USC Accused of Defrauding Students With Doctored Rankings

Three graduates of the University of Southern California who are accusing the school of inflated program rankings have filed a class action lawsuit against the school.

The complaint filed by plaintiffs Lola Favell, Mariah Cummings, and Sue Zarnowski on December 20 alleged that USC manipulated and inflated the rankings for its Rossier School of Education program. The lawsuit names USC’s business partner 2U, which the plaintiffs claim conspired with the private university to mislead prospective students and deceive them into applying for the program, which ranks high in costs.

According to the lawsuit, the university and 2U “aggressively advertised USC Rossier’s fraudulent rankings to grow enrollment in the school’s online programs.”

USC has partnered with 2U, a company that creates online programs for schools, since 2008. That was about the time the school allegedly began to submit erroneous and misleading information to the US News & World Reports, known as “the single most referenced source of school prestige and academic standing” for prospective students.

The complaint alleges that the prestigious private university only listed a small percentage of data about doctoral students on campus in its promotion of online programs rather than data on all of the school’s graduates, including those listed in online programs. Using this alleged method of “cherry-picked” data, USC Rossier was able to surge in ratings from 2008 till 2021.

“The fraud paid off: between 2008 and 2009, USC Rossier vaulted from #38 to #22. In the years that followed, USC Rossier jumped even further, consistently landing in the top 20, ultimately soaring to an inflated high of #10 in 2018—all while USC Rossier’s online offerings and enrollment expanded,” the lawsuit reads.

The doctored rankings were also reportedly advertised on the school’s official website and social media accounts.

The plaintiffs picked issue in the defendant’s failure to disclose to those interested in the programs that the ranking was based on a select portion of the school’s in-person degree programs.

The three former students who claimed that they accumulated student debt to enroll in the program said that they would not have taken loans if they had known the correct ranking of the programs. According to them, they each took out between $41,000 and $100,000 in student loans for USC Rossier’s teaching degrees.