Three dozen former Ph.D. students enrolled in Pacifica Graduate Institute's clinical psychology program filed a lawsuit last month stating that the school misrepresented its accreditation status, which left them saddled with student loan debt but no job prospects.
The lawsuit was filed Sept. 25 in Santa Barbara Superior Court, and the complaint states that the students were interested in graduating from a school accredited by the American Psychological Association, and that the school claimed to be so in order to recruit them.
The former students are suing the institute for negligent and intentional misrepresentation, concealment and unfair business practices, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs say they were told that the school was accredited or that it would be "any day," the complaint states, adding that "the students reported that they would be 'grandfathered' in when the school received accreditation, a matter which was not 'if but when.'"
The school charges annual tuition ranging from $18,864 to $25,965, and because APA accreditation takes six to eight years, "by the time they realized no APA accreditation would be forthcoming, they were heavily in debt — most over $150,000," the complaint said.
Most of the plaintiffs were many years into their Ph.D. programs and without the ability to transfer more than half a semester's worth of units should they leave PGI, the complaint states.
Attorney Eric Woosley, who is representing the former students, said that many of his clients are now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt with no job prospects.
"We were shocked to learn how long the misrepresentations regarding APA accreditation had been going on," he told Noozhawk. "We have clients going back for more than a decade that were told that Pacifica would obtain APA accreditation any day. That was years before Pacifica had even applied for APA accreditation."
But officials at Pacifica said the institute has always been forthcoming about its accreditation status.
“It always pains us to hear when a student is dissatisfied," said Erik Davis, director of communications for Pacifica. "For more than 35 years, Pacifica Graduate Institute has designed our degree programs around the success of our graduates."
Davis said that all of the school's graduate degree programs are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and that the school's Ph.D. and Psy.D. Clinical Psychology programs satisfy the requirements for licensure in California and many other states.
"Information about the accreditation statuses of our programs is readily available to our students and to the public," he said, adding that the institute is proud of its standard of education and the programs it provides. "We have always been forthright about our APA accreditation status, and we are confident that our clinical psychology programs provide our graduates with knowledge and skills sought after by employers across the country."