Charlotte Law School Fails Students

August 31, 2017

 

News surrounding the fate of for-profit Charlotte Law School went from bad to worse in August, with the beleaguered institution, owned by Infilaw, announcing its closure after losing its license to operate.

Though the school is no more, trouble remains for Infilaw, which still owns two other embattled law schools of questionable reputation, Florida Coastal School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School.  Earlier this month, a complaint originally filed in 2016 in the United States District Court District for the Middle District of Florida was unsealed. The complaint alleges that Infilaw and Charlotte Law School defrauded the government of millions of dollars while nearly 90% of its students racked up $238,000 of debt or more.

Founded in 2004, Charlotte grew rapidly, quickly becoming the largest law school in North Carolina. However, after the Great Recession, when law school applications plummeted throughout the country, Charlotte continued to expand by accepting applicants with questionable credentials, reaching a peak of 1,600 students in 2013. While the law school collected as much as $285 million in federal loan money, it became notorious for its shockingly low bar exam passage rates. In February 2017, barely one in five Charlotte graduates passed their bar exams.

Due to its track record of saddling students with excessive debt, without any realistic hope of ever gaining jobs as lawyers, Charlotte eventually drew the attention of the American Bar Association and was placed on probation. Probation quickly became a best case scenario for the school. Its ultimate closing was likely a fait accompli when the Department of Education cut off its access to federal loans in December of last year.

The complaint, which contends that Infilaw and Charlotte violated the False Claims Act, goes far beyond merely describing a poorly run school taking chances on students with less than stellar academic histories. Former Charlotte professor and plaintiff, Barbara Bernier, asserts that Infilaw and the school knowingly put improper profits ahead of academic mission, actively conspiring to maximize guaranteed federal aid to the school. To do so, they ballooned class sizes with utter disregard for admissions standards, the quality of education at the school, or students’ future job prospects. For example, after attaining accreditation from the American Bar Association, Charlotte engaged in several buy-outs of more expensive faculty and slashed library budgets.

Additionally, Bernier asserts that the school pressured remaining professors to reduce academic standards so that students could remain in school, going so far as to reduce the minimum GPA to 1.5, thereby allowing Charlotte and Infilaw to retain guaranteed federal loan monies. (Id, at 13) Further, to artificially inflate its bar passage rates, the school began offering low achieving students $5,000 incentives not to take the exam. (Id, at 19)

While Charlotte is no more, it will certainly be interesting to see how this litigation plays out and its impact on for-profit educational institutions, particularly Infilaw’s remaining two law schools.

The full complaint in all of its disheartening detail can be accessed on Westlaw here: United States of America et al v. Infilaw Corporation et al

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