have strict academic standards and often take swift action for unsatisfactory performance. You can speak to a faculty member or advisor to review the progress standards for your program.
An academic progress issue can put your future in jeopardy. If your school disqualifies you, all your money and hard work will quickly go down the drain. You should speak to an attorney if you face academic eligibility issues. Experienced student-discipline attorneys can also challenge failure-to-progress sanctions. They can file a lawsuit if your college violated your rights when disqualifying you from the school.
Example of Academic Progress Procedures at a For-Profit College
Academic disqualification is often a long and tedious process. Failing to progress towards your degree can cause immediate disqualification and prevent you from attending school in the future.
Universities have timelines that dictate when students can apply for readmission. Academic disqualification rules can prevent you from attending your school for years to come.
Although you might think that an academic disqualification is final, you may be able to challenge the school's decision. For profit-colleges must follow internal policies when delivering sanctions. They have specific procedures for disqualifying or reinstating students.
As an example, the University of Phoenix uses the following academic progress procedures:
- Academic Disqualification: Occurs when students on academic probation fail to achieve minimum grade point average requirements for four consecutive courses during probation. Academic disqualification results in withdrawal from the university without the chance for readmission for at least six months. Students may not transfer to other degree programs or majors until they have fulfilled reentry requirements.
- Scholastic Disqualification: Occurs when students fail to meet program progression requirements. Scholastic disqualification prevents students from seeking their degree until they fulfill the university's progression rules. It also goes on the student's permanent transcript. A second disqualification leads to suspension.
- Disqualified from Admission: Occurs when students fail to meet minimum grade point average requirements after a probationary period. Failure to achieve the minimum grade point average for four consecutive courses leads to this designation. This academic status results in withdrawal from the university and ineligibility for three years. Students may not apply to other degree programs or majors until they have fulfilled reentry requirements.
Since schools create their own academic standard procedures, violations of these rules can lead to litigation. An attorney can help you hold your school accountable if they fail to abide by their own student progress rules. They can also help you file an appeal and recover compensation for damages incurred during lapses in education.
How to Challenge a For-Profit School
Many students who experience unfair treatment by their university fail to take action. It might seem intimidating to face a for-profit school head-on. You should not accept academic sanctions or disqualifications without putting up a fight. Here are some steps to take if you wish to challenge your school.
- Consult with a Student-Discipline Attorney: The first thing you should do to challenge a school is talk with an attorney. Consulting with a lawyer provides you with the best roadmap to a successful outcome. An experienced student-discipline attorney will help you determine whether you have a case against your school.
- Your attorney will fight on your behalf and ensure you receive fair treatment from your school. If the school fails to follow its own rules, your lawyer will hold them accountable. They can also prepare you for disciplinary hearings and demonstrate how to present your case. Their advice may prove vital to the results of your hearing.
- Follow School Protocols: Failing to meet with an instructor, attend a disciplinary hearing, or file paperwork to administrators could prove disastrous to your case. Even if you disagree with your school's allegations, you must play by their rules. Attending your school hearing provides you with an opportunity to tell your side of the story. Prepare for your meetings and use them to your advantage. Your attorney will ensure you hit all deadlines and follow university procedures.
- File an Appeal: An attorney can facilitate an appeal if your school delivers an unjust sanction. Colleges typically only give students a short time to file appeals. You must establish grounds to overturn your school's decisions. Your attorney will work with you to deliver necessary documents and identify opportunities for an appeal.
Your for-Profit College Attorney
For-profit colleges are businesses above all else. They have the resources and motivation to protect their interests. Fortunately, you don't have to face your college on your own. An attorney can give you a fighting chance of a favorable outcome.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience working with for-profit college students across the nation. He has a reputation as one of the fiercest defenders of student rights in the country. Joseph D. Lento has helped students of all kinds overcome biased conduct rulings and unfair disqualifications. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation with attorney Joseph D. Lento and our team of experts today.