Lawsuit alleges Black and female students targeted with false promises
Former Walden University students sued the for-profit institution alleging it engaged in fraudulent business practices that targeted Blacks and women, costing them more than $28 million in overpaid tuition.
The lawsuit alleges the school used deceptive advertising to lure students into a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program with false program requirements. When students hit one roadblock after another to complete their program, Walden University then compelled them to complete more credit hours than originally advertised costing them tens of thousands of additional funds.
“I feel like Walden intentionally misled me for their own gain, and I want them to be held accountable,” explained Aljani Carroll, a lawsuit plaintiff. “They promised me their program would change my life, and it did, but not for the better. I hope this lawsuit helps ensure Walden can’t take advantage of other students in the future like they did with me.”
Walden’s advertisement was impressive. In 2016, 41 percent of students across Walden’s doctoral programs identified as Black—more than seven times the national average of Black students enrolled in doctoral coursework. Nearly 77 percent identified as female. Its Doctor of Business Administration Program was touted as being completed in 18 months.
When students enrolled, they were faced with what seemed like a bait and switch. After completing their coursework, they had to do a “Capstone Project,” which is normally a culmination of assignments or projects. That’s when the costly delays began. Responses from professors took weeks. Students had to pay additional tuition to take more classes to stay enrolled.
“Walden targeted Black and female students with the promise of an affordable doctoral program. It broke that promise by dragging out their dissertation process, at significant cost to students who had no choice but to keep spending money if they wanted the degree they had worked so hard for,” said National Student Legal Defense Network (Student Defense) President Aaron Ament in a statement.
“We’re committed to ensuring Walden pays for their wrongdoings and is prevented from causing similar harm to other students in the future.”
Student Defense and Relman Colfax PLLC filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in January to express their grievances.
“A class action lawsuit is a particular type of lawsuit that involves many people who were either a part of the same event or issue, and were also similarly affected in the same way,” Attorney Abdul Arif Muhammad, General Counsel for the Nation of Islam, explained to The Final Call.
“To avoid all of the individuals, let’s say if there were 50 or more, having to fight different and separate legal actions, it’s combined under, what’s called a class action. All of them together will file one lawsuit called class action,” he said.
The plaintiffs are seeking a judgment against Walden that affirms the school violated consumer protection and Civil Rights laws such as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, as well as damages and financial relief to compensate for tuition payments.
“Walden presents itself as committed to social change—but this is merely a façade,” said Relman Colfax attorney Alexa Milton. “Far from creating educational and career opportunities for Black and female students, who are underrepresented in graduate business programs, Walden traps them in a fraudulent and predatory scheme and, for many, significant student debt.”
According to court documents, Walden targets vulnerable populations by directing nearly all of its local advertising budget to markets with higher-than-average Black populations. Their top six markets for local TV advertising between 2010 and 2020 were Washington, D.C., Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, and Baltimore. In 2015, Walden directed 99.8 percent of its local advertising budget to areas with an above-median percentage of Black residents.
If the school lived up to its lofty claims, its enrollment of large numbers of Black and female students would be commendable. Instead, former students believe Walden targeted them with a predatory program designed to hoodwink students and saddle them with student debt.
Students were admitted into a program with false and misleading course requirements, the suit alleges. When they finished one part, the program then required additional coursework—dozens of credit hours in some cases—beyond what was originally advertised to students. All of which costs students more and more money. Very few students completed the program as advertised.
The lawsuit explains this behavior constitutes illegal reverse redlining and racial discrimination.
The school reaped millions from this scheme. The main trick was to get students so invested in their program that they thought they could see the finish line. But the finish line unbeknownst to them was constantly being moved further and further away. Students continued to take additional courses in hopes that this semester would be their last.
“For-profit colleges are big businesses, primarily funded by taxpayers,” explains a new report by the Center for Responsible Lending. They’ve produced research on The State of For-Profit Colleges since 2017. The latest report released in December has the most recent data as of August 2021 by the Department of Education.
“Many deliver poor instructional quality at high cost, causing a high proportion of students to drop out. Even for those students who do graduate, gainful employment in the field that they trained for is frequently elusive. Both non-completers and graduates bear high burdens of debt relative to their post college earnings and default on that debt in large numbers relative to those students who attended public and private non-profit colleges,” the report notes.