In the last six months, Sanford-Brown College has been hit with more than a dozen lawsuits from students claiming that the college and its parent company are running a high-pressure sales racket cleverly disguised as higher ed.
The for-profit college, which has outlets in Fenton, Hazelwood and St. Peters, is owned by Career Education Corporation of Schaumberg, Illinois. Since June, at least eighteen highly similar lawsuits have been filed against both entities in federal court here in St. Louis -- with another suit filed in federal court just last week.
The lawsuits, filed by attorneys Gary Burger of Cantor Burger and Dirk Hubbard of Hubbard & Ardebili, allege that the college and its owner have an "ongoing pattern and practice of deceptive conduct," which includes enrollment quotas for its admissions staff, outright misrepresentations and bait-and-switch techniques designed to pressure prospective students into signing up for courses.
"The way they get these people to sign up as students is with high-pressure sales reps," Burger tells Daily RFT
. "They have quotas. And they're instructed to play on people's emotions to get them hooked in -- and to get them to apply for student loans." But when the students graduate, thousands of dollars in debt, there's no $40,000-a-year waiting for them, as they'd been promised: "They find the representations made to them just aren't true."
Elizabeth Mushill, an attorney at Husch Blackwell representing Sanford-Brown, did not respond to our request for comment yesterday.
The plaintiffs claim that they spent thousands of dollars on highly specialized training -- only to learn the course credits didn't transfer elsewhere and that there were no opportunities for employment in the fields they'd been studying.
"This is not just a function of the bad economy," Burger says. "It's been true for a long time."
The most recent case was filed on behalf of a former student named Christina Chastain.
After being assured that Sanford-Brown would find her a job in
Medical Coding and Billing, Chastain spent $15,000 on courses and
graduated with a degree. But not only was she unable to find full-time
employment -- she also learned that none of her credits would transfer
to St. Charles Community College.
The suit cites testimony from the former president of the Sanford-Brown College in Hazelwood. According to the suit, the president testified that the company's "concern over finances seemed to force admissions people not to tell the truth about what the outcomes were going to be for the students and what they could expect upon graduation" and that "admissions advisors were sales persons with tremendous pressure placed on them to get prospective students to enroll."
The suit alleges fraudulent misrepresentation, fraud by concealment and omission and violation of the merchandising practices act .
Nationally, there's been a movement to force for-profit colleges to clean up their act -- or lose access to the federal loans that are their bread and butter