Inside the Lawsuit Against GW for Fraud in Online Master’s Program

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

On April 7, 2016, a group of former students sued George Washington University alleging fraud in the promotion and delivery of its online master’s degree in Security and Safety Leadership.  This presentation will lay out the specifics of the case and examine what is at stake for online education.


Linda K. Enghagen is an attorney and Professor in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. An early entrant into distance education, her teaching career began in 1984 when she first taught Engineering Law & Ethics in the university’s video-based distance education program. In 1990, she became the first woman awarded the Outstanding Instructor Award from National Technological University. She is also the recipient of three outstanding teaching awards from the University of Massachusetts. Professor Enghagen’s early involvement in distance education led to her work related to legal literacy in the issues of the information age. In particular, this led to her interest in copyright law as it relates to educational settings. She serves as a Copyright Law Research Specialist for the Online Learning Consortium and regularly offers online workshops for them in relation to copyright compliance in educational settings. Her scholarly contributions related to intellectual property are directed to the needs of faculty members including two books, Technology and Higher Education: Approaching the 21st Century and Fair Use Guidelines for Educators, as well as numerous articles such as Plagiarism: Intellectual Dishonesty, Violation of Law or Both?, Fair Use in an Electronic World and Copyright Law and Fair Use—Why Ignorance Isn’t Bliss. She has created pamphlets and brochures about copyright law such as Copyright Compliance Made Simple: Six Rules for Course Design, Educators, Technology and the Law: Common Questions/Direct Answers and Legal Literacy in the Information Age: Ten (easy to understand) Rules of Thumb. In addition, she has been a guest commentator on a local NPR affiliate where she discussed copyright piracy in a piece entitled Napster Worries Me. In addition to regularly delivering conference presentations related to copyright issues, Professor Enghagen is a frequent speaker at workshops, seminars and symposia on copyright law in higher education.

Extended Abstract

In a lawsuit that asserts repeated instances of disconnects between what was promised and what was delivered, four former students filed a class action lawsuit against George Washington University (GW).  The students claim that GW violated the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act and engaged in both fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation resulting in unjust enrichment to GW at the students’ expense.  At the heart of the lawsuit, the students’ claims include that the program was advertised as being identical to the on-campus program though specifically designed for online delivery with instructors who are specialists in online teaching.  According to the lawsuit, none of this was true.  Further, the students claim the program was advertised as an accredited program receiving accolades from its alumni.  Again, the lawsuit asserts none of this was true.  Yet other allegations in the lawsuit focus on the assertion that while the on-campus and online versions of the program purport to be essentially identical, the online program is more costly than its on-campus counterpart; that in many instances faculty members failed to respond to students for weeks at a time; and some faculty members demonstrated a lack of familiarity with the subject matter.  At this stage, the lawsuit is just that – a lawsuit with many as of yet unproven allegations.  Nevertheless, the questions raised are important to understand as the integrity of online education as a medium lies in its cross-hairs. 

This presentation will examine the central allegations of the lawsuit as well as its implications for online education.