Interview: Kate Welenc, Business Student At Webster University London, Recounts Fraud, Illegal Practices
Below is an exclusive CollegeTimes interview with Kate Welenc, an undergraduate student in the International Business Management program at Webster University : London campus, known locally as Regents American College London (located at the campus of Regent’s University London). After CollegeTimes revealed rampant fraud and corruption going on at the Webster University Thailand campus earlier this year, Webster administrators in St. Louis slandered our team and threatened us, claiming we were a “libelous platform” after they discovered the SLAPP lawsuit filed against us back in 2012 by for-profit Neumont University (which was recently thrown out this month). Soon after our report on WUT, it came to light that Webster’s London campus was in the midst of its own scandal after dozens of American students were cut off from their U.S. federal financial aid in 2014 after the U.S. government discovered Webster’s apparently illegal partnership with Regent’s; Webster hid this fact from WUL students and decided to provide temporary tuition “grants” in late 2014, presumably to avoid massive dropouts… the “funds” were quietly announced in an undated, unsigned, and vaguely worded letter in which WUSTL administrators referred students to a 67-word blog post to “find answers to many of your questions” – a page which, in fact, merely declared that unspecified Regent’s programs had recently been approved for U.S. Title IV financial aid. Subsequently, Webster St. Louis announced that the contract with Regent’s University would be terminated by the end of 2016, yet then waited until April 2015 to tell American students at WUL that they should seek out “private student loans” if they wanted to complete their London studies on time. We decided to reach out to WUL students for a complete breakdown of the situation, which they were more than happy to provide.
Update 5/8/2015: Another WUL student, Mehran Karim, who was responsible for creating this change.org petition has forwarded us additional information regarding his nightmare experience at Webster University London (now a guest post).
Update 5/24/2015: Welenc has updated our team that Webster London has confirmed that they won’t send any transcripts to “grad schools” until their (illegal) private loan schemes are paid off in full. Says Welenc, “With the ‘deal’ they have for us – of which I can not disclose too many details without being in trouble as that was part of the terms of the contract – they did not mention sending transcripts for graduate school, only for employers and visa applications IF payments are current. This is the email response I just got: ‘The agreement does not provide any exceptions for deferment or provide for the early release of your transcript for graduate school. You always have the option for early payment, and you have the option to not make the agreement.’ So basically I can not get my Masters degree until the full [private Webster loan] amount is repaid which is over a TEN YEAR payment plan… they state that I have the option to repay ‘early’, but added to all my other loans I do not see that as a reasonable possibility. Nor do I have the ‘option’ of not taking the agreement as you know my situation and lack of options. Preventing someone from furthering their education is shameful… I am outraged.”
From my understanding, you first attended the (for-profit) American Intercontinental University from 2011, but the school was sold in 2013 to Regent’s University London, a non-profit British institution. Why were you (business students) absorbed by Webster University, rather than Regent’s, and what was the understanding between the students and organizations during this seemingly complicated transition as far as courses, credits, accreditation, etc? Furthermore, are you familiar with Webster’s presence in London prior to the absorption of AIU students?
Since AIU was an American school in London (but also giving a British accreditation) when Regent’s bought it they offered the business students who had some time left in their studies into their American program since that would give us the most transferred credits. Students who had only a semester left at AIU did a teach-out online program and did not have to transfer if they did not want to. Regent’s has three business schools in one, (RBS) Regent’s Business School, (EBS) European Business School and (RACL) Regent’s American College London (I think it is important to note that when Regent’s attempted to get their American accreditation, they were awarded it in both RBS and EBS schools… RACL was the only one to get denied because of the current Webster affiliation). Through RACL all of our credits transferred as at least credits, but not all were able to transfer as core classes or gen-ed credits. Which is fine since this can happen when anyone transfers, as different schools can have different guidelines for their curriculum.
We had the option to transfer to RBS too (maybe EBS as well, I am not sure of that one) but there was a significant difference in the amount of total credits transferred so most of us went to the RACL program which is the partnership with Webster. Their partnership for RACL is that we are ‘technically’ Webster students, but we study at the Regent’s campus in London. Though this is a unique situation since we have Regent’s ID cards and we have both Webster and Regent’s ID numbers with access to both universities’ e-vision portals. It can be quite confusing sometimes because for certain things we address at Regent’s and others we have to address with Webster. Financial aid is one we address with Webster.
But back to your question; when we first transferred there was some confusion about whether or not we would get a dual degree, though in the end (since that what we all signed up to AIU for) they (being RACL) got the ability to do both. I have heard speculation that things were not handled appropriately during the sale of [AIU], as AIU had knowingly taken in new students all the while finalizing this deal to sell [the school to Regent’s], but I do not know as much about that situation as I do with this one so it is hard to comment further on it. I had not heard of Webster in London before this situation but I had heard of Regent’s before. It was a very unsettling time and all I really knew when this was going on, is that I could still get FAFSA funding for my tuition, I could still get my dual degree, I would pretty much get all the credits I had done so far transferred; they would handle the paperwork so we didn’t have to actually re-apply to get accepted into the school or any such thing and we would get the same tuition cost as AIU with a 4% yearly inflation till we graduated as Regent’s tuition was more than AIU’s had been. Things were happening quite fast back then, so at the time this was all good enough for me.
How would you compare your experience studying at AIU with that of Webster London? Does the London campus “feel” like a Webster University campus, or is it so intertwined with Regent’s University (physically, or otherwise) that the lines are blurred? Is it not very strange that a for-profit college was purchased by a “non-profit” college?
To be honest I much prefer going here than AIU, and by ‘here’ I mean Regent’s. It does not feel like a Webster school at all in my personal opinion. In fact unless you are in Webster personnel’s office (they have Webster people on site to help handle certain aspects that Webster would be in charge of) you won’t see much to do about Webster. There are no signs or posters about, no Webster items sold in the school shops etc. etc. So I would for sure say lines are blurred. Even during this whole situation a lot of students didn’t know who to turn to or who was responsible and it took me a bit of digging to find out who held responsibility for financial aid in their contract.
As far as your last part to the question, from what I understand, Regent’s wanted to expand their portfolio and AIU had quite a known fashion department and that is really what they were interested in; that and the Marlebone campus they got in the deal as well. Regent’s already has quite a business prospect so we were a mere bonus. Other than that, pertaining to a non-profit buying a for-profit school I am not entirely sure, as I said that was already quite a confusing time for all of us at AIU.
You mentioned that “in July 2014 Webster got a letter stating that they had to cease all federal funding to the London campus because we never should have been given FAFSA through the type of partnership Webster had with Regent’s”. This may be a “pandora’s box” question, but can you briefly explain what brought this situation on, and where it currently stands? To your knowledge, if Webster was breaking U.S. federal guidelines on financial aid, how were they able to get away with it for nearly 20 years?
Here is what I can say about this. Regent’s and Webster have been partners for 20 years. In the meeting I had with the Financial Aid Director [James Meyers] he said they got the letter in July 2014 saying they had to cease all funding to the London campus due to a ‘compliance’ issue. The ‘never should have been given to the London campus’ statement came from a credible source that I cannot publicly name and was due to a technicality but other than that I am not too sure myself how it went on for so long. I got the feeling like maybe Webster did not know this somehow and this may be true, but that does not excuse their responsibility to us or all the tens of thousands [of dollars] we paid them in loans to this far. It is their responsibility to keep up with government regulations and it never should have got to this point.
I did hear a story about how the Financial Aid Director knew this was coming before the letter was officially given in July, but this was from a less credible source and so will only go further into that story off the record. Needless to say I am sure that a lawyer could get access to all this information, which is something I am looking into as we speak. For now it currently stands that we will not be getting FAFSA loans of any kind for the rest of the ‘teach out program’ we are now all in through Webster and RACL since Webster has broken contract with Regent’s (I am not clear on why exactly they did that). I know that Regent’s is still trying to get their own American accreditation and I am also not entirely clear as to why they were denied in their first attempt recently.
Author’s Note: At the time of article publication, Webster’s web page regarding their London campus programs reads as follows:
Webster University London will not be accepting new undergraduate students into degree-granting programs at the current Webster London location at this time. We will also not be accepting new graduate students in this location after the Spring 2015 semester start in January 2015. We will be seeking a new London location and partner for students to study at in 2017. However, Webster University students may continue to study abroad at this location and enroll in Webster’s robust online programs.
You said that “Many of us were not aware of [the suspended U.S. federal financial aid] at the time  as they simply stated the funds are just coming through in another way this year, as stated in the ‘Webster letter’ I have attached. A few weeks ago we were all told that the grants will no longer be available and we can no longer receive FAFSA at this campus as well as student plus loans through the government. When looking online at my FAFSA statements it shows that FAFSA has not been taken out since May 2014. So the previous grants were ‘free’ money but that does not resolve the University’s responsibility of for us. The solution offered to me (everyone) was to get a private loan for the amount I need to continue school.” Do you feel that Webster purposefully mislead students to prevent them from transferring out while they had the chance? Are you currently able to transfer out? Why or why not? What other hardships has this situation caused you or other London campus students?
The review I sent on your site was a copy of the letter I had sent to a variety of people and so did not actually have the Webster letter attached, my apologies for that I should have edited it. But in this letter they state that “The amount of funding will be unchanged, but it will now just come from a different source. And funds are being made available to ensure that your education and student experience remain unaffected.” Obviously neither of which is the current case for me. It would certainly seem that Webster had waited until the very last minute to inform us of the trouble since they got the notice in July 2014 which has been almost a year since. I am not able to transfer now because my Visa is expiring in Oct 2016 which would be my 5 year cap (as previously mentioned after AIU my graduation was pushed back) — when I recently looked into similar schools with comparable curriculum standards I would still go over at least one semester from my Visa expiration date to graduate. I could have transferred back when we came from AIU, but again I was told that Webster would offer everything I needed to continue in the same standard I had been. Now Webster London is my only option for graduating with the dual degree I paid for. There are many students who rely on FAFSA loans who now can’t get funding, as well as there are students who applied to Webster/Regent’s in August of last year and came over in September thinking they could get their funding and signed year leases in flats only to be told after they have arrived that this will no longer be the case and in the timeline you can see that Webster was already aware of this and could have stopped them before they made all the commitments and paid to fly over here.
As an undergraduate student at the University of California, I was able to study abroad twice at both a public university in Spain and a private university in Korea, using my FAFSA funds which were disbursed directly to my UC campus. Instead of finding “study abroad” partners, it sounds like Webster has been trying to profit by “self-accrediting” (“validating” as Regent’s calls it) the multi-year programs at Regent’s University despite the academics, professors, and campus all being British. This not only violates U.S. federal aid statutes, but also creates a Catch-22 situation where Webster is now unable to abide by FAFSA disbursement regulations. What are your thoughts on this, and how many American students have been effected by this mess?
Yes this also seems to be the case. All the teachers in the RACL program are in fact Regent’s employed and Regent’s is the one to set up all curriculums with the ‘approval’ of Webster. It should also be noted that in the paperwork filed by Webster to the Federal Government i.e. FAFSA forms, we are listed as Webster students and so there was no way of knowing that we were actually going to be in London at a campus not owned by Webster (as their other campuses are). Furthermore funds for the RACL program other than FAFSA loans i.e. cash c/c or any loans that are from other countries are directly paid to Regent’s and they then give Webster commission on them, so it would appear that Webster has been making money on students that aren’t from the US as well. I know that they have been partners for 20 years but I am not sure if the regulations have always been the same, I know Tier 4 started in the UK in 2009 so the ‘compliance issue’ has been going on for at least that long. But again I am not too familiar with the statutes and the dates of amendments. This is all Webster’s responsibility, and one would think that at some point in that time, someone would have had an idea of this if anyone was doing their job.
Whatever the behind the scenes reasons for this, we are where we are now and this has really been adversely affecting me personally and my studies. I overcame many inner and outer obstacles to get where I am today. I have fought my way to a chance at a better life than what was originally dealt to me; to have it taken away through no fault of my own is really unsettling. It is currently the end of the semester and as I’m sure you remember this is when work piles up and then you have finals which are naturally stressful for any student. I have an SSA (student support agreement) with Regent’s which is basically registering a disability or handicap. My SSA makes my studies more difficult than most and they get more difficult with added stress. Since the news of this situation became public I have been in a constant state of anxiety and my work over the last week has suffered. There is a saying that there are only two things certain in this world, but if you have sought higher education through US loans then you know this becomes three; death, taxes and student loans. In the US even if you become bankrupt your student loans do not disappear so it can be a scary risk to put yourself in so much debt on the bet that you will financially succeed after. I have literally put all my eggs in this one basket and if it will not be completed than I have put myself in $100,000 debt without the education I paid for, which keeps me up at night and has been all my focus for weeks. I am a good student and I get good grades. I just want when I was told I could have and what I paid for. There are anywhere from 30-50 students affected by this development to various crippling degrees.
Regarding the FAFSA lapse, it sounds like Webster has not only systematically lied to you and caused you to enter into contracts based on false pretenses, but has also possibly committed financial aid fraud in the United States. Specifically, are you able to name both the Webster University and/or Regent’s University London representatives who have been responsible for these various misrepresentations?
This is exactly what it sounds like happened. But unfortunately I do not know the names of those responsible. My assumption though is that it falls on Webster for not abiding by the federal regulations and Regent’s for the fact that it seems they did not keep updated tabs on whom they were in business with.
Briefly, what did your meeting with Webster University officials on 13 April 2015 in London entail? What was their proposal to you, and/or to other American students, for solving this situation? Specifically, what options did they offer in regard to finance, transferring, completing your “dual” British degree, or otherwise? To date, have you reached an agreement with Webster officials?
Below is their solution to ‘our’ problem. I do not feel that their remedy is proportionate to the situation they’ve caused me and others. At the very end there is a statement about collateral for this “credit due” and it raises many questions for me. What guarantee can they give me that in the whole of the “ten years” they will always provide my transcripts in a timely fashion to either a prospected employer or boarder agency for a Visa, to where it will never adversely affect me? And if by chance there is a mistake down the road and it costs me a potential job or Visa, what then? They mention that they will [only] do this, proving that payments are current. With student loans if we do not have a job we can go in to deferment, they mention nothing of this. So are they saying that if I either can’t find a job in the 30 days they give us after graduation to start paying it back or lose my job in the future for some unknown reason and therefore fall behind on my payments, if I then [receive a job offer dependent on] my transcripts or need a Visa for the same reason… they will not provide them? Keeping me from being able to fix the situation? I am extremely weary of this condition and have little faith that this will be nothing more than a ten year headache and hassle for a circumstance THEY caused. I find it utterly ridiculous and disgusting that we will have paid over $100,000 in loans for this degree, completed the academic requirements and yet it could be ten years before we are able to receive the very bit that matters. I waited a long time to be able to complete my education and I wanted nothing more than to be proud of the name on my diploma.
Author’s note: The below excerpts from Webster’s April 2015 email “overview” sent to American WUL students were verified by CollegeTimes. The section in red was also similarly colored in the original email. Note the affiliate link to private student loans that Webster is recommending to their stranded London students, which likely earns Webster a commission for any student who decides to sign up for the private loans.
- To support our students, Webster University has decided for those who wish to complete our academic programs at Regents by the end of the Fall 2016 semester, we would allow students to have access to funding equivalent to the Federal Student Loan eligibility based on enrollment in each term not including Federal PLUS loans. For undergraduate students, those who are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant, the equivalent will be considered.
- The equivalent funding will become a balance due on your Webster University student account after funding is disbursed for each semester of eligibility with a signed payment agreement.
- Repayment of the balance due to Webster University will begin thirty days after your last course or graduation
- The repayment term is ten years (120 months) with payments divided equally without interest (no penalty for early repayment)
- Students will be eligible to receive their Webster University diploma
- Official academic transcripts will not be available until your student account has been paid. However an official academic transcript will be available (if payments are current) for those who need it for employment or visas (will be sent directly to the agencies only).
Please remember an additional loan option available to you is a private education loan. The link to our recommend lender list is https://choice.fastproducts.org/FastChoice/home/252100/1 for your convenience as a financial aid resource for your Webster University degree in London as we teach out the Webster University academic programs at Regent’s University.
8. Lastly, why did you choose to pursue a “dual” British/American degree in the first place? What advantages are there to possessing such a degree, and/or why did you settle on the United Kingdom for your studies? Do you have any advice for other students out there looking to pursue a similar “dual” degree, or who wish to study abroad while attending a private college (re: accreditation, finance, or otherwise)?
I had wanted to live in England since I can remember. I have always been fascinated with the history here. I have a church up the street that was consecrated in 1096! You just can’t get that in the US. The dual degree was something I stumbled on when looking into schools. I was limited on where I could go as my high school days were not my best. Things have changed a lot since then, I work hard to overcome my obstacles and I fluctuate from a lowest 3.2 to my highest 3.6 GPA now. The dual degree was something that was not an option back in the US and since I want to continue to live abroad and travel and learn, having both British and American accreditation could not hurt my chances for success. I would certainly hope that other students do not read this and decide not to go abroad. Bad things happen and we do what we can to right a wrong, such is life. But this place has become my home and I love everything Europe has to offer. I would however firmly suggest that any student reading this will make sure to know their rights. Education is a right. YOU HAVE RIGHTS. Do not let an establishment tell you otherwise. Do your research on schools, make sure you know your options for finance, because you could end up a river without a paddle, and most importantly, if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t, so don’t be afraid to look into it.