For-Profit Educator Ashworth College Settles FTC Charges It Misrepresented Career Opportunities, Transfer Credits

Ashworth College agreed to settle charges it misled students.

Ashworth College agreed to settle charges it misled students.

Federal regulators’ crackdown on the for-profit education industry continued today as Georgia-based Ashworth College agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges the company misled students about career training and credit transfers.

Ashworth College, which has a current enrollment of more than 50,000 students, agreed to a suspended penalty of $11 million and revamped recruitment practices in order to settle allegations it engaged in the deceptive marketing of its online college degree and career-training programs.

According to the FTC’s complaint [PDF], during the recruitment process Ashworth misrepresented to students that they would get the training credentials needed to switch careers or get a job, and that the course credits they earned would transfer to other schools.

In reality, many of the programs offered by the college failed to meet the basic educational requirements set by state licensing boards. Those programs promised careers in fields such as real estate appraisal, education, massage therapy and home inspection.

“In numerous instances, its programs do not meet the educational prerequisites set by state licensing boards and typically consist of only general coursework that is not geared to a particular state or its licensing requirements,” the FTC complaint states.

As an example of the misrepresentation the FTC uses the schools’ “Career Diploma in Home Inspection” program.

The webpage devoted to the program suggests that the program allows students to start a successful, well-paying career as a home inspector.

The information provided by the school claims that the “number of construction and building inspectors will increase by 18% by 2020, which amounts to an additional 18,400 career opportunities,” and that “home inspector jobs are waiting for you when you start your training today.”

But according to the FTC, many states require consumers to take a state-approved training program prior to granting the consumer a license or certificate to be a home inspector.

“In many, if not all, of these states, [the company’s] home inspection program is not on the state’s list of approved programs,” the complaint states. “Thus, contrary to its representations, [the company] does not provide consumers with the credentials or comprehensive training consumers need to obtain the purported home inspector jobs ‘waiting’ for them upon completing the program.”

The college also continuously made claims that credits would transfer even though it lacked supporting data that other colleges and universities accept their credits.

As a result of the misrepresented information, students were persuaded to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to enroll at the school.

To make matters worse, Ashworth doesn’t accept student loans, so prospective students must pay their tuition out-of-pocket in full or through monthly payments.

However, the company does accept military benefits including the GI Bill and has been known to routinely target military servicemembers and their families for enrollment.

While the FTC has agreed to suspend an $11 million penalty because of the company’s inability to pay, Ashworth must revamp its recruitment and the promises made to prospective students.

Under the proposed FTC order, the college is prohibited from misrepresenting that completing its programs will qualify students to obtain vocational licenses without any additional training or experience; Ashworth’s programs provide all the training and credentials required to switch careers or obtain a job in a new field; that there will be job security or steady employment for consumers completing its programs; and course credits are generally recognized by, and accepted, by other postsecondary institutions.

The FTC urges students considering enrolling in higher education to pursue its updated guidance, Choosing a College: Questions to Ask and An Unlikely Commencement Address, on the Business Center Blog.

Ashworth College Settles FTC Charges it Misled Students About Career Training, Credit Transfers [Federal Trade Commission]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.