Is my college trying to rip me off?
March 29, 2011 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Is my college trying to rip me off?

Hi all,

I'm currently enrolled in an online design college (based in the USA) and pursuing their "professional certificate" program. I am close to the end of the certificate and inquired about extending it. They have an "advanced certificate (single concentration)" and an "advanced dual certificate (dual concentration." The following official (paid in full) prices are listed in their current brochure and on their website:

Professional Certificate Program (45 weeks): $5,500
Advanced Certificate, single concentration (75 weeks): $6,300
Advanced Certificate, dual concentration (90 weeks): $7,300

I paid for the certificate program in full on enrollment. I have now decided that I would like to extend my program which by my calculations would mean I would have to pay $800 extra for the single and $1,800 for single+dual.

I emailed my admissions adviser about this and his response was that "pricing is structured differently after enrolling" and each "level" now costs $2,700! Meaning I would have to pay $5,400 for single+dual. They do not mention this anywhere in their brochure or official documents.

So my question is, how should I proceed with this? They seem to be coming up with their supposed "increased prices after enrollment" out of thin air. As mentioned, they are nowhere to be found in their documents or their website etc. Can I make them honor their official brochure prices?

Thanks in advance!
posted by [vagabond] to Education (12 answers total)
If there is no mention of restructuring your coursework in either the brochure or your enrollment materials you may be stuck with what they say... just as there is no mention the $2700/$5400 there is also no mention of only paying a $800/$1800 increase.

Also, is the coursework contained the first 45 weeks of the Advanced Certificate programs identical to the full coursework of the Professional Certificate Program?

Your best bet may be looking for precedent. Do you know anyone who has completed the program and bumped their "level" for the lower rates?
posted by m@f at 4:52 PM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: Maybe. Maybe not. A lot of for-profit colleges are in legal trouble these days for deceptive marketing and other unwholesome business practices; yours might be one.

I would tell the admissions adviser that you have no record of this post-enrollment pricing structure in the materials you were given and to please point out where that information is provided.

You have copies of everything you signed, right? My sinking suspicion is that it's buried in some fine print somewhere, but who knows? It's worth trying.

Otherwise, I would finish your professional certificate and get the hell out and take your credits to a community college, which has more accountability.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:57 PM on March 29, 2011

I don't know why you would think you could upgrade from one certificate to another by paying that amount. If there's nothing in the brochure that says that, then they are honoring the prices in the brochure and you are seeking to impose a new deal that isn't in there. For-profit colleges are known for ripping off students, but I doubt there is anything you can do about this case.
posted by grouse at 5:02 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your responses everyone, they were very helpful.

@m@f: Yes, the initial levels for the professional certificate and advanced professional certificate are identical.

@thinkingwoman:There is no mention of this price increase in my enrollment agreement or anywhere in the fine print of any other documents. Nothing that I signed mentions it.

So in conclusion it simply seems that they operate on a "screw the customer" business model and there's nothing I can do. Very deceptive marketing indeed. Thanks again!
posted by [vagabond] at 5:56 PM on March 29, 2011

I'm sorry to hear this, but they probably have their asses covered. FWIW the bulk discount is partially correct, but you're probably also being encouraged to cut them a bigger check ahead of time. The marginal cost of adding students to classes is probably pretty low, especially for online.
posted by carter at 8:51 PM on March 29, 2011

With the name of the college we could do some digging for precedents, lawsuits, and indicators of the general sleaziness of the place.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:59 PM on March 29, 2011

The name of the college is not very hard to figure out from the stuff the OP quoted from their web site.
posted by grouse at 9:44 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah - it was pretty easy to find the college. If I did find the right college, the Certificate Student Handbook has a section on program transfers that MAY be of use to you.

Program Transfer (page 23)
Students who wish transfer from one certificate program into another may be able to switch programs, subject to student advisor approval. Students who switch into a new program will need to meet all requirements of the destination program and tuition differences may be assessed if additional courses are required. Students who transfer may also be required to sign a new enrollment agreement.

Emphasis mine. "Tuition differences" sounds like you'd only have to pay $800/$1800 more but their definition may differ. I'd also take a fine look at your enrollment agreement. I couldn't find an example on their site.

Good luck!
posted by m@f at 11:10 PM on March 29, 2011

Oh and one last suggestion. As carter points out, "The marginal cost of adding students to classes is probably pretty low..." So in effect, the only thing they have to lose is your money.

In your next conversation with your adviser mention the program transfer section of the handbook and, if you are willing to play hardball, tell them in no uncertain terms you will pay the handbook difference of $800/$1800 or nothing at all.
posted by m@f at 11:24 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Blasdelb: It's sessions [dot] edu. Ha, come to think of it they underwent a name change at some stage. Maybe to make digging for dirt on them more difficult? They still had the word sessions in both names. But that's a very generic word to search for when you're trying to google a school.

@m@f: Yep, that's the one! And I absolutely agree with carter and you about the fact that "The marginal cost of adding students to classes is probably pretty low..." considering it's the same online written coursework for everyone and all they actually do is write a brief email assessment on my assignments once a week. So not only would they lose out on a customer but also risk some bad reviews. I just really don't think this $800/$2700 discrepancy is justifiable in any case so I will try to play hardball and at least try to aim for a serious discount. If all else fails I could threaten to make a website about my experience with them with the skills they taught me. LOL.

PS: There's definitely no mention of any of this in the enrollment agreement.

Thanks again everyone for your valuable advice. Metafilter is fantastic! I'll keep you updated on the outcome.
posted by [vagabond] at 8:25 AM on March 30, 2011

If they are for-profit, make an offer. Tell them you think the pricing was poorly described when you enrolled, and quite honestly, not reasonable, and you have $1200/2500 in hand for the other tiers, if they like to have you as a continued student. Make sure the offer is made to someone with the authority to negotiate. Maybe you'll get a counter-offer; nothing to lose.
posted by theora55 at 8:44 AM on March 30, 2011

Response by poster: Hi all! Not sure if anyone will still read this but I promised to give an update on the outcome of the situation so here it is:

I took the advice of m@f (actually, what I was planning to do all along but thanks again, that really pushed me) and succeeded! I played hardball, called the admissions adviser directly and negotiated the best I could. After some back and forth, they offered me the original brochure price in the end. That's the short version, anyway. :)

posted by [vagabond] at 6:54 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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