Thinking About Enrolling at Virginia College?
Usually I’m pretty upbeat about my law practice. I get to represent real people with real world problems. I don’t have billing hour requirements. My clients are always very grateful for my work. I set my own hours and take or turn down whatever cases I want to. But there is a downside. Want to know the worst thing about being a consumer rights lawyer in America in 2017? It’s this:
Seeing people who have been totally screwed and having to tell them there is nothing they can do about it.
That is the worst part of my practice. And it happens all the time.
-ALL- the time.
At least 5 times a week I get a phone call, an email, a website inquiry, or a personal meeting with a person who is interested in hiring me, who has a legitimate gripe against some person or business who’s taken their money or ruined their credit or intruded into their financial privacy, or something like that. And they bring me a contract to look over that they’ve signed. And sure enough, it’s a long, unintelligible, fine-printed mess that Rumplestiltskin would be proud of. No matter how unfair a contract is, it will almost always be upheld by our courts. This wasn’t always the case, but we have had an very conservative Supreme Court for the past 30 years now, so the law has changed.
So latest nastily lopsided contract I saw came from a young woman who wanted one thing: a better job. She had seen some advertisements from a legitimate-looking college called “Virginia College.” Sure sounds legit, right? Don’t snicker or chuckle here. If you’re younger than 20 and don’t come from a family of college grads, you’d be fooled too. So she wanted to be a pharmacy technician, and Virginia College told her they could get her there.
Needless to say, they didn’t. Even though she got excellent grades on all her tests. When she went to find a job, she discovered that the “education” she’d received was basically worthless.
That’s because Virginia College is no more a college than the Salvation Army is an army. They call their facility a “campus” and they call the manager of that facility a “dean,” but those labels are designed, like everything else at these for-profit “colleges,” to bolster the facade of legitimacy. Because for-profit colleges don’t exist to actually provide education. They merely pretend to provide education in order to take advantage of the gigantic government handouts of the federal student loan program. They’re taking billions of dollars of taxpayer money that is intended to pay for real education, and leaving the debt – which can’t be discharged in the bankruptcies that their students inevitably file when they can’t find a job – on the poor students who fell for their scams.
Now here’s the real kicker: we can tell how bad Virginia College is screwing its “students” without even setting foot on their “campus.” All we have to do is look at the enrollment agreement you have to sign to get there. It’s attached, and you can read it for yourself here:
Here are a few highlights:
Arbitration Clause. This prohibits you from ever taking them to court if they have defrauded you or failed to provide you with the services you paid for. It ensures that if you do make a complaint against them, the best you get is a biased hearing and, in the off-chance that they lose, they get to keep it secret, so other people who find themselves in your position don’t get to see your suit against them in any public record. See Paragraph 10.
Class Action Waiver. You can’t sue them, or even participate in a class action case against them. Ever. This is a get-out-of-jail free card for any corporation that steals, as long as they steal small amounts of money from large numbers of people. That’s not hyperbole. AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (U.S. 2011). See Paragraph 10.
One Way Attorneys’ Fees. So if you sue them and you lose, you have to pay their lawyers’ fees. If they sue you and you lose, you have to pay their attorneys’ fees. If they sue you and lose, they don’t have to pay your fees. If you sue them and win, they don’t have to pay your attorneys’ fees. Paragraph 15.
Liquidated Damages. So if they defraud you into wasting 2 years of your life in their worthless programs and taking on $25,000 of bankruptcy-proof student loan debt at 6% interest, and you take them to court and prove all that, the most you can get is your tuition. None of the costs of actually going to school, none of the time you wasted there. And it gets worse: it goes to your student loan company instead, but doesn’t cancel the debt because it doesn’t pay the interest! So if you can find a free lawyer and win, you still lose money! Paragraph 14.
Integration Clause. Paragraph 16. This lets their salespeople and “deans” and “professors” lie to your face, and prevents you from doing anything about it if their lies are contradicted by the fine print in this contract, or something in the massive handbook referred to in this contract. Even if you have them tape-recorded making a demonstrably false statement, you can’t do anything about it. At least, not in Alabama.
Non-Transferability of Credits Acknowledgement. Paragraph 8 basically says that “we aren’t a real college, so the credits we award you probably won’t be recognized by any legitimate educational institution.” This should be a warning sign to you.
It’s almost comical. Almost. Because this sort of crap used to be illegal. In the old days, courts wouldn’t enforce such totally unfair stuff. But not anymore. These businesses make a ton of money. And they don’t earn it by producing a quality product. They earn it by trickery, and by preying on the dreams of good people. But since they do make money, they can pay politicians to write laws that shield them from liability for their own misconduct. They can pay the justices of the Alabama Supreme Court to keep them from ever having to repay people they’ve defrauded. They can pay for advertising campaigns that distribute propaganda to voters so we’ll think that if we don’t keep the government boot on working people, our economy will collapse and all of our jobs will disappear. And it works. It’s working great. The propaganda has been a massive success.