Special to The Advocate
Attorney General Maura Healey recently announced that a former online for-profit school will pay nearly $300,000 to settle allegations that it unfairly imposed excessive technology fees on students and failed to make proper disclosures.
The assurance of discontinuance, filed on Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court against Zovio Inc. (formerly Bridgepoint Education, Inc.), which owned Ashford University LLC, settles claims that the school violated state consumer protection laws and regulations prohibiting unfair or deceptive practices.
“This settlement provides much-needed relief to students who were overcharged by this online for-profit school,” said Healey. “Protecting students from unfair and deceptive tactics continues to be a top priority of this office and we will go after for-profit schools that exploit and deceive students.”
Ashford University, which is now closed, offered associate, bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees online in a variety of subjects. The AG’s Office alleges that the school unfairly imposed a one-time excessive “Technology Services Fee” on all students after six weeks of enrollment and retained the entire fee regardless of how long a student remained enrolled at the school. The AG’s Office also alleges the school failed to disclose material information to prospective students about its programs.
Under the terms of this settlement, Zovio will pay a total of $295,120, which will be used to provide payments to certain Ashford University students. The company will also waive remaining institutional debts owed to the school by Massachusetts students who attended between 2011 and 2014. Zovio is required to inform the AG’s Office if it resumes marketing and/or recruitment activities in Massachusetts prior to the enrollment of any Massachusetts student.
Addressing fraud and abuse in the for-profit school and student lending industry has been a top priority for Healey since taking office. The AG’s Office has taken predatory schools to court, changed the practices of student loan servicers, gone after unlawful student loan “debt relief” companies, and helped student borrowers find more affordable repayment solutions through Healey’s first-in-the-nation Student Loan Assistance Unit. The AG’s Office also houses the State’s Student Loan Ombudsman, who advocates for student borrower rights.
Massachusetts students who are looking for help or information should file a Student Loan Help Request at www.mass.gov/ago/studentloans or call the AG’s Student Loan Helpline at 1-888-830-6277.