Shawn Cooper, an Air Force veteran, said he was twice given approval for his dissertation project at Capella and worked on it for months, only to be told that he needed to start over with a new topic. He said he was forced to leave, despite a 4.0 grade-point average.
Mr. Cooper says he owes more than $100,000 in student loans after his time at Capella. â€œAt the end of the day, I feel like itâ€™s all just a facade on their end,â€ he said. â€œGet people in, take their money and get them out, usually without anything to show for it.â€
A lawsuit was filed against Capella seeking class-action status for students like Mr. Cooper who say the school intentionally and needlessly prolonged their doctoral programs, costing them tens of thousands of dollars. Last year, a judge allowed three counts in the suit to continue, all regarding the time it took a â€œtypicalâ€ student to complete programs, but dismissed most other counts, including those about how long the programs were â€œdesignedâ€ or â€œstructuredâ€ to take.
Strategic Education officials did not reply to requests for comment.
Angela Selden, the chief executive of American Public Education Inc., which owns American Public University and American Military University, told investors that the company has started spending part of its marketing budget originally earmarked for later this year. â€œThe pandemic has created an unexpected opportunity,â€ Ms. Selden said.
Wallace Boston, the president of American Publicâ€™s two universities, said both schools offered a high-quality education. â€œPeople who are critical of the sector on a whole tend to be looking at things on the surface, and marketing is one of the things they pick on the most,â€ Mr. Boston said. â€œI donâ€™t think that those critics are justified unless they do their homework.â€
Relative to some other online-only institutions, the American Public University System is cheaper, at $6,880 a year in tuition and fees, and has higher graduation rates. Still, 22 percent of American Public Universityâ€™s 36,000-plus students graduate after eight years, according to the most recent federal data.