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News10NBC Investigates: RIT suing for tuition and student loans

Berkeley Brean
Updated: November 25, 2019 11:34 PM
Created: November 25, 2019 06:17 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester Institute of Technology is suing for tuition and some student loans. 

News10NBC counted 159 lawsuits filed against former students in the last two years. That is more than every other college and university in New York State combined. 

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And it's a strategy that is getting News10NBC to ask the school—why? 

$1.2 million dollars.

That is the total amount of money RIT says it is owed by former students in the lawsuits, either in tuition or loans and RIT is trying to get the money by suing in New York State Supreme Court. 

"I was shocked," Noah Pfluke said. 

Pfluke was sued by RIT last March. The lawsuit says he owes RIT $11,476 in unpaid tuition from October 2018. 

"RIT has always been my dream school, since I was a junior," Pfluke said. 

Pfluke grew up near Utica. He got a scholarship to RIT but he also says he got disappointed with the school as a freshman. Too much class time he told me and not enough of the hands-on work that he wanted. So he admits—he started cutting class. 

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "Why do you think RIT thinks you owe $11,476?"

Noah Pfluke, sued by RIT for tuition: "They decided to pull the scholarship because they thought I wasn't going to class after a certain date. But I thought that scholarship money was promised no matter what."

Brean: "How are you going to handle this?" 

Pfluke: "I'm going to have to fight it I guess."

For the last three months, I have been tracking these cases.

From the start of the year to the end of October, I found 37 lawsuits by RIT against former students. In all of 2018, the number of complaints was 122. 

About half of the lawsuits want unpaid tuition. The other half go after unpaid federal loans called Perkins Loans. 

In that same period of time, following schools did not sue once: 

  • The University of Rochester
  • St. John Fisher College
  • Nazareth College
  • Roberts Wesleyan College
  • Cornell University
  • Ithaca College
  • St. Bonaventure University
  • Hobart William Smith Colleges
  • Clarkson University
  • St. Lawrence University
  • Le Moyne College

I searched 61 other private colleges and universities in New York State and there is no record of any them suing a former student over tuition. 

There is no record of any SUNY school suing a former student. 

On Oct. 9, I emailed RIT. 

My questions were: why are you suing former students? And what's the value of getting this money? 

On Oct. 29, RIT told me it was not going to answer any questions on camera. 

In a lengthy statement RIT says it sues in state supreme court because it is the "court of general jurisdiction, it allows us to serve the judgment in any location within the state." Part of the statement also says, "our ability to collect on defaulted student account balances recently provided the equivalent of approximately $18,000 each in aid and scholarships for nearly 20 students."

Click here to read RIT's complete statement

RIT is not the only school in New York State suing for tuition and loans.

In the last two years, Syracuse University sued 11 students.

Medaille College in Buffalo sued 23.

The New York Institute of Technology in New York City and Long Island sued 55.

We asked those schools to explain why they sue and they either declined or did not respond.

Here is the list of every school with a record of suing at least one student since January 2018.

Colleges and universities suing for outstanding tuition in New York State Supreme Court between Jan. 1, 2019 and Oct. 17, 2019:

  • Adelphia: 3
  • Syracuse: 8 
  • Yeshiva: 1
  • St. Joseph's: 1
  • NY Institute of Technology: 10
  • Hilbert: 1
  • Wagner: 2
  • Niagara: 1
  • Touro: 1
  • Medaille: 22 (although the complaints do not indicate tuition)
  • Hofstra: 11
  • Manhattanville: 1
  • Union College: 1

Colleges and universities suing for outstanding tuition in New York State Supreme Court between Jan. 1, 2018 and Oct. 17, 2018:

  • Syracuse: 3
  • St. Joseph's: approximately 3
  • NY Institute of Technology: 45 (41 tuition, 4 note debt)
  • Wagner: 2
  • Niagara: 1 (note debt)
  • Medaille: 1 (although the complaint does not indicate tuition)
  • Hofstra: 2
  • Union College: 1

So RIT isn't the only school that sues former students but no school has sued as much as RIT.

Not even close. 

"You have a lot of students who graduate with lots of debt but at least they get a degree with it," Noah Pfluke said. "I don't have any degree. But it looks like I'm getting the debt."

Just this year, the State Supreme Court awarded RIT more than $112,000 in judgments from nine former students. Click here to read the story of one of them. 

We asked local colleges and universities how they deal with delinquent tuition and loans and why they have not sued. 

The U of R, Nazareth College and Roberts Wesleyan College said they use collection agencies. The U of R says it makes students sign an agreement to pay what they owe. 

The U of R says, "There is hardly ever a need to pursue the costly endeavor of hiring attorneys for legal action." Click here for the U of R's Policy for the Collection of Tuition and Fees

Nazareth College told me it "typically does not pursue legal action against current or former students for delinquent tuition."

Roberts Wesleyan College said:

"Consistent with what we believe occurs at other area colleges, at Roberts, we work very hard to help students find every last dollar of aid they're eligible to receive. Our goal is to help create an affordable and accessible transformational education. We work closely with our students to help them understand their financial commitments and avoid unpaid balances. Although we do work with collection agencies on delinquent accounts, to date we have not seen a need to take a student to court."


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