October 6, 2010

Westwood temporarily halts Wisconsin enrollments

Primary source

Download Westwood’s letter here: Westwood Sept. 30 response.
Source: Wisconsin Educational Approval Board, which redacted some personal information.

Westwood College Online has temporarily stopped enrolling Wisconsin students, but maintains it doesn’t need approval from the Wisconsin agency that sent it a cease-and-desist letter.

Westwood College Senior Vice President William Ojile said in his Sept. 30 response to the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board that Wisconsin has no authority over Westwood, which is owned by Denver-based Alta College Inc.

Despite Westwood’s position, the school has stopped enrolling new students anyway as “purely a good-faith precautionary measure,” Ojile wrote.

The EAB said in a Sept. 16 letter to Westwood that an article in the Wisconsin State Journal and the complaint of a Westwood student who withdrew after reading the article “make clear that the risk exposure to Wisconsin residents warrants our attention,” and ordered the school to stop enrolling Wisconsin students. The article was produced by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

With the letter, the EAB entered the national fray over for-profit higher education and became the second state to act against Westwood College Online.

Ojile wrote that a clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents the EAB from restricting Westwood’s advertising and commerce outside Wisconsin.

In September, EAB Executive Secretary David Dies acknowledged Wisconsin was unusual for going after an online school based outside Wisconsin, but said that Westwood’s competitors have sought EAB approval. He wrote in the Sept. 16 letter to Westwood that Wisconsin statute gives him authority over schools “whether located within or outside the state.”

Ojile also wrote that Westwood doesn’t consider itself to be operating in Wisconsin. The school has not advertised in Wisconsin publications or  targeted Wisconsin students in ads, doesn’t have a physical presence here, produces all its Web content outside Wisconsin and employs only one adjunct faculty member who is a Wisconsin resident.

Ojile’s letter does not say how many Wisconsin residents have enrolled or are currently attending Westwood.

A Westwood spokesman said today Westwood has about 100 students in Wisconsin.

Westwood also rebutted the complaint of Bradley Leikness, a Stoughton man who in August said he withdrew midway through his current term after learning the health care management degree he was studying for was not properly accredited and would suffice only for an entry-level job in the field. He said the school refused to give him a refund.

Ojile wrote that the Westwood catalog clearly described the program’s accreditation and the entry-level jobs for which graduates would qualify. He wrote the school had properly followed its refund policy and given Leikness a partial refund.

The Texas Workforce Commission has also ordered Westwood College Online to stop operating there, and has begun proceedings to revoke Westwood’s licenses for its campus-based operations.

Westwood College, one of the largest for-profits, has more than 15,000 students online and at its 17 campuses nationwide, according to its Web site.

Some of Westwood’s campuses are accredited by ACCSC, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, which has placed it on probation. As a result, the Colorado Department of Higher Education has recommended to a state commission that it put Westwood’s license in that state on probation as well.

Subsidiary Westwood College Online, however, is accredited by ACICS, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which has called Westwood’s CEO onto the carpet to answer recent allegations against the school but has not initiated sanctions.