October 16, 2020

Independence University CEO Tells Staff School Will Fight Effort to End Taxpayer Funding

Independence University CEO Tells Staff School Will Fight Effort to End Taxpayer Funding

The CEO of a troubled chain of career colleges has emailed his employees vowing to contest an effort to cut off taxpayer aid to his schools and saying “it broke my heart” when he concluded that one of his employees had forwarded a previous email to a web outlet, namely this one.

Eric Juhlin, the CEO of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, which operates online Independence University and other schools, was reacting yesterday to a letter sent by nineteen pro-student organizations, and me, calling on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to cut off federal student grants and loans to CEHE’s schools, after a Colorado state judge in August found the operation liable for defrauding students in violation of the state’s consumer protection law and awarded a $3 million judgment. 

Below is Mr. Juhlin’s entire email. I will say that, although he references the “employee” who is sharing Juhlin emails with me, in fact multiple employees are doing so. 

On top of accounts I relayed on Wednesday from a current and a former CEHE employee, I spoke this week with an Independence University instructor who says, despite interacting with poor quality academic programs over a long teaching career, “the course content and delivery at Independence took it to a whole new (low) level.”  The course materials that Independence provides “barely touch on the subject matter, don’t come anywhere near covering the same amount of content taught elsewhere, and the grading is set up so that students can pass these classes without knowing anything just by turning everything in or retaking tests multiple times (or finding the answers online and copying them).” As to the students, whom we have reported, and the Colorado court found, are largely low-income people recruited by CEHE through aggressive and deceptive tactics, according to this instructor, “I would say the majority of the students I’ve had lack basic writing and reading comprehension skills and can barely do elementary level math.” This instructor concludes, “There is no doubt in my mind that these students are being taken advantage of.”

Eric Juhlin may feel sad, but what is really a disgrace is that hundreds of millions of dollars from students and, mostly, from taxpayers — perhaps some $233 million during the period since 2006 in which the Colorado court found ongoing consumer violations — has been spent putting struggling Americans in CEHE programs that ruin their financial futures. Much of that money has gone to the ultra-wealthy Carl Barney, who is Mr. Juhlin’s boss, to Mr. Juhlin and other executives, and to various marketing, advertising, and recruiting efforts, rather than to educational instruction. All of that money could have gone to higher education programs better suited to helping people train for careers and improve their lives.

Here’s Juhlin ‘s letter:

Dear CEHE Family:

I’m sure you’ve all, at one time or another, thought about your own (and other’s [sic]) “leadership style”. We all have times (in our personal and professional lives) where we have to be a leader – and there are as many “styles” of being a leader as there [sic] leaders. End of the day, every leader is a human being and all human beings are unique with their own styles, behaviors, and proclivities.

If you’ve been with CEHE for any period of time – I hope you’ve recognized that one of my leadership styles is to lean toward “more”, rather than “less”, transparency. But as with any style, there are advantages and disadvantages (I’ll say more on that later). Adhering to my preferred style, I wanted to give you a heads up about a development today that will likely be covered in the education media tomorrow. In short, a group of long-time opponents and detractors of private career colleges have submitted a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Education arguing that CEHE’s colleges should lose their eligibility to continue participating in federal Title IV financial aid programs as a result of the decision issued against CollegeAmerica and related parties (which included me personally) in the 2014 Colorado litigation. I’ve attached a copy of this group’s letter that I received this afternoon.

I see no value in me discussing, reviewing, and explaining all of the errors, misrepresentations, falsehoods, and incorrect legal analysis that I (and CEHE’s legal/regulatory counsel) see in this letter. But I’ll share one point that I think is critical for you to be aware of and which highlights a falsehood in this letter. In the Colorado decision, there was absolutely NO judicial determination or legal finding of fraud against CollegeAmerica or any of the named parties in the lawsuit. But that doesn’t stop the authors of this letter, and perhaps the media too, from trying to make that argument or “spin” the decision to fit their own agendas.

What I think is most important, as CEHE’s CEO, is to share with you my position and CEHE’s strategy for moving forward. First, the entire Board and I vehemently disagree with this decision. There are a significant number of legal and other errors in this decision. CEHE will be filing at least one post-trial motion next week – and CEHE has already filed its Notice of Appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals. We have assembled an incredible legal team and CEHE’s Board of Directors, the entire legal team, and I personally have absolute certainty that justice will prevail and that all or major parts of this unjust decision will be overturned or reversed by the Court of Appeals. However, that will not be a quick process. My best guess is that we will not have a decision from the Court of Appeals for 12-18 months from now. The rest of our strategy moving forward is simple (and you’ve heard from me over and over again). We all come to work every day and do everything in our power to serve students, to continuously improve our programs, our curriculum, our procedures, and to make our students successful. That’s what really matters most!!!

What many of you may not know – is that it took the judge almost three years to issue his decision following the end of trial (November 2017). In my opinion, that’s unconscionable, unjust, and unfair. I keep asking myself the same question: if this judge genuinely believed that the evidence showed that CollegeAmerica was harming Colorado consumers – how could he have possibly waited three years after the trial to take action?

In January of 2020 and May of 2020 Carl Barney and I respectively, filed personal complaints with the Colorado Commission on Judicial Review. In our complaints, we cited one of the grounds for judicial discipline which is: “willful or persistent failure to perform judicial duties, including incompetent performance of judicial duties”. The Commission acknowledged the judge’s delay and reviewed his ongoing delay three times – eventually issuing a reprimand to the judge (which is a serious action). Eventually, the judge issued his decision – but he did so at 4:30am on the very same day in August that the Commission was scheduled to review his ongoing delay again. In my opinion – these facts raises serious concerns as to whether the decision was tainted with retaliation.

I mentioned earlier that with any “style” there are advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages about leaning toward “more” transparency is the risk that employees (who may not be fully committed to the organization) may take information that is supposed to remain internal and inappropriately share it outside of our CEHE family with malicious intent. Sadly, this has happened recently. Despite the notice at the bottom of every email I send to all employees (This message is for the designated recipient(s) only and contains privileged, proprietary, or otherwise private information. If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete the original. Any other use, distribution, forwarding, or sharing of this email, in any way, by you, is strictly prohibitef)[sic] several of my recent emails to all of you have been shared with one of the authors of the attached letter, Mr. David Halperin. And I have to assume that whoever that employee is – they will likely share this email with Mr. Halperin again. Nothing before in my professional career has brought me more sadness. Honestly, it broke my heart to learn this.

So, let me say something else that you’ve heard me say over and over. If you’re not fully committed to CEHE, if you’re not fully committed to adhering to our values, if you’re not fully committed to our students, if you’re not fully committed to supporting your fellow employees, and if you have any doubts whatsoever about the integrity of this organization and the work we do – I implore you to leave! You’ll be better off somewhere else and this organization will be better off without you. It’s a win-win!

And for everyone else – keep focusing on our students! Do everything you can to serve them and make them successful! CEHE is a great organization, filled with amazing people, who care passionately about our students and each other. If we all work tirelessly every day to serve students and to continuously strive to improve what we do – we will overcome whatever challenges come our way.

Sincerely,

Eric

Eric S. Juhlin | CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER