College accused of misleading students is ordered to pay Kentucky $22,960

Both sides claimed victory Tuesday after a judge entered a ruling in a case about whether a for-profit college misled prospective students.

Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Travis ordered American National University of Kentucky, formerly National College, to pay $22,960.

The attorney general had sought a civil penalty of up to $2.7 million, arguing that between 2008 and 2011, the school violated the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act by intentionally misleading prospective students about its employment rates.

The penalty the judge imposed was tied to whether the school “willfully” deceived students.

Travis ruled that the school was willful in its use of employment rather than placement rates for much of the time covered in the lawsuit. But in several instances, the judge said the state had failed to prove that the school was willful in its conduct.

Travis assessed a civil penalty of $20 per violation, or each day the school’s website was active without disclosing the methodology it used to determine its “success rates.”

The offending information was removed from the school’s website in 2011.

“Today’s judgment against National College is a win for Kentucky’s students who have been a victimized by for-profit colleges,” Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a statement. “The court’s finding that National willfully violated Kentucky law for publishing false and misleading graduate employment rates sends a clear message to National and any other for-profit college that my office will hold them accountable for such conduct.”

But National College representatives also claimed victory, saying the lower-than-requested penalty indicated that the judge considered the violations a technicality.

“While Judge Travis believed there was a violation by not further defining the graduate employment rates National College published on its website from 2008 through 2010, the minimal penalty shows he thought the violation was just technical in nature,” Frank Longaker, president of American National University, said in a news release.

The release went on to say that the judge “specifically noted that many other schools published employment rates like National College did.”

The school’s attorney criticized the attorney general’s office for what he called “overzealousness” in litigating the case.

“Even at trial, after much of its damages claims had been dismissed, it sought nearly $3 million,” said Al Grasch, attorney for National College.

Both sides argued their cases before the judge during a two-week trial in January.

In October, the college was ordered to pay $147,000 in sanctions because it refused to fully comply with a subpoena for several years.