A for-profit online university is being accused of targeting, misleading, and trapping Black and female students into years of prolonged classes and tuition costs.
Walden University is facing a class-action lawsuit for luring minorities and women into enrollment by disguising the true costs and credits needed to earn a degree, New York Times reports. The National Student Legal Defense Network claims the enrollment scheme violates consumer protection laws and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The for-profit school enticed Black student Aljanal Carroll by promising her a doctoral degree in 18 months. After enrolling at Walden University, Caroll quickly completed most of her required classes until she reached the final step before being handed her diploma, a capstone project.
The school's review committee reportedly took weeks to deliver feedback on the project. Despite only pointing out simple grammatical errors, Caroll was required to make revisions and start the weeks-long process of submitting again.
3 years, $10,000, and many submissions later, Carroll’s final project was finally approved.
Caroll told New York Times, “It started to make me feel like I couldn’t write or speak, which didn’t make sense because I’d just earned a 4.0 for my master’s.” She added, “I knew it didn’t seem right, but I was so far in it, I couldn’t turn back.”
Walden University is intentionally prolonging the dissertation process so that students will have to re-enroll and spend thousands more dollars on tuition than originally promised, according to the lawsuit filed in Maryland federal court. The suit alleges that students were forced to pay the school more than $28.5 million in additional tuition costs.
Former students assert that Walden is specifically handing out empty promises to women and minorities through targeted advertising.
Aaron Ament, the president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, said “Walden lured in students with the promise of an affordable degree, then strung them along to increase profits.” Ament added, “As if that’s not bad enough, Walden specifically targeted Black students and women for this predatory program, masking its discrimination as a focus on diversity.”
Walden University said in a statement that its mission is to serve a diverse community. The for-profit school has filed a motion to dismiss the “baseless and inflammatory attempt to repackage Walden’s school mission into calculated discrimination.”
The school noted that in 2020 it gave more doctorate degrees to Black and female students than any other university in the U.S.
Tressie McMillan Cottom, professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapell Hill, said Black women are especially vulnerable to being trapped by for-profit colleges.
“Black women are socialized and conditioned to pursue every kind of formal credential possible,” Cottom said. “Because they are the best way to overcome implicit bias in the labor market — and you could sell that at just about any price.”
Walden University is accused of taking advantage of Black and female students, who are the top enrollees at for-profit universities and continue to be disproportionately affected by student loan debt.