Nearly 300 Iowans who sought teaching degrees from online program receiving $5.2 million in payments
(DES MOINES, Iowa) Nearly 300 Iowans who believed they were obtaining teaching degrees from Ashford University's online program, but were ineligible for teachers' licenses in Iowa, are now receiving payments through a settlement reached last year with Attorney General Tom Miller.
The students believed that the Iowa Department of Education had approved the online programs and graduating would qualify them to be licensed to teach in Iowa schools.
The Consumer Protection Division is distributing $5,240,000 in tuition refunds to 296 former students from Iowa who sought online degrees through Ashford's College of Education. The refunds represent 97 percent of the tuition paid for classes students completed through the College of Education. The refunds range from approximately $1,000 to $55,000.
Miller noted that the average federal student loan amount owed by Ashford online education program students receiving refunds is $27,000, and the highest loan amount is $248,000.
"While these refund amounts sound like impressive amounts--and they are--these payments still won't cover the huge debts that these Iowans racked up while seeking teaching certificates that they couldn't obtain upon completion of their Ashford online degree," Miller said. "Students who were led to believe that they'd be licensed to teach in a classroom learned the hard way that their online teaching degrees fell far short."
The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners does not recognize Ashford’s online College of Education programs as approved teacher preparation programs. Graduation from an Ashford online education program is not sufficient to obtain initial teacher licensure in any state. Among other issues, Ashford’s online education programs do not offer student teaching opportunities required for prospective teachers.
Only Ashford’s on-campus program in Clinton, which is regionally accredited, offers an approved teacher preparation program. Last week, Ashford’s parent company, Bridgepoint Education Inc., of San Diego, announced that it will close its Clinton campus next year.
$7.25 Million Settlement over "Unconscionable Sales Practices"
In May of 2014, Miller reached a $7.25 million settlement with Ashford and Bridgepoint after Miller alleged that Ashford used "unconscionable sales practices through which Ashford telemarketers, under significant pressure to enroll students," engaged in Iowa Consumer Fraud Act violations. In addition to the payment, the settlement required Ashford to change certain admissions practices nationwide.
The for-profit college and its parent company denied wrongdoing, but agreed to an independent settlement administrator to oversee its settlement compliance for three years.
The settlement resolved a three-year investigation into complaints filed by then-current and former Ashford students that the online school's conduct resulted in students not completing their educational programs, not obtaining the necessary professional licenses, and being saddled with substantial student loan debt and bleak career outlooks.
Miller alleged that Ashford misrepresented to prospective students hoping to become teachers that its online degree would allow them to become teachers in Iowa when, in fact, Ashford online education program graduates must complete additional requirements that include additional time, coursework, and money before being eligible to obtain an Iowa teaching license. Those Iowa students are receiving the $5.2 million in payments.
Other Ashford online students were charged an upfront $900-$1,290 "technology fee," which Ashford did not refund even if a student dropped out shortly after making the payment. Ashford now charges a technology fee on a per-course basis for its online programs. Those Iowa students who paid the higher fees have already received approximately $1.74 million in refunds through the settlement.
Agreement Required Admissions Practices Changes
The settlement prohibits Ashford from using "unconscionable or coercive" enrollment tactics, engaging in unfair practices, and making false, deceptive or misleading statements. The agreement also bars Ashford from representing or implying that completion of any online Ashford College of Education degree program would lead a student to licensure or certification without additional steps, unless true.
The settlement resulted in payments to eligible students from Iowa, who have been contacted by the Consumer Protection Division. Students outside of Iowa with complaints should contact their state attorney general or a private attorney.