More than 40,000 students attend classes at ITT Technical Institute campuses nationwide. But a new lawsuit filed by Attorney General Maura Healey says the school, which has two campuses in Massachusetts, used misleading information about the Computer Network Systems program and graduates’ job placement rates to enroll Bay State students.
“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 statement. “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.”
The Computer Network Systems program is the largest program at both the Norwood and Wilmington campuses, with annual enrollments exceeding 100 students per campus. ITT’s admissions representatives allegedly told prospective students that anywhere from 80 percent to 100 percent of graduates obtained jobs in or related to their field of study, but real placement rates were actually 50 percent or less, according to the suit.
When crafting its placement rates, the school is said to have included any job that involved the use of a computer. This meant the figures included graduates with jobs outside their fields of study, as well as those with internships or short-term positions. ITT claimed that jobs selling computers at big box stores counted as placements, and also counted a graduate as placed who provided customer service for an airline checking travelers into their flights, the suit says.
The alleged activities took place from 2010 through at least May 2013, according to the attorney general’s office. Nicole Elam, a spokeswoman for ITT Educational Services Inc., said the investigation makes it one of the longest “fishing expeditions” in the school’s regulatory history with any state agency.
“We believe this is a materially misleading complaint and that some of the claims rest on a biased and selective portrayal of the facts,” Elam said in a statement. “We are confident that the evidence does not support the [attorney general]’s claims and we will vigorously defend ourselves against these baseless allegations. We look forward to our day in court in front of an impartial body where we can finally present the facts.”
The attorney general’s office said the school, which has more than 130 campuses in 38 states, also used an aggressive recruitment strategy. Prospective students in Massachusetts were targeted through advertisements, the school’s website, direct phone calls, and in-person communications. ITT advertised and promoted hands-on training and personalized attention through its program, but students said they used outdated technology, had teachers who were absent, and were told to “Google” the answers to questions, according to the suit.
Former admissions representatives were allegedly expected to call up to 100 prospective students per day and were publicly shamed or fired if they failed to meet their quotas, the suit says. Interested students were allegedly told to visit a campus as soon as possible, where they were encouraged to apply, take an admissions exam, and complete a financial aid pre-appointment that same day. Admissions representatives pressured prospective students to enroll regardless of whether they were likely to succeed in the program, according to the suit.
Federal loans accounted for most of the students’ debt, but ITT also extended short-term loans to students, according to the suit. When student borrowers were unable to repay, ITT allegedly steered them to expensive, private loans that they were unable to afford. The loans had high interest rates and high default rates.
The suit seeks to return tuition and fees to eligible students in the Computer Network Systems program who were targeted by the school’s recruitment tactics.