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(NECN: Peter Howe, Brockton, Mass.) It sounded like a ticket to a better future for dozens in this struggling city: For $12,000 to $14,000, typically taken out as a federal student loan, get trained for a career as a “medical office assistant.”
But Wednesday, in a lawsuit filed in Plymouth Superior Court, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley sued Sullivan & Cogliano Training Centers. Her charges: In violation of the state’s consumer-protection laws, S&C made all sorts of “false and misleading statements” and over-hyped promises about what the training was, what kinds of jobs it would really prepare students for – and not a single student of 180 who enrolled ever actually got a clinical medical job, despite ads feature students in scrubs and stethoscopes.
Sullivan & Cogliano is the latest of several for-profit schools Coakley’s office has investigated.
"Our concerns about this for-profit industry and the business model they use go well beyond this one school," Coakley said at a news conference at her Beacon Hill offices.
In Massachusetts and around the country, Coakley said, for-profit schools have been making millions on certificate programs that leave students -- disproportionately, the poor, minorities and veterans -- with big debts and without the jobs they worked for.
"They use aggressive and, in many instances, highly unfair and deceptive means to get prospective students to sign on the bottom line to engage with these schools. They often exaggerate the quality and the scope of the actual training at the school, and they also misrepresent what the student is going to be able to do in terms of job employment and placement after graduation," AG Coakley said.
Sullivan & Cogliano did not respond to requests for comment left on the voice mail of the director of the Brockton school and at the Waltham headquarters of its parent company, and staff in Brockton asked an NECN crew to leave the premises.
In her lawsuit, Coakley is asking a judge to order S&C to refund 183 students’ tuition and pay what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Coakley and other educational experts say for people looking at for-profit schools for professional or vocational training, smart questions to ask are:
- What are your graduation and loan-default rates?
- What is contact information for several alumni of your school who are now working in the field I’m training for?
- What percentage of your school’s budget goes to classroom education as opposed to recruiting and marketing expenses?
"We're urging students to do their homework before enrolling in a for-profit school," Coakley said. "They need to be smart consumers before they sign on the dotted line -- before they buy and take on crushing debt for a so-called education that may be worthless."
With videographers Mike Bellwin and John E. Stuart and video editor Lauren Kleciak