Business

School chain agrees to pay Mass. $3.75m to settle claims

The Salter chain of schools has agreed to pay the state $3.75 million to resolve claims that it used deceptive enrollment tactics, and state officials are now reviewing whether the school will remain an official job training provider through the state’s unemployment office.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office announced the settlement Friday after its investigation of the school found that Salter used dubious marketing tactics and false promises to lure students into health-related training programs. About 600 students who attended Salter College in West Boylston and the Salter School in Fall River and New Bedford will be eligible for student loan relief through the settlement.

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The Salter chain is owned by Premier Education Group LP, based in East Haven, Conn., which operates for-profit certificate and associate degree programs at schools throughout New England, under a variety of names. Salter management said in a press release that the chain disputed the allegations, but did not elaborate.

“We want to move forward with our business in Massachusetts and other states,” said spokeswoman Nancy Sterling, from ML Strategies LLC, a Boston public relations firm hired by the school. “That’s why we agreed to a settlement.”

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The attorney general’s office said the chain claimed to have a selective admissions process and misrepresented the historical job placement success of students studying to become medical assistants and billing and coding and health claims specialists.

“In fact, Salter is an open enrollment school with limited admission standards beyond a high school diploma . . . and the ability to pay tuition or have access to federal student loans,” the attorney general’s press release said.

Sterling said the school is not “open enrollment” because prospective students are required to interview with staff and achieve a passing score on the “Wonderlic” aptitude test.

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Erica Roach of Worcester, who graduated from Salter’s with an associate’s degree as a medical assistant in 2011, said she attended the West Boylston program, located in a shopping plaza near a Walmart.

She has about $18,000 in student loans she must repay for her schooling, but has not been able to find a job in her field. Roach said school officials promised help but didn’t follow through.

“They promised me they wouldn’t leave me until I had a job,” she said. “They tell a lot of lies.”

Sterling said Salter had taken significant steps to help students facing problems, including offering current and former students career counseling beginning in 2015, as part of its agreement with the attorney general’s office. The school also announced that it would change its admissions and placement practices.

Salter’s training programs have been recommended by the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, including its medical billing and coding program in West Boylston. Department officials said Friday they were considering how to proceed.

“In light of the settlement with the AG’s office, the Department of Career Services is currently reviewing Salter Schools’ compliance with performance requirements,” a spokeswoman for the department said in a statement.

In the last two years, attorney general’s office filed lawsuits against several for-profit colleges for deceptive advertising tactics, including Corinthian Colleges Inc., which operates the Everest Institute, and American Career Institute, over alleged misrepresentation to prospective and current students.

In 2013, the office reached a $425,000 settlement with Sullivan & Cogliano Training Centers Inc. in Brockton, for making misleading claims about its medical field training programs.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @megwoolhouse.
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