In an effort to add new programs to meet the needs and interests of students and faculty, many colleges and universities will admit students to programs that are still in the process of seeking the necessary accreditation. The typical expectation is that such programs will have gained the required accreditation by the time the students have completed their course of study. However, a recent Ohio case is a good reminder that schools must remain diligent in the timely pursuit of all mandatory accreditations or risk litigation with students who feel they were harmed by the failure of the school to provide its most basic product - a degree that is recognized by all appropriate licensing bodies and generally in the marketplace
A recent decision from the Ohio Tenth Appellate District (Patel v. The University of Toledo) highlights the legal exposure a school may face if it fails to timely obtain all of the necessary accreditations for a particular program. In the Patel case, a nursing student alleged that the Dean stated on the first day of classes that the nursing program would be accredited by the time of the inaugural class’s graduation. The prediction by the Dean turned out to be not accurate.
On appeal, the court stated that the Dean’s assertion that the nursing program would be accredited before the first student graduated from the program created a genuine issue of material fact that would allow the trial court to consider (i) whether the student justifiably relied on the Dean to her detriment, (ii) whether the Dean or other school personnel committed fraud, and (iii) whether the school was liable for negligent misrepresentation about the timing of the accreditation of the program.
Going forward, all schools should be careful not to have school personnel make statements that can be construed as guarantees of outcomes over which the school does not have the ability to control.
If you have further questions about this ruling, please contact the author of this alert or a member of our Higher Education Team.