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Globe University misled students about job prospects, lawsuit says

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MINNEAPOLIS – Woodbury-based Globe University misled students in its criminal justice programs about their career prospects, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said in a lawsuit against the for-profit school.

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Swanson described a “sales-oriented culture” at the school, which she says aggressively pursued potential students with deceptive claims about jobs they would land and their ability to transfer credits to other schools.

“This school left some people deep in debt with promises that did not materialize,” Swanson said in announcing the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court.

In a statement, Globe said claims made in the lawsuit “could not be further from the truth.” It said its recruiters alert students that the criminal justice program does not fulfill requirements to become a police officer in the state. Course catalogs and enrollment agreements include this information; they also urge students to check with other campuses where they might want to transfer credits before enrolling.

“Regrettably, today’s misguided action threatens jobs and quality career-focused education for thousands of Minnesotans,” the statement said.

The almost 130-year-old Globe and its sister school, Minnesota School of Business, have seen rapid enrollment growth in recent years. The two schools serve more than 11,000 students on campuses in five states and online.

The school’s Moorhead campus does not offer a criminal justice program. A spokeswoman for the campus declined to comment on the suit and referred questions to the company’s statement.

For-profit institutions of higher education and their marketing practices have become the focus of intense scrutiny in recent years – in Minnesota and nationally. In 2012, a report from a two-year U.S. Senate investigation sharply criticized these colleges’ recruitment tactics and graduation and loan default rates.

Last year, Swanson’s office reached a settlement with Milwaukee-based Herzing University, another for-profit, over its unaccredited medical assistant associate degree.

Swanson pointed to other legal troubles for Globe over the years, including a whistleblower jury verdict last year that awarded a former dean $400,000. The dean, Heidi Weber, said she was fired after raising concerns about Globe’s recruitment practices, among other issues.

“Some of these problems have persisted with this school for a long time,” Swanson said.

Swanson said the university steered students wanting to be police officers into its bachelor’s program, which lacks needed accreditation in Minnesota. It recommended its two-year associate degrees to would-be probation officers, although the state and most counties require at least a bachelor’s degree for such jobs.

The criminal justice degrees at Globe cost $35,100 for the associate degree and $70,200 for the bachelor’s degree. Swanson’s office could not immediately say how many students might have been affected by the practices the lawsuit targets. Swanson said she expects the suit’s scope to expand.

She said her office reviewed training manuals for recruiters and marketing materials that paint a picture of an institution bent on enrolling students at all costs.

She played a clip from the recent movie “The Wolf of Wall Street,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s stockbroker character describes a tactic also found in Globe’s training manual: Once you make your pitch, keep silent until you get a yes. If recruiters speak first, the manual says, they “lose the sale.” Recruiters are trained not to take no for an answer from prospective students, Swanson said.

Several former students joined Swanson at a news conference announcing the lawsuit. Elisha Claiborne, 30, a single mother from South St. Paul, completed Globe’s criminal justice associate degree in hopes of becoming a probation officer and working with at-risk youth.

It wasn’t until the end of her studies in 2012, which left her more than $40,000 in debt, that she found out she needs a bachelor’s degree to pursue that career. Then, she learned she could transfer few of her Globe credits to local four-year institutions.

“The degree I have I feel is really useless,” Claiborne said.

Dillon Zerwas, 19, of New Prague, spoke of a dream to become a police officer since he was a little boy. The first in his family to go to college, he visited a nearby Globe campus with his parents. He told staff repeatedly he wanted to be a Minnesota cop. The staff sold the criminal justice program aggressively, Zerwas said, but they never mentioned it would not allow him to achieve his goal.

He found out from a visiting instructor a few weeks into the program.

“I felt cheated and hopeless,” said Zerwas, who wrote a letter to Swanson. “I didn’t know how to fix this.”

Swanson said Zerwas was fortunate compared to other students who found out about the degrees’ limitations after taking on considerable debt. She noted that some of these students took on federal loans, which means taxpayers will be on the hook if they default. One student was encouraged to put some university charges on a credit card after tapping out of loan options.

The median debt for Globe graduates – $35,000 for a two-year degree and $52,790 for a bachelor’s – is more than twice that of peers at Minnesota community colleges or the University of Minnesota.

Swanson’s office is seeking an end to the practices outlined in the complaint, civil penalties and restitution for affected students.

Globe said the students listed in the lawsuit did not take advantage of the “exhaustive dispute resolution process” at the university. Globe fully cooperated with the state investigators, who ignored repeated requests to meet and address concerns, the university’s statement said.

Students or families looking to report complaints about the sister schools can call (800) 657-3787 or download a complaint form at www.ag.state.mn.us.

About Globe and the Minnesota School of Business

Founded: 1885 as Globe College

Headquarters: Woodbury, Minn.

Campuses: Five states and online

Degree programs: 40

Students served: More than 11,000

 

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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