According to a report by the LA Times, USC stands accused of enticing students who are unaware of the disparities between the advertised program and the actual course content. This has raised serious concerns about the university’s practices, as students may unknowingly be treated as mere “cash cows” while pursuing their educational aspirations.
A lawsuit filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that the University of Southern California (USC) misrepresented the content of its online courses, claiming that they were equivalent to on-campus instruction. However, it has been revealed that USC outsourced various components, including instructors, curriculum, internship arrangements, and other services, to an educational company called 2U Inc.
In response to the lawsuit, USC issued a statement affirming that it would conduct a thorough review upon receiving the legal filing. However, the university denies providing different levels of instruction to students enrolled in the online program, asserting that the course content and accreditation for the Master’s degree in Social Work are consistent regardless of the mode of delivery.
Furthermore, USC claims to have undertaken comprehensive reforms in recent years, including a 25% reduction in tuition fees for the Master’s program in Social Work starting in 2022. The university also emphasizes its commitment to ensuring financial sustainability and strengthening oversight of academic affairs, curriculum, and student well-being.
This lawsuit is just one of many scandals that have plagued the School of Social Work in recent years. The school had gained recognition for its online learning programs, spearheaded by the then-dean Marilyn Flynn in 2010. Among those who obtained their master’s degrees through this program is the current Mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, who attended under tuition exemption while serving as a Congresswoman.
According to the complaint, the partnership with 2U Inc. has led the School of Social Work to become the largest school of its kind in the United States, with student enrollment skyrocketing from 900 in 2010 to 3,500 in 2016.
However, as the student population grew, so did the tuition fees, reaching a staggering $115,000 in 2021. Ironically, the increased student numbers did not translate into increased revenue for the university. As a result, the online master’s program employed a separate group of instructors who were not on par with the world-class faculty teaching on-campus courses.
Following USC’s signing of a costly office space lease in downtown Los Angeles, more affordable master’s degree programs have emerged in the market. One such program is a two-year online course offered by California State University, Northridge, with a tuition fee of only $46,000.
In an attempt to attract more students to its online courses, USC allegedly admitted unqualified students and employed aggressive recruitment practices, further undermining the overall learning experience and reputation of the social work program.
The lawsuit further claims that USC employed a technique known as reverse redlining in its course promotions. This involved targeting specific demographics based on race, age, gender, and other characteristics deemed most likely to respond to admission notices. For instance, African-American and Latina women in need of social assistance were perceived as the easiest candidates to recruit, while financially privileged Caucasian women were considered more challenging to attract.