(Editor’s Note: We received this letter in response to a story that we ran this week about Bridgepoint Education/Ashford University laying off hundred of employees here in the San Diego area. Our premise for the original story was that Bridgepont/Ashford was just another in a long series of morally bankrupt corporations that have been touted as the darlings of the San Diego establishment. Our correspondent, who for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous, certainly does a good job of making the case for us.)
As a former employee of Ashford University, I am very upset with the way we were treated, lied to and disposed of by a company that found legal loop holes in the system that allowed them to take advantage of 450 people.
I was hired early in the summer and was told that we should not worry about the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) denial of the company’s application for accreditation, and that Ashford had already started making corrections to get the approval the next time around.
At the end of my training I was assured by the president of talent acquisition and recruiting that, as long as we dedicated a year in the admissions counselor (AC) position, Ashford would give us the opportunity to prove our selves as being able to perform the job to their minimum expectation, which was enrolling 2 students each week and a 53% ‘lead to contract’ ratio (among other factors).
When I started the AC position I was told this was not a sales position, but it turned out to be just that. The expectation was when you got a prospective student on the phone to get them to enroll that week, whether they were ready to start or not. Managers would listen to the phone calls and tell you things to say to persuade the person to either enroll with the school or to leave their current school and come to Ashford because what we had was “better”.
A week before the layoff, 200 hundred employees that had been with Ashford for more then 6 months were sent an email telling them they would be offered ‘student inquiry coordinator’ positions. They were given the option of taking the new position at the same starting pay rate as Admission Counselors or leaving the company.
Of course everyone not wanting to be unemployed took the offer. Now they were considered Bridgepoint employees and no longer working for Ashford. This offer was made to these employees because they were covered under the Cal WARN act and would have to be given a 60 day warning of the layoff.
Since Ashford needed to decrease the admissions department by December as part of the accreditation process, these employees needed new job descriptions by then so that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) investigation into the University’s operations would show that the schools was making required changes.
The Wednesday prior to the layoff all admissions counselors were sent an email requiring us to attend a meeting where the new positions with the company would be explained, how we were selected and how this change would affect our jobs as ACs. During this meeting they did not say anything about a layoff; in fact they told us that this change would make our jobs easier.
They said the employees were selected for the change because they had a good lead to contact ratio. This turned out not to be the case because the employees selected were covered under the WARN act. No employee moved to the student inquiry position had less then 6 months (the cut-off under State law) with the company.
On Thursday I received a mandatory benefits meeting request, where my qualification for benefits were explained to me and was told how I could apply for them. On Friday evening I was given another mandatory meeting request, stating more changes would be explained.
Everyone who received this particular email had less then six months with Ashford. At that Monday meeting, the Vice President of Human resources told us that we were selected simply because our hire date was later than April 2, 2012. We were then told we were being laid off because the Admissions Counselor position was being eliminated effective September 24, 2012. She also stated that they would be providing us with a severance benefits package.
The catch to this benefits package was that we had to sign and return a copy of the Admissions Counselor Reduction Program Wavier and Release form. Without this form we would be given nothing. Ashford wanted each employee to waive their rights under specific labor laws specified in the release letter, and to agree not to bring any law suit of wrong-doing because of this action. In addition, the letter stated that we agree that the letter does not put any admission of guilt on Ashford having violating our rights.
I believe Ashford University knowingly found loop holes in the labor laws that allowed then to offer employees who were covered under the WARN act options to different employment opportunities and to dispose of those who where not covered under the act. The release form is Ashford’s way of protecting themselves from any additional law suits and, in turn, they will pay off those who will agree to the terms listed in the release letter.