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Concordia students sue school over accreditation flap

CarlottJeffersis lead plaintiff lawsuit filed against ConcordiUniversity after school voluntarily withdrew from Council for AccreditatiCounseling Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

Carlotta Jefferson is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Concordia University after the school voluntarily withdrew from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) i Concordia had long boasted its accreditation by the (CACREP), and was fully accredited when the Master's class of 2013 enrolled, but the university withdrew from CACREP for financial reasons. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: April 1, 2013 11:51AM

When Chicago Public Schools teacher Carlotta Jefferson decided to seek a master’s degree in school counseling, she chose Concordia University in River Forest, where the program boasted approval by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs.

But that was in 2010. Today, Jefferson, 35, of South Deering, is the lead plaintiff among more than a dozen students suing the faith-based institution for refunds of their $20,000 tuition and other damages, saying Concordia gave up the nationally esteemed CACREP accreditation just as they were about to graduate, and allegedly concealed that fact.

“When we learned last fall that the accreditation was due to expire in October, students began asking about it. We were told not to worry, it would be renewed,” Jefferson said.

“Then in class one day, a student discovered the CACREP wording gone from the website.”

In a letter to students that a Concordia spokesman forwarded to the Sun-Times Wednesday, the university confirmed the accreditation, in place since 1996, had lapsed on Oct. 31; with Concordia deciding against pursuing the stringent and costly CACREP requirements.

It meant students in Concordia’s School Counseling Program who seek to become licensed professional counselors now are facing additional coursework; as are those who might seek to transfer into an alternate Concordia program, which still retains CACREP accreditation.

But plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court say no way.

Alleging breach of contract and violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, they seek punitive and compensatory damages, and a jury trial.

“This is a case about a blatant disregard of a relied upon promise,” the suit states.

“Adding insult to injury...Concordia concealed that information from their student consumers... Plaintiffs seek to recover damages for the harm they suffered...the university’s unfair decision...and its unfair conduct in concealing this important information from the Plaintiffs until it was too late for them to pursue other options.”

The plaintiffs enrolled in 2009 and 2010. All are slated to finish this May or December.

In her letter, Marilyn Reineck, senior vice president for academics and provost, expressed “very deep regret and apologies about the manner in which students became aware of the university’s decision.”

The school, part of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s 10-colleges Concordia University System, said it tried, unsuccessfully, to have current students grand-fathered by CACREP, and is offering students for free the additional coursework they now face,

“I have a nine-month-old child. I’m supposed to be finished in May. Prolonging the degree doesn’t work for me,” said Jefferson, a CPS teacher for nine years.

“Nor does transferring into another program. If I’d wanted to be a clinical mental health counselor, I would have enrolled in that program, not this one. [The] students’ main goal was to get the CACREP back, not to sue. I need my degree, and I don’t need a worthless one.”

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