Court Orders For-Profit College, Ashford University, to Pay Over $22 Million in Civil Penalties

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By Mackenzie McCoy

In The People of the State of California v. Ashford University, Case No. 37201800046134CUMCCTL (March 3, 2022), the San Diego County Superior Court held that for-profit giant Ashford University violated the law by misleading students as to their potential career outcomes, cost of attendance and financial aid, the pace of degree programs, and transferability of credits to and from Ashford. On November 29, 2017, the California Attorney General filed suit against Ashford University and the case proceeded to a bench trial on November 9, 2021. [23:2 CRLR 201-02; 27:1 CRLR 184] The state argued that Ashford University enrolled vulnerable students via an admissions department whose primary goal was to increase enrollment numbers by whatever means necessary. The state further argued that Defendants created a high-pressure environment for their employees, encouraging them to lie to prospective students in an effort to increase enrollment and mislead students in areas critical to their enrollment decision-making.

The Court found that Defendants engaged in misrepresentations in 11 categories including: misleading students about their career opportunities in fields requiring licensure using Ashford degrees; misleading students about the cost of attendance, financial aid rules, and downplaying the student’s potential debt; and misleading students about the pace and time commitments of courses required to obtain an Ashford degree. Evidence showed that Defendants not only knew about this deception and misrepresentation, but they also tolerated and promoted it.

On March 3, 2022, the Court entered judgment in favor of the People of the State of California and ordered $22,375,282 in penalties against Defendants for the foregoing misrepresentations. The Court, however, denied the People’s request for an injunction concerning Defendants’ debt collection practices, finding insufficient evidence of ongoing misconduct.

On March 28, 2022, Ashford filed a Notice of Intent to move for a new trial.

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