As many as 800 Minnesota nurses will receive thousands of dollars in refunds from an Indiana test prep company accused of bilking them as they sought to advance their careers.
The College Network Inc. marketed itself to licensed practical nurses by offering financing and a quick path to becoming registered nurses, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said Monday. But when money was due for the nurses' exam fees, the company either delayed payments by months or didn't pay at all.
"What they promised, they didn't deliver," Swanson said.
Many licensed practical nurses seek to become RNs, who typically earn higher pay and have more autonomy in patient care. But studying and testing for the degree can be a challenge for nurses who are already working and caring for families.
College Network's solution offered expediency and flexibility: For as much as $4,000 it said it would provide preparation booklets so nurses could enroll in an online school in New York, and that it would pay the fees for equivalency exams that would allow nurses to test out of many required courses.
In many cases, nurses couldn't afford the fees up front, so College Network arranged financing that came with annual interest rates of 12 to 15 percent, Swanson said.
Michelle Wacker, 41, of Sauk Rapids, agreed to a loan to cover the $12,000 in costs that she was told were needed to complete College Network's program and progress toward an RN degree.
A single mother of two who works in a cancer center, Wacker said she couldn't leave her job, so the College Network approach made sense.
Problems surfaced last year when College Network took nine months to "send me my own money to take the exams that I had already paid for with a loan," she said in an affidavit.
By the time the check arrived, Wacker said she couldn't remember what she had studied. Meanwhile, she was paying $281 each month for the loan and getting no closer to a degree.
Swanson on Monday announced a court injunction that temporarily forbids College Network from selling its program in Minnesota and requires the company to repay students within seven days of their refund requests.
College Network did not reply to a request for comment on the case Monday morning.
The case is continuing in Anoka County District Court. Swanson said she wants to determine whether the company was intentionally deceptive and should pay civil penalties.
Wacker did take a couple of exams with late-arriving checks, and said College Network's test prep materials weren't helpful. She never did take the exam.
Wacker said she hopes the court ruling might provide some financial relief and a second chance at becoming an RN. "I kind of feel like a sucker," she said Monday after her nursing shift. "I should have checked into it a little bit better."