USC Sued By Former Students Over Alleged Inflated Rankings

Three former students filed a class action lawsuit against the University of Southern California (USC) and a college ranking company over their allegedly inflated rankings of the institution’s school of education.

The school and ranking service reportedly had worked together in creating online programs since 2008, and the former students accuse the partnership of using “cherry-picked” data to raise the education school’s profile.

The filing came in response to the Rossier School of Education’s (USC Rossier) high standing in the prestigious rankings compiled by U.S. News and World Report.

Iola Favell, Sue Zarnowski, and Mariah Cummings initiated the legal action in conjunction with the National Student Legal Defense Network and Tycko and Zavareei LLP.

The organizations released a statement alleging that USC is under “intense scrutiny” over the School of Education’s dean ordering administrators to “intentionally withhold information from U.S. News and World Report to improve its rankings.”

Their complaint alleged that the school “manipulated and artificially inflated” the education school’s numbers to attract top students — and therefore top dollar.

The results, the former students said, were clear.

The suit noted that USC Rossier’s ranking rose from #38 to #22 from 2008 to 2009. The following years saw it consistently in the top 20 until it reached a high ranking of #10 in 2018. Of course, enrollment expanded greatly during this period.

The three plaintiffs assert that they are now saddled with student debt they would not have accumulated if the school had been properly represented.

Their complaint focused on “rankings fraud, and in particular, the way in which USC — in concert with its partner and for-profit, publicly-traded corporation, Defendant 2U — aggressively advertised fraudulent rankings.” The filing specified the school’s online programs for inflated value.

They further allege that the school and 2U, Inc. utilized “doctored” rankings that in fact were based on merely one in-person program.

That, however, did not stop USC and the ranking service from promoting its “successes,” according to the students. Instead, this was then used to recruit students into the online program that did not earn its high ranking.

The online program in conjunction with 2U joined forces to recruit top students, and the filing declared that 2U “was paid a substantial percentage of tuition.”

University officials said they had not received the official complaint and thus refused to comment.

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