Washington, DC - It’s graduation season. How’s this for a truthful take on the usual oratory?

Esteemed guests and distinguished graduates, despite what we said in our ads, many of you just got a degree or diploma that won’t qualify you to get the licenses you need to land a job in your field. And don’t count on your credits transferring to four-year colleges. But thanks for the thousands of dollars you paid out of your own pocket!

That’s the gist of the allegations in an FTC complaint against Professional Career Development Institute, a for-profit company that also does business as Ashworth College.

You’ve probably seen ads for Ashworth, claiming to offer college degrees and “career diplomas” that will “provide comprehensive preparation for students seeking to start a new career.” The company’s .edu website included specific “Job Outlook” pages that touted career opportunities, charted expected job growth, and conveyed to prospective students that completing the advertised program would qualify them for employment in their selected fields.

Ashworth channeled interested candidates to “admissions advisors” – although hard-sell, high-pressure salespeople trained in the tactic of “rebuttaling” might be a more accurate description. The school doesn’t accept student loans, so people had to pony up the tuition in full or through monthly payments. It does accept military benefits like GI Bill payments, so veterans were targeted with special marketing campaigns.

But before buying Ashworth’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” hype, here’s what the FTC says graduates actually got for the money. According to the complaint, despite Ashworth’s promise that its programs will provide the “credentials [to] apply for jobs” and “the comprehensive preparation . . . to start a new career,” many don’t meet state prerequisites for licensure or give grads the necessary credentials to switch careers. 

For example, Ashworth told people its Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education would prepare them for a career “teaching in the classroom.” Thousands of dollars later, grads learned that in many states teaching licenses require a degree from an appropriately accredited college or university – and that Ashworth doesn’t have that accreditation.

Or take Ashworth’s “Career Diploma in Home Inspection.” In many jurisdictions, home inspectors have to take a state-approved training program before getting a license – and Ashworth isn’t on the list of approved programs.

Ashworth also made false state-specific promises. On its website, Ashworth claimed its “Washington Massage Techniques classes will equip you to work in a variety of settings including spas and resort [and] retail massage boutiques.” However, employment as a massage practitioner in Washington requires a license from the State Department of Health. To qualify, applicants need 300 hours of instruction at a state-approved school or apprenticeship program – and Ashworth isn’t approved.

The defendant also touted that its credits would be accepted by four-year colleges and other programs. What most students later learned is that Ashworth doesn’t have the accreditation many colleges require before accepting transfer credits. 

The FTC settlement prohibits the defendant from making a host of misrepresentations, including deceptive claims that its programs will qualify students for vocational licenses without more training or experience and that course credits are accepted by other colleges. An $11 million judgment is suspended based on the defendant’s inability to pay.

What’s the word others can take from the settlement?

  • For-profit educational institutions are advertising a product – and like any other advertiser, they need to support their claims with objective proof.
  • Weighing your own educational options? The Department of Education’s College Navigator is a good place to start.
  • If you’re thinking about going back to school, Choosing a College: Questions to Ask equips prospective applicants to do a little “rebuttaling” of their own. Servicemembers and vets, take a particular look at questions to ask about your GI Bill benefits.