Illinois attorney general's office plans to sue Westwood College
The Illinois attorney general's office is lashing out at Westwood College, which has four Chicago-area campuses, claiming the institution misleads students enrolled in its criminal justice program, putting them deep in debt and saddling them with a nearly worthless degree for pursuing careers in Illinois law enforcement.
Westwood, a career college owned by Alta College of Denver, is the latest for-profit school to come under scrutiny by regulators and consumer advocates, who claim some for-profit schools overpromise and underdeliver.
Among the complaints are poor job-placement rates, high-pressure sales tactics, low graduation rates, excessive profit margins and the burdening of students with crushing debt, often from taxpayer-backed loans on which students default. Schaumburg-basedCareer Education Corp., for example, is dealing with fallout from a scandal in which some of its schools misrepresented job-placement rates of its graduates.
Westwood has run afoul of regulators in several states, including Texas and Wisconsin.
Illinois is home to four of Westwood's 17 campuses. They are located in Chicago's Loop, nearO'Hare International Airport, Woodridge and Calumet City.
The office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been investigating Westwood and plans to file suit against the college Wednesday, sources said. A draft of the suit, obtained by the Tribune, claims students who want to be police officers in Illinois need a degree from a school that is "regionally" accredited. Westwood is not, although it is nationally accredited.
"Many Illinois students who tried to better themselves through a criminal justice education at Westwood now find themselves saddled with more than $50,000 in student loans, and no way to pursue a law enforcement job because their Westwood education was not regionally accredited and therefore was not recognized by other regionally accredited colleges or law enforcement employers, such as the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois State Police and many suburban police departments," the attorney general's office said in the draft of the lawsuit.
The draft suit says that Westwood, through its marketing, "made a variety of misrepresentations and false promises."
A Westwood spokesman issued a statement, saying, "We continue to cooperate with the Illinois (attorney general) to resolve any outstanding issues. We are proud of our legacy of helping students obtain their educational goals. We have hundreds of graduates working in the private and public criminal justice field throughout the state of Illinois."
The company also provided a Westwood College disclosure form that requires students to initial the following statement: "Westwood College is nationally accredited, not regionally accredited, which could have an impact on employment opportunities with some Chicago and surrounding area employers, including the City of Chicago."
Fifteen consumers filed complaints against Westwood with Madigan's office, the draft lawsuit states.
The attorney general's office also objects to the cost of a Westwood degree. Tuition to complete a degree in criminal justice totals $71,610, compared with $12,672 from the College of DuPage, which is regionally accredited and is located less than 10 miles from Westwood's DuPage campus, the suit says. It claims Westwood misled students "about the magnitude of the financial burden associated with obtaining their degrees, engaging in a pattern and practice of downplaying the burdens of student loans they advised students to take out."
The suit asks for, among other things, that all contracts between Westwood and Illinois consumers be rescinded and "that full restitution be made." It also seeks to revoke, forfeit or suspend Westwood's criminal justice program and assess a civil penalty of $50,000 per violation of the state's Consumer Fraud Act.
Westwood said it has more than 13,000 students enrolled in its degree programs, which include business, design, technology, industrial services, justice and health care.