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Favell v. USC

On December 20, 2022, Student Defense and Tycko & Zavareei LLP filed a lawsuit against the University of Southern California and 2U, Inc. for defrauding students by using misleading U.S. News and World Report rankings of the Rossier School of Education. The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of three former Rossier students Iola Favell, Sue Zarnowski, and Mariah Cummings, seeking to represent a class of fellow students who were defrauded. The lawsuit seeks restitution as well as actual and punitive damages for students enrolled in these online degrees. 

Last year, USC came under intense scrutiny after it released a report describing how the dean of the Rossier School of Education directed administrators to intentionally withhold information from U.S. News & World Report to improve its ranking. USC withdrew Rossier from the annual evaluations following the report, citing “a history of inaccuracies.”  

The lawsuit alleges that USC, and its for-profit online program partner 2U, enticed students to enroll in their online programs using the doctored U.S. News rankings based on data reflecting the selectivity of just one in-person program. In the years that followed, USC Rossier’s dean admitted that including data for its burgeoning online program would cause the school "to drop like a rock in the rankings.” Nevertheless, USC and 2U promoted the unfounded in-person rankings to students considering USC Rossier’s online programs, investing in paid search terms and employing targeted online advertising to prospective students to boost the online program’s enrollment. 

According to the complaint, 2U Inc. — a publicly traded online program management (OPM) company — assumed responsibility for recruiting these online students and was paid a substantial percentage of tuition. Tuition sharing agreements between non-profit institutions and OPMs have come under fire recently due to concerns with program oversight, deceptive recruitment tactics, and for causing students to take on excessive debt. Graduate degrees at USC Rossier are also among the most expensive in the country, meaning teachers and education professionals paid an enormous tuition premium on the belief that the programs in question were highly ranked, while 2U and USC inflated their own profits.

The press release issued after this case was filed is available here

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Case Documents