DeVry grads bring class action, accuse school of slanting grad job stats to boost marketing

By Dan Churney | Oct 17, 2016

A group of six DeVry University graduates have filed a putative class-action suit, claiming the nationwide electronics and business school overstates the employment rates of graduates, so as to attract new students. 

The suit was lodged Oct. 14 in U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois by named plaintiffs, including Debbie Petrizzo, of New York; Renee H. Polly and Brandy Van Buren, both of Missouri; Melissa Lotzman, of Colorado; Jamison Purry, of Oregon; and Cheryl Costello, of Kansas. The plaintiffs, who said they all obtained degrees from DeVry, are alleging DeVry violated consumer protection laws in Illinois and five other states. 

DeVry University, which was founded in 1970, is based in suburban Downers Grove. The school offers degrees through more than 50 campuses spread across 18 states. According to plaintiffs, DeVry has spent annually more than $135 million in recent years on marketing, and enrolls 29,000 to 49,000 new students per year. 

Plaintiffs alleged DeVry tries to draw potential students by falsely claiming that since 1975, about 90 percent of graduates land “careers in their field within six months of graduation.” Plaintiffs said none of them were able to snare jobs within that period. 

As an example of the alleged deception, plaintiffs cited a DeVry television commercial that exhorted potential students to “Join the 90%.” 

The same allegedly misleading message is advanced in other forms of media, such as brochures and online presentations, as well as by DeVry representatives speaking in person with potential enrollees, according to the suit. DeVry training manuals direct representatives to make such pitches, the suit said. 

Plaintiffs pointed out the advertising is not “mere puffery,” but an attempt is made to lend credence, with the inclusion of explanations, footnotes and definitions. DeVry also adjusts its advertising from time to time to make its 90 percent claim appear valid, plaintiffs alleged. 

DeVry arrived at the 90 percent figure by slanting statistics, the suit alleged. 

DeVry allegedly counts graduates, who continue to work in the job they held before attending DeVry, as working in their chosen career after graduation. Plaintiffs further alleged DeVry also includes graduates who did get new work, but in jobs that “employers, industry experts, graduates, and consumers would not reasonably consider to be in the graduate’s field of study.” 

Plaintiffs alleged that from their examination of DeVry files, the number of graduates, obtaining a job because of their DeVry education, is “markedly below 90 percent.”

Plaintiffs said their action was sparked by the Federal Trade Commission’s suit in January 2016 against DeVry, which accused DeVry of making deceptive claims. Plaintiffs argued they would not have purchased DeVry’s services, or paid as much if they did, had “they known the true facts.” 

Plaintiffs want DeVry to be prohibited from continuing to make allegedly inaccurate claims and to pay restitution and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as plaintiffs’ legal costs. 

Plaintiffs are represented by Wolf, Haldenstein, Adler, Freeman & Herz, of New York and Chicago, as well as by Gainey McKenna & Egleston, of New York and Paramus, N.J.

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Organizations in this Story

Devry University Inc. Gainey McKenna & Egelston Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP

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