Student Sues Walden University: 'I Wasted Six Years of My Life’
Jennifer Wright, an ex-Marine Corps officer who teaches grade schoolers in the California desert, had a dream. She wanted to get her doctorate in education while her two elderly parents were still alive — and while continuing to teach the low-income students she felt really needed her. Six years after enrolling in a distance learning program with one of the nation’s best-known for-profit schools, however, Wright, 51, still doesn’t have her degree. She has exhausted the GI Bill benefits she earned from serving 16 years in the military and is $224,000 in debt.
“I feel like I’ve wasted six years of my life,” said Wright, “and I owe more than my house is worth.”
Wright is now suing Walden University, whose parent firm once had Bill Clinton on the payroll and was featured in an NBC News investigation earlier this year, for allegedly misleading students about the time and money to required to obtain advanced degrees online. She and four other plaintiffs allege in a class action suit that the distance learning company misrepresented how long it would take to complete a degree, and prolonged their enrollments for years with constant staff turnover and changing study requirements — until they were left hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and still short of a degree. Her suit is the second filed by former and current students against Walden and its parent corporation, Laureate Education, since NBC began reporting on the company earlier this year.
Wright also wants to know why Walden came to Barstow, California, to recruit students. Walden set up a booth at a back-to-school rally in the town, where more than a quarter of the population lives under the national poverty line. She and one other woman signed up. “They saw the town, they saw the schools that are awful,” she said, referring to a lack of resources in her district. “They came to this town to do it to these people.”
“Do they think we are suckers? I guess I had that sign on my forehead.”
Walden is the U.S. flagship of Laureate Education, which paid “honorary chancellor” Bill Clinton $17.6 million over five years before he stepped down in 2015 just ahead of wife Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign run.
Laureate bills itself as “Here for Good” and “the biggest university network in the world,” and made about $4.3 billion in revenue last year. The bulk of Laureate’s revenues come from their international schools; the company has about 800,000 students in more than 70 schools in 30 countries.
In August, NBC News aired a report on Walden, drawing on interviews with some two dozen former and current students who felt victimized by its practices and were saddled with large student loans. A 2015 study found Walden students had one of the highest debt loads of any school in the U.S.
While a 2012 Senate investigation of for-profit schools described an “enrollment driven culture” at Walden, it also concluded that the school was “perhaps the best of any company examined” and that its “students are faring well.”
Experts say that for-profit schools have led to skyrocketing student loan debt. Today, Americans owe about $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.
I’ll be interested to see how this turns out.