Westwood College's Fort Worth campus fined, placed on probation

FORT WORTH -- Westwood Colleges in Texas have been fined $41,000 by the Texas Workforce Commission for high-pressure recruitment tactics and administrative issues such as failing to file changes of ownership and failing to notify the commission about pending lawsuits.

The fines were levied against for-profit campuses in Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston. They are owned by Alta Colleges, based in Denver.

The state's action against the schools allows them to stay open under Conditional Certificates of Approval, a form of probation.

Westwood College had faced losing licensure amid state concerns about potentially deceptive and fraudulent practices. The state took action after a federal Government Accountability Office investigation found potentially deceptive or questionable practices and the encouragement of fraudulent practices at Westwood and other for-profit colleges.

"On behalf of our students, we are pleased with the TWC's decision to issue the conditional certificates to operate in Texas," Rick Skinner, the college's regional vice president, said in a news release.

Under the state's action, announced by the Workforce Commission in December:

Alta Colleges will pay $41,000 in fines, including $1,000 for coaching a prospective student at the Dallas campus to make false statements to qualify for financial aid, $24,000 for failing to file changes in ownership with the state and $16,000 for failing to notify the commission of four pending lawsuits against the schools.

Alta Colleges must commit to future compliance to all Texas laws governing career schools and colleges.

Alta Colleges must contract with a third party that will perform "secret shopper testing" of compliance and respond to all commission requests for information and documentation showing compliance.

Alta Colleges must also comply with all commission provisions related to change in ownership, notification of legal action, advertising, and cancellation and refund policies.

The probation is open-ended and will last until the commission is satisfied with the school's compliance, said Lisa Givens, the commission's deputy director of communications in Austin.

Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said Texas has an "abysmal" record of consumer protection of students who attend for-profit colleges.

"Against that sorry backdrop, any action can be described as a positive development," Nassirian said.

Westwood College has made several changes to prevent issues that surfaced during the GAO investigation, including paying admissions representatives a straight salary instead of offering incentive compensation. The admissions process has been revised and admissions representatives have been retrained, according to the college.

Last year, the Workforce Commission shut down Westwood College Online's operation in Texas for operating without a Certificate of Approval.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675