Attorney General Bonta Continues Fight to Hold Ashford University Accountable for Defrauding and Deceiving California Students
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued the following statement on the first day of trial in the state’s lawsuit against Ashford University, an online for-profit school, and its parent company Zovio, Inc. (formerly Bridgepoint Education) for engaging in false advertising and unlawful business practices. The California Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in 2017 alleging that Ashford University and Zovio provided false and misleading information to students to persuade them to enroll in the school and then used illegal debt collection practices when students struggled to pay their bills. DOJ seeks restitution for these students, a permanent injunction prohibiting Zovio from engaging in similar activities in the future, and civil penalties.
“A college education should be a vehicle for opportunity, not a tether impeding your future success,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Californians enrolling in higher education deserve more than empty promises and mounting debt, yet that is all that Ashford University had to offer them. As the People’s Attorney, I’m committed to fighting for the students defrauded by this predatory for-profit college and its parent company, and to making sure that they can never take advantage of vulnerable Californians again.”
In 2005, Zovio bought a tiny non-profit Catholic university in Iowa named Franciscan University of the Prairies. Zovio rebranded it as Ashford University and exploited the school’s access to federal education funds to build an online empire with an enrollment of more than 80,000 in 2012. Ashford University proceeded to close the original Franciscan University's campus in Iowa. In November 2017, DOJ filed a lawsuit against Ashford University, then based in San Diego, and Zovio for unlawful business practices. Ashford University has since been acquired by an affiliate of the University of Arizona and now operates as the University of Arizona Global Campus. Zovio continues to provide the same misleading enrollment and marketing services to the University of Arizona Global Campus as it previously provided to Ashford, and this lawsuit aims to provide restitution for students and stop Zovio from continuing these unlawful business practices.
During trial, DOJ will argue that:
- Ashford and Zovio's salespeople were trained to gain the trust of potential students and to rush them through the enrollment process as quickly as possible in order to meet their sales quotas. To get the students enrolled, the salespeople frequently made false and misleading statements, including making baseless assurances to students about the school’s ability to prepare students for careers in fields requiring licensure or certification, such as teaching, social work, nursing, and substance abuse counseling; how much financial aid students would get; the cost of attendance; the pace of an Ashford degree; and how many prior academic credits would transfer into the school;
- Zovio knew about these problems. But instead of preventing or remedying the false and misleading statements, Ashford and Zovio kept employing salespeople with extensive records of deception – so long as they were continuing to meet their sales quotas; and
- Because of Ashford and Zovio’s misrepresentations, Ashford’s students, many of them low-income, were unable to achieve their career goals and were saddled with unexpected tuition expenses and other debts they could not afford. To collect that money, Ashford and Zovio engaged in aggressive and illegal practices such as threatening and imposing unlawful debt collection fees.