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The Worthless Degree That Cost $400,000

02arbitration-brenner-web-superJumbo-300x211Debbie Brenner was in her 40s when she began the 14-month surgical technician curriculum at Lamson College. The program would cost her over $24,000, but it seemed well worth the cost considering the school’s promise that Debbie would have no trouble finding a job after graduation.

Lamson College sales reps assured Debbie that the school would set her up with an externship at a local hospital or surgical center, and that starting salaries for Lamson graduates ranged from $15 to $26 per hour. They urged Debbie to enroll quickly in order to secure a highly coveted place in the competitive program.

Debbie found early evidence that the program was not all it was cracked up to be. Many professors had little experience in the field of surgical tech, and school equipment was often outdated, broken or missing.

Debbie graduated in 2009 with an impressive GPA, yet she found herself virtually unemployable in her field. It wasn’t until Debbie questioned one of the surgical technicians at Maricopa County Hospital that she learned of Lamson College’s poor reputation among local hospitals.

Lamson College shut down shortly thereafter, leaving Debbie with a useless degree and student loans to pay back.

Debbie was not alone. Many Lamson College alumni found themselves in similar positions, and students that had not yet graduated when the school closed its doors were unable to transfer their credits to other programs.

When Debbie tried to sue Delta Career Education Corporation, the company that owned Lamson College, for fraud, she learned that she was blocked from launching a lawsuit by a forced arbitration clause written into her enrollment agreement.

Instead, Debbie was forced to voice her complaint against the school to a corporate lawyer in a private arbitration, which would take place behind closed doors and be nearly impossible to appeal.

Still, Debbie gave the case everything she had. She borrowed $12,000 from her husband’s retirement fund for legal fees, and given the evidence she gathered, she was reasonably confident that she would win.

Delta had already been sued twice in 2013 for defrauding students. Since the plaintiffs in those cases were not bound by forced arbitration clauses, they were able to take Delta to court and were awarded over $8 million in total.

Lamson College’s former head of admissions testified that the admissions staff was “overpromising” jobs to applicants, and that the only requirement for admission was “a pulse.”

Former Lamson professor testified that they were instructed not to fail any of their students, regardless of the students’ attendance records. Even a witness for the defense, former head of the surgical program Kelly Harris confessed, “it broke my heart to see these kids treated as dollar signs.”

The first red flag for Debbie was the fact that her arbitration was to take place at the law offices of Gordon & Rees, the attorneys representing Delta. Not only did the arbiter rule in favor of Delta, but he also required Debbie and her co-plaintiffs to pay $354,210.77 for Delta’s legal fees.

Adding insult to injury, the arbiter criticized Debbie for not being more careful in her choice of schools, comparing her selection of Lamson College to, “buying a Snickers at the local market.”

We’ve written before about the dangers of forced arbitration clauses, and how they set the individual plaintiff at an often insurmountable disadvantage to corporations. Debbie’s story is particularly disturbing because it highlights the vulnerability of many students to the bogus claims of for-profit college sales reps.

The Arbitration Fairness Act, if passed by Congress, would ensure that arbitration return to existing solely as a voluntary procedure, and would no longer be forced on consumers. To help put an end to forced arbitration, sign the petition to Congress today.

Sources: Ross, Jamie, “Lamson College Called Fraudulent & Chintzy,” Courthouse News Service, 4 March 2011.

Ryman, Anne, “Defaults on student loans rising,” AZ Central, 7 March 2010.

Silver-Greenberg, Jessica and Michael Corkery, “In Arbitration, a ‘Privatization of the Justice System,’” 1 November 2015.