The U.S. Department of Education last week sent warning letters to two businesses, demanding that the companies stop using the Department's official logos, or marks, without authorization. One of them, Arcadia, California-based MC Business Group LLC apparently has been running one of the many operations promising people help with managing their student loans, for a fee, even though, as the Department has been pointing out for some time, such services are available free of charge.
The other company, San Francisco-based Abuv Media, is in a field that has been extensively covered by Republic Report: online lead generators who use questionable tactics to lure veterans, low-income single parents, and other prospective students to overpriced for-profit colleges.
Abuv operates sites including AffordableCollegesOnline.org and accreditedschoolsonline.org. The Department's letters assert that use by Abuv, as well as by MC, of Department of Education marks are unauthorized, imply an affiliation or endorsement, and are illegal. The Department warns each company that it will act to protect its rights if the company does not correct the problems within 10 days.
I am, as they say, well familiar with Abuv's lead generation websites. I have repeatedly received email pitches from a representative of Accredited Schools Online referring to the site as "a complimentary web resource for military veterans that I feel would be a great addition to your website." The emails ask me to add a link on my website to this lead generation site. I think not. Some of the student advocacy groups with which I work have received similar requests, and Accredited Schools Online has for more than a year used a logo of at least one of these groups, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), without permission, and despite repeated requests to remove it. (Disclosure: TICAS provides some support for my work on higher education.)
In recent months, including today, I have selected a program of study on the home page of the Abuv site Accredited Schools Online, and in each case I was taken to a page promoting a for-profit college and asking me to enter my name, address, email address, and phone number. The most frequently promoted school by far has been Kaplan University. Kaplan, which is owned by Graham Holdings (formerly known as The Washington Post Company), has a troubling record of misleading students and has been under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies. Kaplan got $877 million last year from taxpayers (down from $1.5 billion in 2010).
At the other Abuv site, Affordable Colleges Online, I have been prompted to enter all my contact information first, and then told that my information has been sent to a college, most frequently for-profit Ashford University. Ashford is owned by Bridgeport Education, which also has a troubling record and has faced multiple law enforcement probes. Bridgepoint got $639 million in taxpayer money last year.
When in the past I received emails asking me to link from my website to these lead generation sites, I have written back, explaining my concerns, linking to my articles on lead generation, and asking to be connected to someone authorized to speak for the company for an article. I have not received any response to my request.
As of this afternoon, both AffordableCollegesOnline.org and accreditedschoolsonline.org are still featuring logos of the Department of Education or units of the Department (IPEDS and IES) as "Sources and Partners."
UPDATE 04-01-16: The various Department of Education, TICAS, and other logos are now gone from the two Abuv sites, replaced with this sentence: "This site is not affiliated with or endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. The content or any information posted on this site does not reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Education."
This article also appears on Republic Report.