They say Mills misled students by encouraging them to stay enrolled and saying final degrees would be conferred in 2023 instead of this year
By ANNIE SCIACCA | email@example.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: May 13, 2022 at 2:04 p.m. | UPDATED: May 13, 2022 at 4:18 p.m.
OAKLAND — Just weeks before Mills College is to officially be taken over by Boston’s Northeastern University, two of its students have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming they and other students have been deceived about the merger.
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court this week, accuses Mills of violating the state’s unfair competition and false advertising laws by encouraging students to stay enrolled and telling them final degrees likely would be conferred in 2023.
The college later announced it would confer its last degrees this year and reduce the number of degree programs, according to the suit. Mills is holding an undergraduate graduation ceremony Saturday
For students like Willa Cordrey, a plaintiff in the case, Mills’ move to confer its last degrees a year earlier led to lost money, according to the suit.
In 2019, Cordrey started a Mills program that would have allowed her to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and a teaching credential in five years. School officials told her after Mills announced it was closing that she could finish her degree program, so she re-enrolled . But in January, Mills announced it was eliminating programs that Northeastern did not offer, including Cordrey’s.
“Mills College repeatedly misled Ms. Cordrey about her ability to graduate and get her teaching credential through Mills College, before finally stating that the best they could do is allow her to receive her Bachelor’s in Communications or a similarly unrelated major through Northeastern University, with no path to receive her teaching credential,” law firms Bryan Schwartz Law and Nichols Kaster, PLLP said in a statement about the suit they filed.
“I wanted to learn how to teach at Mills, because I felt that my classes and professors were preparing me to be the kind of teacher I wanted to be. I did everything I could to complete my education at Mills,” Cordrey said in the law firm’s written statement. “The administration had an obligation to their current students, and they have failed us.”
Asked for comment on the lawsuit, a Mills spokesperson issued a statement that said “Mills College and Northeastern University are working diligently to mitigate any issues that Mills students may encounter as a result of the pending merger of the two institutions.”
School leaders maintain that students will not have to pay more to complete their degrees as the schools merge, even if they have to take longer to finish their courses because of different requirements from accrediting bodies.
The suit’s other plaintiff, Jenny Varner, was on track to graduate from Mills in May 2023 with degrees in art history and history and planned to stick it out after initial emails from the college administration assured students Mills wouldn’t stop conferring degrees until after the spring 2023 semester. It was only later that she received word from the college that she could not complete her degrees, and it was too late to get a tuition refund for the semester she had just started, Varner alleged in a statement about the suit.
The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages for Cordrey and Varner, as well as other Mills students if the court approves the class-action status of the case.
It’s not the first time Mills has been sued over its controversial decision to cease operations as a standalone college and merge with Northeastern. Mills alumnae previously sued the college in an effort to stop the takeover, but the case but an undisclosed settlement was reached earlier this year.
Groups of former and current Mills students and others have been engaged in efforts and campaigns to stop the merger. They insist administrators have mischaracterized Mills’ financial status to justify its “acquisition” by Northeastern.
Mills’ administration has described the college’s financial picture as “dire,” and announced last year that Northeastern “will assume all of Mills’ financial assets, liabilities, and contractual obligations.”
“Students believed in Mills’ mission, values, and progressive reputation as a historic women’s liberal arts college, and have sacrificed and spent hard‐earned money to come here. Instead, they suffered a shocking level of mismanagement and misinformation by this administration,” Cynthia Mahood
Levin, a Mills alumna and president of the Save Mills College Coalition, said in a separate written statement.