7 Former Students Sue Virginia College in Mississippi

By HOLBROOK MOHR | July 25, 2012

A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of seven women accuses Virginia College’s Jackson, Miss., branch of fraud, breach of contract and negligence in its medical assistants program.

The lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Jackson. It claims the privately operated, for-profit school didn’t prepare students for the job market and falsely certified they were qualified to be employed as medical assistants.

For example, the lawsuit says none of the plaintiffs had sufficient training in drawing blood to meet certification standards. Some students, the lawsuit claims, only drew blood from a dummy during their studies.

Whitney Barkley, staff attorney at Mississippi Center for Justice, which is representing the students, said Monday that the students aren’t doing enough blood draws and “sticks” for diabetes testing to be certified by the school’s own accreditation agency.

“ey can’t find work. Most of them are not even getting interviews. The ones who did said they were told they would need between 50 and 100 live blood draws to even be considered for the job,” Barkley said. The students have only a fraction of that many, she said.

As a result, the former students say they’re saddled with student-loan debts, but can’t find jobs in the medical field.

The lawsuit also claims the college sought out low-income black women with targeted advertising. Most of the plaintiffs are black women.

“Defendants are engaged in a scheme of specifically targeting African-Americans by creating advertisements that primarily use African-Americans as models, purchasing advertising time during daytime programming and late night programming, employing mostly African-Americans as admission officers and advertising mostly in African-American neighborhoods,” the lawsuit said.

Jackson attorney Robert Gibbs, who represents Virginia College, said the college denies the allegations.

Gibbs said he couldn’t comment on the specific allegations in the lawsuit, but he defended the college and said it provides a quality education to many students.

“Our medical assistants program has been successfully educating and placing students in the Jackson market for over a dozen years,” Gibbs said. “If you want to look at our graduation and placement rates, and what we charge for tuition, all of that information is available for public review. All they have to do is go to our website.”

Virginia College in Jackson offers certification and associate degrees in fields like cosmetology, criminal justice and medical assisting. The school is operated by Education Corporation of America of Birmingham, Ala., a private, for-profit company.

The company was founded in 1983 and has 25 campuses across the Southeast and collected $292 million in 2011, the lawsuit said. The Jackson campus opened in 2000 and has generated revenue of more than $12 million in a year, with most of that money coming from financial aid services, according to the lawsuit.

Barkley, the attorney at Mississippi Center for Justice, said the figures came from the U.S. Department of Education.

Gibbs, the Virginia College lawyer, said the college is committed to Jackson. He said Virginia College is investing $5.1 million on a new building to expand its facilities.

The former students are being represented by the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm, and Jackson attorneys Warren Martin Jr. and Kenya Martin.

The Martins sued the school last year on behalf of another group of students, claiming their program wasn’t accredited. That lawsuit is pending in the courts.

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