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Thursday, April 12, 2018

AG SECURES $900,000 TO HELP STUDENTS OF ONLINE EDUCATION COMPANY

AG SECURES $900,000 TO HELP STUDENTS OF ONLINE EDUCATION COMPANY
Credit Union to Forgive Loans and Provide Refunds to More Than 200 Students

BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey announced today that her office has secured $898,000 from a Florida-based credit union that made loans to more than 200 Massachusetts students to finance expensive and ineffective online study materials and educational services.

Under the terms of the settlement, filed on Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court, We Florida Financial (We Florida), a credit union with headquarters in Margate, Fla., will discharge loans made to Massachusetts consumers in connection with their purchases from The College Network, Inc., a for-profit company that marketed online study guides and educational services to students, including many prospective nurses.

The total outstanding balance on these loans is approximately $748,000. We Florida will also pay $150,000 to the Commonwealth, to be used to provide additional refunds to certain borrowers. The credit union will also seek to remove negative loan information from affected borrowers’ credit reports.

“The College Network treated their students like ATM machines,” said AG Healey. “With this settlement, more than 200 students will receive discharges and refunds and we are sending a clear message to lenders.”

The AG’s Office alleges that between January 2010 and May 2016, The College Network misled students by representing that its educational materials would enable them to earn passing scores on equivalency exams and college credit in fields such as nursing and healthcare administration.  The College Network’s educational materials consisted of online modules, with each one geared toward a specific equivalency exam. Packages of modules cost thousands of dollars—too expensive for most students to purchase outright—so the company’s salespeople arranged for students to finance their purchases with loans from lenders like We Florida. 

The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that The College Network made numerous false and misleading representations to Massachusetts residents to induce them to sign up for these expensive and defective study materials, in violation of state consumer protection laws.   The College Network later became insolvent and was administratively dissolved in 2017.

One student who hoped to use The College Network’s program to become a registered nurse borrowed nearly $8,000 from We Florida to purchase eleven modules. According to the student, The College Network’s salesperson told her that the program was affiliated with Excelsior College of New York when, in fact, no such affiliation existed. Ultimately, the consumer found the modules to be useless and enrolled in community college instead.

Last month, the AG’s Office reached similar resolutions with two Massachusetts for-profit schools. The office reached a settlement with New England College of Business and Finance, a for-profit online college based in Boston, over allegations of failing to make proper disclosures to prospective students of its programs and engaging in excessive recruitment calls. The office also reached a settlement with Empire Beauty, a for-profit cosmetology school with locations in Boston, Framingham, and Malden, over allegations of failing to provide job placement rates to prospective students and engaging in excessive recruitment calls.

Massachusetts residents who are eligible for relief under the settlement will be contacted by the AG’s Office. Anyone with questions about this settlement or complaints about The College Network, Inc. can contact the Attorney General’s Student Loan Assistance at 1-888-830-627 or file a complaint at www.mass.gov/ago/studentloans.

This matter was handled by John Michael Partesotti and Arwen Thoman of AG Healey’s Insurance and Financial Services Division, with the assistance of Shannon Roark of AG Healey’s Civil Investigations Division.