The Federal Trade Commission has charged online distance education school Stratford Career Institute with misleading consumers about its high school equivalency program that the agency alleges failed to meet the basic requirements set by most states.
In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Stratford’s extensive advertising for its high school program included multiple references to a “high school diploma” leading to an increase in earning potential, access to better jobs and promotions, and the ability to apply for higher education. The FTC’s complaint alleges that Stratford’s high school program fell short of its promises, meaning thousands of students nationwide paid as much as $989 for a diploma that could not meet their educational or career needs.
“Stratford promised that its high school program could help students get better jobs and access higher education,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “For many students, those promises were false because schools and employers rejected Stratford’s supposed ‘diploma.’”
According to the complaint, the school purchased online advertising tied to search terms like “official high school diploma,” “real high school diploma online,” and “legal high school diploma,” among others.
Stratford’s own records, the complaint alleges, show that consumers who tried to use the Stratford diplomas were often told by prospective employers and college admissions officers that the program was not the same as a traditional high school. The complaint notes that the Stratford program requires only 18 credits for completion, while many states require substantially more, including credits in courses not offered by Stratford.
The complaint alleges that Stratford violated the FTC Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts by making false and unsubstantiated promises to consumers.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
Office of Public Affairs
FTC East Central Region