FTC: Stratford’s advertising failed the honesty test

The FTC says a distance learning company failed the truthful advertising test by marketing its high school “diploma” as equivalent to a diploma from a traditional high school and claiming it could lead to better jobs, higher pay, and acceptance at schools of higher education.

People paid Stratford Career Institute as much as $989 to enroll in its high school diploma program, only to learn after completing it that many employers and educational institutions, including community colleges, rejected the diplomas as invalid high school equivalency credentials, the complaint said. Why wasn’t the diploma accepted? The FTC says Stratford’s program did not meet most states’ basic educational requirements for a high school diploma, including requirements for total credit hours and mandatory classes.

Stratford advertised the program using print, television, and online ads that depicted its diploma as equivalent to diplomas offered by traditional high schools and able to “open up doors to job and career opportunities that were closed to you before.” According to one ad, “With a diploma in hand, you can qualify for better jobs, faster promotions, and higher pay. Just imagine what you can achieve!”

To steer online shoppers to its website, Stratford purchased online advertising tied to search terms like “official high school diploma,” “real high school diploma online,” and “high school equivalency diploma,” the complaint said.

But the FTC says Stratford’s own records, including consumer complaints, survey responses, and other documents, showed that prospective employers and school admissions counselors rejected Stratford’s diploma when people tried to submit it to apply for jobs, community college, or other purposes.

If you have clients in the vocational school business, you may want to review the FTC’s Vocational School Guides, which are designed to protect potential enrollees from deceptive statements about educational programs that claim to qualify people for certain occupations or trades. And, if an adult employee, friend or family member has expressed an interest in getting a high school diploma, suggest they read about high school diploma scams before signing on the dotted line.

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