A San Diego judge has ruled that the online school Ashford University and its parent company must pay more than $22 million in penalties for giving misleading statements to prospective students, the California Attorney General's Office said Monday.
In a written ruling issued last Thursday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon said the university gave "students false or misleading information about career outcomes, cost and financial aid, pace of degree programs, and transfer credits, in order to entice them to enroll at Ashford."
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in 2017 against Ashford and parent company Zovio Inc. by the state of California.
Sturgeon wrote that, during a bench trial held late last year, testimony from former Ashford employees revealed "a high pressure admissions department whose north star was enrollment numbers" and "a work environment permeated by fear, where closing the sale was prioritized above providing students with accurate information."
The judge, who ordered $22,375,282 in penalties, also wrote that students were falsely promised that Ashford degrees could be used to secure jobs in various fields, that the school misrepresented how much financial aid they would receive, and downplayed the student loan debt they would incur.
Sturgeon also wrote that students were misled as to the total costs of tuition, how long it would take to secure their degrees, and the ease with which students could transfer their credits to other universities.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta called the decision "a win for the many Californians whose college dreams turned into nightmares after they enrolled in Ashford University. Ashford made false promises to students about the value of an Ashford degree, leaving students with mounting debt, broken promises, and searching for a job."
Bonta also said the decision provides "a strong basis for the Department of Education to provide Ashford students with relief from their federal student loans. I urge Secretary (of Education Miguel) Cardona to act swiftly to provide this relief."