Whistleblower 9: Students say they were misled by local college

CHARLOTTE, N.C.,None — Two state agencies are now investigating a local college.

Students at for-profit Kaplan College say they were misled for months about the school's dental assistant program.

Eyewitness News reporter Jim Bradley has been investigating their claims, taking them to state regulators and questioning college leaders.

VIDEO: Whistleblower 9: Students react to college's offer

VIDEO: Whistleblower 9: Kaplan College officials meet with NC's Community College System

This involves the Kaplan College location on Independence Boulevard.

Now, North Carolina's attorney general has stepped in, with others, to investigate.

But it all started with 15 students from Kaplan's dental assistant program who came to Eyewitness News telling the same story -- that Kaplan counselors signed them up promising their program was about to be nationally accredited, but it never happened.

Student Tiffany Nesbitt couldn't hold back tears as she and 14 other women told Eyewitness News the same story -- that they'd been misled by Kaplan College about the one-year, $18,000 dental assistant program they all enrolled in.

The students admitted they signed a disclosure form in which Kaplan makes clear its program is not approved by CODA, the National Commission on Dental Accreditation. But the students all said Kaplan counselors assured them it soon would be.

“They told me they were in the process of becoming CODA accredited, that it was already in the making, that they would be accredited by the next month,” Nesbitt said.

That was last March. But it wasn't until a month ago, as many of the students approached the end of their training, that they were told the program wasn't accredited at all.

The impact of that news was huge for students. Going through an accredited program is one of the ways to become eligible to be nationally certified -- and employable -- at the higher level, and better paid position, called Dental Assistant 2.

But since the dental assistant program at Kaplan’s Charlotte location isn’t accredited, students are now being told they'll graduate as entry level dental assistants -- or DA1s -- who earn lower salaries, making the whistleblowers worried about being able to repay the loans they took out to cover a portion of their $18,000 tuition.

“I bought intentions, and I can't get a job,” student Trisha Bone said.

“I feel like my life has been messed with,” student Stevanna Singleton said. “Like, I put everything into this.”

Students made a recording of a meeting with Kaplan leaders where the executive director of Kaplan's Charlotte location, Connie Jakubcin, admitted the college misled students.

“I think there was a lot of miscommunication and inaccurate information,” Jakubcin said in that recording. “Now your job opportunities are limited because of the misinformation, inaccuracy about DA1 from the beginning throughout your program until now.”

And yet, in that same meeting, Kaplan continued to tell students the accreditation needed to be a recognized Dental Assistant 2 program was coming.

“I want to know, was it ever intended for you guys to be a DA 2 program?” one student asked.

“It still is. In the process,” Jakubcin said.

But Whistleblower 9’s investigation uncovered a startling revelation. Not only is Kaplan's dental assisting program not about to complete the year-long accreditation process -- Kaplan has yet to even apply for accreditation for that program.

The students told Eyewitness News they felt betrayed.

“This is not the program that I signed up for,” student Jaclin Mack said. “This is not what I'm paying $18,000 for.”

“I want my money back so I can go to a school that will actually provide me with credentials,” Bone said.

The complaints are troubling news for North Carolina's Community College System, which licenses and regulates for-profit colleges, including Kaplan.

Chief Operating Officer Kennon Briggs said he's now opened an investigation.

“The state board has the authority to suspend the license or revoke the license,” Briggs said.

And there's another state agency that now has interest in Kaplan College.

Last week, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper also launched an investigation.

“It's frustrating when you find out that you're paying a lot of money for something that was not what you thought it would be,” Cooper told Channel 9.

Cooper's staff said they met with Kaplan representatives on Friday, who admitted students were given inaccurate information.

On Monday morning, Kaplan's corporate office in Chicago flew Chief Compliance Officer Janice Block to Charlotte to answer Channel 9’s questions.

“Do you believe there was misleading information given to students?” Jim Bradley asked.

“What's really evident is we weren't as clear as we could have been with at least a group of students,” Block said. “That's just unacceptable.”

Block acknowledged that after Eyewitness News began asking Kaplan questions about its dental assistant program, the company emailed this offer to students:

To fully refund the cost of their tuition, books, fees and supplies. Waive all costs for the remainder of their dental assisting classes. Provide a stipend after graduation.

Since Kaplan's dental assistant program is not accredited, current Kaplan students would have to work in a dentist office as a DA 1 for 3,000 hours -- essentially two years -- to become qualified as Dental Assistant 2s.

It's a situation that could cost Kaplan more than $5 million.

“What this reveals is that Kaplan is doing everything it can to rectify any mistakes that might have occurred,” Block said.

But what no one can give back is the months of time and energy the students have already put in at Kaplan College.

The offer from Kaplan includes not only about 120 current students, but recent graduates -- even those who dropped out. It's about 200 students in all.

But Eyewitness News has also learned that Kaplan is suspending enrollment of new students to its dental program until it does apply for accreditation. That's expected in January.

Kaplan called in extra staff Monday to begin the process of meeting with all of those students.