Westwood College to Forgive $15 Million in Student Loans Following Investigation by Illinois Attorney General

Finance
Posted By Eliana Osborn on December 1, 2015 at 1:34 pm
Westwood College to Forgive $15 Million in Student Loans Following Investigation by Illinois Attorney General
Lisa Madigan, Attorney General of Illinois

Much of the controversy surrounding for-profit colleges centers on honesty.  Students contend that they have been misled or flat out lied to about post-graduation employment statistics.  For Westwood College in Illinois, the criminal justice program had an even bigger problem—they weren’t even accredited.

Sued in 2012 by the Illinois attorney general, Westwood has now agreed to forgive about $15 million in student loans held by criminal justice program graduates.  They aren’t admitting wrongdoing but will wipe out loans for students all the way back to 2004. Federal student loans are not included in the agreement.

Westwood no longer offers the bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, which was never accredited, but an online associate’s degree is still available according to ABC 7 Chicago.  It took several years of complaints from students before the attorney general’s office got involved.  Westwood is the first for-profit college in Illinois to be sued though ten other schools are under investigation.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan explains what this loan forgiveness means for students.  “It’s a credit to their account so any outstanding balance will be erased and any mention of it on your credit report. It will be erased by Westwood at Westwood’s expense.”

Other aspects of the settlement include a removal of advertising for Westwood’s criminal justice program from certain web searches like the Illinois State Troopers.  Information on the college website itself must clearly give information about graduation, costs, job placement, and other crucial data for students who may be considering enrollment.

Most crucially, the settlement spells out exactly what Westwood can say when recruiting students.  The high cost of tuition compared to post-graduate earnings is one of the biggest complaints about for-profit schools.  They will have to base ‘potential salary’ figures on actual students and their actual wages, rather than hopeful numbers pulled out of thin air.  An earlier GoodCall article describes how government regulations have already been enacted this year to address the disproportionate amount student debt taken on by students at these schools, many of whom only acquire the debt without earning the degree.

The Westwood College decision serves to reinforce growing demands for for-profit schools to provide the necessary, accurate information to enable current and potential students to clearly understand what they get when they enroll in a program and make informed decisions about their educational futures. Simple steps, like acknowledging how credits can’t transfer to other schools, for example, can provide a fuller perspective on what a student is getting into.

While Westwood was not convicted of a crime, this $15 million agreement is a wake-up call to an industry that has too long skirted the truth in advertising and recruitment.  Though, this is a narrow decision, affecting just one program at one school, it is another step in the direction of transparency and holding schools accountable for misinformation.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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