Charges College Misrepresented Affiliation With Oxford Addressed

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Responding to complaints in this country and abroad, U.S. officials have begun taking action against a college in Britain that has billed itself as "The American College in Oxford."

Several American students who chose to attend Warnborough College in Oxford, England, claim they discovered the college had no association with Oxford University only after they paid as much as $20,000 in tuition and fees, and made other sacrifices to study there.

And the U.S. Department of Education said this month it has received notice from British education officials in Washington and London that the college is not recognized as a degree-awarding institution in the United Kingdom.

The department has imposed an "emergency action" against the college, meaning it has temporarily prohibited the school from participating in federal student-loan programs because Warnborough did not fulfill the requirements for a foreign institution.

Furthermore, in an Oct. 4 letter to the college, the Education Department noted inconsistencies in the school's catalog. The catalog says the institution is incorporated in Washington, D.C., but the school has never applied to the department to become certified as a domestic institution and has provided no proof of accreditation by a nationally recognized agency, the letter states.

Mark M. Huck, the college's director of admissions in the United States, said last week that Warnborough has asked for a hearing in which it will prove it is legally authorized to grant degrees. The 22-year-old college is registered as a foreign corporation in Washington state, where it has its American offices, but has dissolved its District of Columbia incorporation, he added.

State Lawsuit

Meanwhile, the Washington state attorney general's office has sued the college, accusing it of "unfair or deceptive" acts or practices. Janice Marich, a spokeswoman for the office, said the state filed the lawsuit in August after receiving complaints from parents in California, Texas, and West Virginia.

The parents and students claimed the college's literature and its toll-free U.S. phone number, 1-800-95-OXFORD, falsely implied the college was affiliated with Oxford University.

Ms. Marich said the lawsuit seeks an end to what she called the college's misrepresentation, and restitution for students who have demanded refunds. State officials also are drafting a "consumer alert" to help college-bound students sort through higher-education information in the future.

"There were broken dreams, and that's the real tragedy," Ms. Marich said.

Mr. Huck responded that the college, which enrolls about 70 students, has altered its materials to clarify its independence from Oxford University. Warnborough College sought to describe its surroundings accurately but did not intend to mislead anyone, he said. "The problem is, if we didn't mention the words 'Oxford University,' people would be confused."

The college is preparing to offer refunds to 14 students who have asked for their money back, he added.

Vol. 15, Issue 07

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