Massachusetts sues ITT Tech, alleging predatory practices

According to the lawsuit, the vocational school engaged in high-pressure admissions tactics and misled students about graduate employment rates.

Elise Amendola/AP/File
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit March 31 against ITT Technical Institute on the grounds of engaging in predatory admissions practices.

A popular vocational college in Massachusetts is facing legal scrutiny and charges that the for-profit school misled students about the quality of its programs.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit against ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit school with locations in Norwood and Wilmington, for overstating the success of its programs and presenting false information to prospective students. According to the lawsuit filed on Thursday, the school offered potential students statistics claiming that 80-100 percent of graduates obtained jobs in their related field of study, though the actual rate of placement was only 50 percent or less between 2010 and May 2013.

The admission representatives failed to disclose that its placement rates included graduates with internships or short-term, unsustainable jobs that never became permanent, as well as graduates who received jobs that were outside their field of study. The placement rates also counted alumni selling computers at retail stores and those working in customer service for an airline as having careers in their field of study.

For-profit colleges have faced considerable national scrutiny in recent years, as lawmakers have questioned their recruitment tactics, graduation rates, and numbers of low-income students saddled with high-interest loans. Ms. Healey pledged to address the "emerging scourge of predatory for-profit schools" during her campaign for attorney general in 2014.

Healey's investigation into ITT Tech found that the school used aggressive sales tactics to enroll students in the school including, direct phone calls and in-person communications. Admissions representatives were expected to call up to 100 prospective students per day and would be publicly shamed or fired if they failed to meet their quotas. The representatives persuaded students to make immediate applications, and pressured others into enrolling, regardless of whether they were likely to succeed in the program, according to the lawsuit.

Furthermore, the school promoted false advertisements claiming they provided hands-on training and personalized attention through its program, investigators found. Students complained that teachers were absent at times, and that the school used outdated technology.

"These students were exploited and pressured to enroll with the promise of great careers and high salaries, but were instead left unable to repay their loans and support their families," Healey said in a press release. "Our office has a history of going after predatory for-profit schools and will not stand for students in Massachusetts being treated simply as a source of income. We will continue to investigate and act against these deceptive practices and work hard to get the relief these students deserve."

The lawsuit isn't the first charge against the school, and further adds to schools troubles, as it's still under investigation over allegations that it may have defrauded the federal government.

The complaint also alleges that federal loans accounted for most of the students' debt, and that the school steered students to expensive, private loans when they weren't able to repay. The complaint seeks civil penalties of $5,000 for "injunctive relief and restitution, including the return of tuition and fees to eligible students" that were targeted by ITT.

ITT released a statement expressing its disappointment in the lawsuit, calling it a "wide-ranging fishing expedition."

"The attorney general's action is all the more disappointing because it extends Massachusetts' woeful record of hostility toward career colleges that train non-traditional and underserved students," read a statement from the school, according to Boston Business Journal. "At a time when Massachusetts is experiencing a severe shortage of technically-trained professionals, this action will have a negative effect on the education and employment climate in Massachusetts."

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