When Schools Deceive: Unfair Trade Practices Impose Heavy Costs on Students

The High Cost and High Stakes of College Education Leave Students Vulnerable to Schools' Unscrupulous Business Tactics

Has your college or university dismissed you because it claims you failed to meet satisfactory academic progress? A dismissal under any circumstances is of course cause for concern, but has it dismissed you as you near graduation, prompting more concerns yet? Or is your college or university saying you have to retake a course or semester which will require you paying more tuition and investing more time? Or is your college or university withholding your degree because they say you owe them a fee for which you were previously unaware?

There are various scenarios that students can find themselves in which can be to their detriment from an academic, professional, and financial standpoint.

Your college or university may be trying to take advantage of the circumstances at your expense, and this may be an unfair trade practice.

Whether it's misleading advertising, dishonesty by omission, or bait and switch, these are unfair trade practices—and they're illegal. They can rob you of money, time, academic credits or even a hard-earned degree.

If a school has forced you or your child into an untenable position, don't risk your education or your future by trying to fight the battle alone. Sometimes you just need someone in your corner who can help you resolve the issue with your school without going to court. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have a wealth of experience in negotiating resolutions between students and schools. And if it can't be resolved out of court, you would have no better ally in the courtroom than the Lento Law Firm.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have successfully resolved countless client claims of unfair trade practices at schools and in courts throughout the United States. Help is just a phone call away! Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.

Students and Their Families Invest Huge Amount of Time in Selecting a School

Getting a higher education is a major financial investment, and finding a school that fits all your needs requires a substantial amount of research to answer questions like:

  • What are the school's job-placement statistics for graduates in your chosen field?
  • What about their admission criteria?
  • Will the credits you earn there transfer to another school?
  • Is the tuition affordable for you?
  • Do they offer the in-person, virtual, or hybrid classes you need?
  • What do the school's graduation rates look like?

In addition to finding information online, you most likely also spoke with someone in the college admissions office who provided you with a wealth of information on these topics as well as academic expectations and policies.

Schools Make Promises and Give Assurances

When you finally choose a school and enroll in it, you do so with what you believe to be an understanding of what the school will provide you in return for your tuition, fees, and a certain level of academic performance. Schools promise or assure students of all manner of things, including:

  • sound instruction that helps students master needed knowledge and skills;
  • instructional goals and objectives aligned to meaningful jobs and careers;
  • orderly and regular course offerings necessary to complete the degree;
  • accessible instructors who have skills in the content they teach;
  • valid and fair testing, scoring, and examination reliably measuring achievement;
  • academic support services meeting your reasonable educational needs;
  • fair and consistent application of clear, published, and reasonable policies; and
  • the right to receive the degree for which you should have qualified.

Schools Don't Always Meet Their Assurances

You should be able to rely on your school's assurances. You should especially be able to rely on your school's fair and consistent application of its academic policies. Schools, though, don't always keep their promises or meet their assurances. And they don't always apply their academic policies fairly and consistently. One of the biggest challenges that students can face is when their school seems to decide that it is better off without them.

How could that possibly happen? Some schools are just poorly equipped to meet all their assurances, even their core academic assurances. Nearly every college student has seen it in one course or another: large numbers of students struggling to meet ill-defined instructional objectives, getting poor grades that, based on the students' herculean effort, the students clearly didn't deserve. Effective instruction takes time, thought, and resources, including money. Some schools just haven't taken the time, given the thought, or devoted the necessary resources to their educational program. The necessary money may be going for other things or, in the case of for-profit schools, into their investors' pockets.

Unfair Practices Harm Students

When schools fail to meet their academic assurances and responsibilities to students, students suffer. Students who are otherwise capable, dedicated, and competent in their studies can fall onto academic probation or even suffer academic dismissal, when the school isn't providing the sound instruction and academic support necessary for students to meet satisfactory academic progress (SAP).

Every student knows that passing a difficult course or improving a poor grade can take just a little bit of extra guidance or help. Learning has tipping points. Meeting with the professor for an hour, getting the insights of an academic-support person once a week, or finding a set of well-designed practice problems can be all a student needs to go from failing to passing. A stitch in time can save nine. Yet when those learning resources aren't available because of the school's poor educational planning or inadequate instructional resources, students fail when, based on the school's prior assurances, those students should not have failed.

Academic Progress Dismissals Are No Answer

Unfortunately, in the worst cases, colleges and universities use their satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policies to clean up the mess left behind by their poor instructional practices and inadequate instructional resources. Frankly, it can be cheaper for the school to dismiss a student than to provide appropriate resources for retaining the student. Indeed, dismissing a struggling student simply enables some schools to replace the student with another student who may not require the time and resources.

Yet dismissing a student who could progress if the student had the promised help is the worst of all possible educational practices. It is a bait and switch, a promise of one thing but a provision of another. A college or university's deceptive marketing and unfair business practices impact students exactly in their satisfactory academic progress. Students don't get what they need and rightly expect. As a consequence, they face or suffer dismissal.

And even more sadly, when a student faces academic progress dismissal because of the school's failure to meet its own assurances, many schools simply blame the student. Some school officials will call "lazy," "unprepared," or "undisciplined," students who are instead hard working, honest, earnest, and capable.

If your college or university has placed you on academic probation or already dismissed you for not meeting its academic requirements, and you believe that the school unfairly applied its academic policies or failed to provide you with promised instructional resources, then don't give up. Get the help of an academic administrative attorney. National academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and his expert team at the Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of college and university students nationwide gain relief from unfairly applied satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policies.

Unfair Business Practices Relief

We've just seen that with the right academic administrative attorney help, you may get due relief from your school's academic progress requirements. What else, though, can happen when a school breaks its promise to a student? Federal or state action against the school is also a possibility. That action may not help you directly. But your academic administrative attorney can help your school's officials see the federal and state risks they face if they don't provide you with the individual relief that you may be due under related law.

In 2004, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) passed the Federal Trade Commission Act, with a section specifically dealing with Unfair Trade Practices under the Consumer Protection Law. This made it illegal for a business (and this includes schools) to engage in fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a likelihood of confusion or of misunderstanding” on the part of the consumer (and this includes students).

Since then, the FTC has settled many cases across the United States in favor of student victims of schools' deceptive business practices. In these cases and many more like them, the FTC proved the schools deliberately misled students.

  • Ashworth College in Norcross, Georgia, settled with the FTC in 2015 after being accused of lying. They falsely advertised that their programs provided the training and credentials needed to meet state requirements for particular careers. In addition, they represented that their credits would transfer to other schools, when in fact they would not.
  • In 2016, DeVry University agreed to pay $100 million when the FTC determined the Illinois-headquartered school was guilty of misleading prospective students with promises of high job placement rates and high income levels upon graduation.
  • The FTC announced in 2019 that University of Phoenix and its parent company had agreed to pay a record $191 million in a case involving their use of deceptive marketing that falsely claimed the school had relationships with and could offer graduates job opportunities with large and well-known companies. The university is required to pay $50 million in cash, in addition to canceling $141 million in debts owed by students who were victims of their false advertising.
  • Career Education Corporation (CEC) and its subsidiaries were ordered by the FTC in 2019 to pay $30 million to settle charges they used deceptive lead generators to market their schools. By posing online as U.S. military recruiters or job-placement agency representatives, they obtained consumers' personal information for the purpose of building contact lists for school recruiters. The lies continued when those school recruiters told prospective students that the military or an employer endorsed the school.

In addition to the FTC, the U.S. Department of Justice has brought claims against schools and won substantial settlements. According to a January 15, 2015, press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, Kaplan Higher Education, a leading for-profit education company with campuses all across the United States, was ordered to pay roughly $1.3 million in a civil settlement that resolved whistleblower allegations that the company employed unqualified instructors at its campuses in Texas. The majority of the settlement – roughly $1,077,000 – was ordered to be paid in the form of tuition refunds. The refunds benefited 289 students, whose student loan debt decreased as a result of the settlement.

When your school breaks a promise it made to you, they may be guilty of engaging in unfair trade practices under the Consumer Protection Law of the Federal Trade Commission Act. These claims can support a claim for relief under an unfairly applied satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policy. Attorney Lento and his team are well versed in handling these cases and can help you get the outcome you deserve. Don't try to go it alone. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.

New Court Rulings Mean You're Covered Even If Your School Didn't Intentionally Misled You

In 2021, the outcome of Gregg v. Ameriprise Financial, Inc. in Pennsylvania expanded liability under that state's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (CPL). This means a consumer no longer has to prove the business intentionally lied. It is only necessary that the company engaged in conduct that had the potential to deceive and which created a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding.

The Greggs had purchased a life insurance policy based on advice they received from an Ameriprise financial advisor and insurance salesman. They were not told the new policy would require them to pay more after their initial investment. The Greggs sued Ameriprise for fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of the CPL. Although they lost the misrepresentation claims, they prevailed on the CPL claim. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a company doesn't have to be deliberately lying to consumers to be held liable for the consequences. Information provided to consumers, through marketing or otherwise, must be not only technically true but also readily digestible by the average consumer.

Decisions made in the Gregg case will impact scores of other industries and services, including schools. In short, you may not have to prove that your school's officials are intentionally deceiving anyone. You may find relief from your school's satisfactory academic progress policy or other policies based on deceptive practices alone, without proof of intent to deceive.

Student Loans and Financial Aid Represent Big Areas of Potential for Fraud

Many students rely on loans, grants, and other financial aid programs to make college more affordable.

What if your school told you your loan could be repaid at a reasonable rate but when you graduated you discovered it was much higher? If you had known, for example, that you'd owe $1,000 per month instead of only $125, would you have signed that loan agreement? Probably not.

Some colleges might say you can only choose a lender that's on their preferred lender list when in fact you have the right to choose any lender you wish. You find out too late that you could have gotten a vastly lower rate with another lender.

Unfortunately, unfair or deceptive practices involving student loans and financial aid are extremely common.

If your school lied to you or misled you about your financial aid options and you suffered financial consequences, that would be considered an unfair trade practice. Misrepresentations about financial aid can also impact your satisfactory academic progress (SAP), making it impossible to register for courses and complete your education. The Lento Law Firm can help you resolve this issue.

For-Profit Schools Are Most Likely to Use Misleading and False Tactics

Whether you attend a for-profit, public, or nonprofit school, you can be the victim of false promises. However, you are more likely to suffer at the hands of a for-profit college or career training school.

Why? Because for-profit schools lack the oversight that could protect students from deceptive recruiting practices and fraud. While public colleges are supervised by public officials and nonprofits are overseen by boards that have strict rules about reinvesting profits, for-profits are beholden only to shareholders. And shareholders have an interest in profit, not just in education. A 2017 report by The Century Foundation revealed that for-profit colleges generated 99 of every 100 complaints of student fraud.

Minorities and Lower-Income Students Are Especially Vulnerable

Student bodies at for-profits tend to comprise more minority, single-mother, low-income, and military veteran students than at public or nonprofit schools, putting these populations at particular risk for predatory recruiters and school fraud. Schools and lenders know the risks. They also know that underprivileged populations may be in a position that they must take those risks. Don't let yourself be fooled. If you face an academic progress issue, whether probation or dismissal, because you have found that your school hasn't provided the promised instructional resources, then contact the Lento Law Firm.

Students Defrauded by Their Schools May be Eligible for Debt Relief

In a March 18, 2021, press release, the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) announced it was streamlining a process for granting full relief under the regulations to borrower defense claims approved to date. The action would help approximately 72,000 borrowers receive $1 billion in loan cancellation.

According to the Department's Federal Student Aid website, students may be eligible for “borrower defense” if their schools misled them or engaged in other misconduct in violation of state laws. This means some or all of their federal student loan debt could be canceled.

There Are Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices (UDAP) Statutes on the Books in Every State

Although UDAP statutes vary significantly in strength and content from one state to another, they exist to protect you against businesses—including colleges, universities and career training programs—that engage in predatory or unscrupulous practices.

Definitions

Under the Federal Trade Commission Act, Section 5, an unfair practice is defined as any act or practice that:

  • causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers;
  • cannot be reasonably avoided by consumers; and
  • is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition.

Deceptive practices are any act or practice is deceptive where:

  • a representation, omission, or practice misleads or is likely to mislead the consumer;
  • a consumer's interpretation of the representation, omission, or practice is considered reasonable under the circumstances; and
  • the misleading representation, omission, or practice is material.

The FTC is Cracking Down on Schools That Defraud Students

When it comes to painting a glowing picture of the avalanche of job offers its graduates will receive and the mountains of money they will make, for-profit colleges and career training institutes had better be able to back up those claims with hard data.

The FTC recently announced it has put 70 for-profit institutions of higher education on formal notice, saying violators will be held financially responsible for making false claims to students.

According to the FTC, they received approximately 70 percent more education-related abuse claims between 2018 and 2020. In response, they are dusting off the previously-dormant Penalty Offense Authority from a section of the Federal Trade Commission Act. They have sent Notices of Penalty Offenses to schools across the United States letting them know if they commit certain fraudulent acts, the FTC will sue them in federal court.

Joseph D. Lento and his team have successfully resolved countless client claims of unfair trade practices at schools and in courts throughout the United States. Help is just a phone call away! Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.

How the Lento Law Firm Can Help

This is not a time to try and “go it alone.” You need an experienced attorney advisor who knows how unfair trade practices proceedings work—someone who can provide expert advice, provide wise counsel, and help you quickly prepare an effective defense.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a nationally renowned expert in student rights and student defense, having helped countless students navigate even the most challenging cases of predatory recruitment tactics and fraud in colleges and universities across the country. He will first attempt to work with the school to resolve issues, and take them to court if necessary.

He has helped countless students at over a thousand colleges and universities across the United States from coast to coast, and he has unparalleled expertise in the unique practice area of Unfair Trade Practices and how they relate to students.

Attorney Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have successfully resolved countless client concerns at schools and in courts throughout the United States. Click here or call us at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options. We can help you regardless of your school's location in the United States.

If you are a student or the parent of a student who is facing any type of predatory or unscrupulous behavior by a school, your academic and professional future may be at stake. Don't risk your future career and your reputation by entering such proceedings at a disadvantage. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of successful experience helping students deal with unfair trade practices and he can help you.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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