Career Education Corp. on Thursday announced that it had settled with attorneys general from 48 states and Washington, D.C., over a five-year investigation. The AGs had been probing "unfair and deceptive practices," including allegations about the for-profit college company "misleading prospective students about actual costs, the transferability of credits, accreditation, program offerings and accurate job placement rates."
The company denied any allegations of wrongdoing or liability under the settlement's terms. Career Education will forgo collecting $556 million in debt for "old accounts receivable" for roughly 180,000 students who attended more than 100 of the company's campuses over 30 years. All but $1.3 million of that debt had been written off previously, said the company, which will notify eligible borrowers by mail.
In addition, Career Education will pay $5 million to cover expenses for the AGs.
"Decisions about higher education are already stressful enough without having to worry about the high cost of obtaining a college education or questioning the value of your degree," Mark Brnovich, Arizona's attorney general, said in a written statement. "We've secured $22 million in debt relief for Arizonans that will help thousands of students who were saddled with large debts and degrees that were less useful than CEC led its students to believe."
Like most large for-profit college companies, Career Education has been struggling for years. Its revenue in 2017 was roughly $600 million, and it enrolled 33,000 students last fall, down from a 2010 peak of 118,000 students and $2.1 billion in annual revenue. The company in 2015 closed or sold all of its chains except for Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University, including the sale of its Le Cordon Bleu Colleges of Culinary Arts, which had been a well-known brand among for-profits.
Two prominent officials at the Trump administration's U.S. Department of Education previously worked at Career Education: Diane Auer Jones, the principal deputy under secretary, and Robert Eitel, senior counselor to the secretary and the department's regulatory reform officer.