A recent investigation of complaints filed against Lawrence Career College has found that several student loans were mishandled. But most of the infractions, federal officials say, were minor.
"The findings were not unusual or extraordinarily serious," said Jane Glickman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education.
Department investigators last month ordered the school to audit its students' accounts after a random review of 36 files found that 15 were "not calculated correctly."
Most of these miscalculations, Glickman said, involved misunderstandings about how much money the school was supposed to return to the government when a student dropped out.
"The total amount is relatively small," Glickman said. "Less than $5,000, probably."
Glickman said there was a "very small chance" the school would have to "give money back to any students."
Investigators also cited the school for not doing enough to keep students most of them low-income women with small children informed about their academic progress and the status of their loans.
This, too, is routine criticism, Glickman said, noting that loan information often fluctuated and could be difficult to track.
Lawrence Career College, 4824 Quail Crest Place, is expected to complete its review of the students' files within the next 30 days, after which the findings will be checked by Department of Education officials.
Jeff Freeman, who, with his brother Scott, owns the Kansas City-based corporation that operates Lawrence Career College, said he isn't worried.
"We've just completed 75 percent of the recalculations, and at this point I have to say it looks like we refunded too much," Freeman said.
Freeman said he's confident the school is "doing a good job."
Jennifer Searight disagreed. She dropped out of the school's executive assistant program April 12.
"I just got tired of all the lies," she said. "I got my last loan check on April 10 for $1,519 even though the paper I had said it would be for $2,758. I just took (the check) and left, I didn't say anything. It wouldn't do any good."
When she enrolled, Searight said she was led to believe that after completing the 9-month course she would owe about $8,000 and be in line for a well-paying job.
Today, she's working two jobs and expects to owe between $12,000 and $15,000.
Divorced with three children, Searight is living with her boyfriend and working about 60 hours a week. Her ex-husband has the children during the week; she has them on weekends.
"I'm trying to catch up," she said. "I'm not a quitter, but I have to admit (Lawrence Career College) got the best of me."
Glickman declined comment on Searight's plight, noting that investigators had "no way to know what students were promised or told or not told."
Freeman said the school had tried to work with Searight. He declined further comment.
The review team's findings have the attention of Ted Lickteig, an Overland Park attorney representing five former Lawrence Career College students who were expelled from the school's medical-assistant course after complaining to the Kansas Attorney General's Office and to the Journal-World about poorly organized classes and absent teachers.
The students Ann Barone, Dawn Krambeer, Heaven Fitzgerald, Allison Coy and Stephanie Wagner last year filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court, accusing the school of selling them a bill of goods. They are seeking more than $75,000 in damages.
"It appears the federal review may have some implications for my clients," Lickteig said. "We're looking in to it."
The expelled students said they were twice encouraged to order pizza and rent videos "Coyote Ugly" one week, "Me, Myself and Irene" the next when instructors didn't show up.
Their complaints prompted the state Legislative Post Audit Committee to order a critique of the state's oversight of private training schools. Its report, released last month, found that since July 1, 1999, 70 students have filed complaints with either the Attorney General's Office or the Kansas Board of Regents, accusing their schools of malfeasance.
Of these 70 complaints, 49 were directed at either Lawrence Career College or Topeka Technical College, auditors reported. Most sought tuition or fee refunds. Auditors kept no record of how many complaints were against Lawrence Career College versus Topeka Technical College.
The report also found that when students complained to the Kansas Board of Regents, they were told first to go back to the "school to see if the complaint could be worked out." If those negotiations failed, they were encouraged to call the board a second time.
The board opened an investigation of Lawrence Career College's medical assistant program last year after the Kansas Department of Health and Environment forwarded four complaints, claiming the program was short-staffed and not accredited. The investigation later found the program was accredited and that the school had hired more teachers. No action was taken.
Responding to the Post Audit report, regents' president and CEO Kim Wilcox has promised to review the agency's approach to handling complaints against private training schools.