Westwood College is being sued by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office for allegedly misleading students enrolled in its Criminal Justice degree program. According to the AP, college officials allegedly led students to believe that upon graduation, they would meet the educational requirements necessary to apply for law enforcement positions within agencies such as the Chicago Police Department and the Illinois State Police. It seems that students weren’t informed that these agencies would not accept Westwood College credentials because the college lacked regional educational accreditation.
In previous articles, I tried warning potential students about this discrepancy. For instance, in November 2010 in a Patch.com article appropriately titled Five Things You Should Know before Applying for College, I stated:
A college's accreditation can also affect whether a student can get a job or not. Many colleges in Chicago offer degrees in Criminal Justice but not all of them are regionally accredited. The Chicago Police Department only accepts applicants who have obtained college credits from a regionally accredited college. Therefore, a student with a bachelor's degree from a non-regionally accredited college may not be eligible to apply for a job as a Chicago Police Officer while someone with an associate's degree from a regionally accredited college may apply for the position.
I’d like to think that I could say, “I told you so,” to whoever read my article and still attended Westwood or a similar college. However, I’m pretty sure that none of the affected students read my article. In fact, I’m not sure they read any articles on how to pick a college that would meet their needs.
According to articles I’ve read regarding the new lawsuit, Westwood College actually had students sign off on a form stating that they had been told that the college was only nationally accredited. If signing this document didn’t set off a bunch of alarms, bells and whistles to these victim/students, then I’m glad they aren’t working for us in law enforcement or the criminal justice field.
The complaint also alleges that the college had low graduation and job placement rates. Was that not enough to warn students that something just wasn’t right?
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, a branch of the US Department of Education, these are the retention rates for the four Westwood College branches in Illinois:
Loop Campus: Retention 19% Graduation 22%
DuPage: Retention - 40% Graduation- 32%
O’Hare: Retention – 28% Graduation - 29%
River Oaks: Retention – 45% Graduation - 34%
As you can see, only one of the four campuses had a graduation rate of above 1/3. The sad thing is that as low as these rates are, many more local colleges have even lower retention and graduation rates. (See: Most Chicago universities get an "F" in graduation rates )
Now I know that sometimes, people don’t know that these statistics even exist much less know how to access them but that’s no excuse this time around. For the past few years, these stats automatically come up when students apply for financial aid online. How did the Westwood students miss this information as well?
Now let’s be realistic. Even if Westwood College awarded the proper credentials for students to qualify for law enforcement positions, many of the students I saw once during a visit to one of their campuses would still not have qualified.
For starters, all police agencies require candidates to pass some sort of physical fitness and agility tests and most also have height and weight standards. Some of the students I saw simply would not have passed these tests or met these standards. Furthermore, most police agencies also run a background and credit check and I’m not sure many of them would not pass these either.
The courts will decide whether Westwood College in fact violated any laws but I think it would be unfair to characterize the many students as victims of Westwood College. Instead, they are victims of their own inability or unwillingness to conduct proper research and due diligence before signing on the dotted line. If they failed to pay attention to these details in their own lives, they are sure to have missed valuable clues at crime scenes and during investigations. Ultimately, the fact that they can’t be detectives, special agents, etc. benefits us all.
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