The Federal Trade Commission has filed suit against the operators of DeVry University, alleging that DeVry’s advertisements deceived consumers about the likelihood that students would find jobs in their fields of study and would earn more than those graduating with bachelor's degrees from other colleges or universities.
"Millions of Americans look to higher education for training that will lead to meaningful employment and good pay," said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. "Educational institutions like DeVry owe prospective students the truth about their graduates’ success finding employment in their field of study and the income they can earn."
While the complaint doesn't directly cite potential debt concerns related to the alleged false promises, students who don't ultimately get the earnings they expected are likely to rack up additional debt.
The case is yet another in a recent rash of college chains being sued by consumers and regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission suing ITT Educational Services Inc. last June and the drawn-out saga involving Corinthian Colleges.
In the complaint against DeVry, the FTC alleges that the defendants’ claim that 90% of DeVry graduates actively seeking employment landed jobs in their field within six months of graduation was deceptive. The complaint charges that another key claim made by DeVry, that its graduates had 15% higher incomes one year after graduation on average than the graduates of all other colleges or universities, also was deceptive.
The complaint notes that these claims appeared in the defendants’ advertising on television, radio, online, print and other media. The 90% claim was central to their marketing efforts since at least 2008 and the income superiority claim began in 2013. For example, one television ad that ran on national television as well as on YouTube showed people in business attire hanging hundreds of "offer letters" on a wall, with a voiceover discussing the importance of getting a job offer to college students. The voiceover said all of the offer letters seen came from just the last year – followed by the 90% claim. Another ad portrays a student saying “And when I finish my degree in business, a new job at a great company – that’s the graduation present I want,” followed by the 90% claim.
The complaint alleges that DeVry counted numerous graduates as working "in their field" when they were not, including these examples from the 2012 graduating class:
- a graduate who majored in business administration with a specialization in health services management working as a server at a restaurant;
- multiple graduates with majors in technical management whose employment was listed as unpaid volunteer positions at medical centers; a graduate who majored in technical management with a human resources specialization working as a rural mail carrier and another who worked as a driver delivering rain gutters for a construction company; and
- a graduate who majored in business administration with a health care management specialization working as a car salesman.
The complaint also alleges DeVry’s calculations included graduates who were working in jobs they held prior to enrolling at DeVry, as opposed to those they landed after graduating.
In addition to counting these and other graduates as working "in their field," the FTC’s complaint also alleges that DeVry excluded graduates from their count of those “seeking employment” as inactive when they were in fact actively seeking employment. This included, for example, a graduate who had viewed more than 175 job openings in DeVry’s jobs database, interviewed for six jobs in the two months prior to being classified as inactive, repeatedly e-mailed the DeVry career services department, and attended a DeVry career fair.
The FTC’s complaint alleges that Defendants had reason to question the reliability of the conclusions and information contained in a third party survey and report that DVU used as the basis for the income superiority claim. In addition, according to the complaint, comparing income information that Defendants obtained directly from its graduates with publicly available income data showed that DVU graduates did not in fact earn significantly more than graduates from all other schools combined a year after graduating.
In a related action, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is also taking action against DeVry for its marketing practices. ED is providing notice to DeVry that it will be requiring the institution both to stop certain advertising regarding the post-graduation employment outcomes of its students and to take additional steps to ensure that DeVry can substantiate the truthfulness of its post-graduation employment outcomes.