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Temple Online MBA Program Under Investigation Over Marketing

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Students on the Temple University campus.


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The U.S. Education Department is investigating whether Temple University administrators used deceptive marketing practices to recruit students to its online M.B.A. program, according to a government letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

Temple’s Fox School of Business was rated the nation’s best online master’s in business administration program by U.S. News and World Report for four years running, including 2018, until employees disclosed to the magazine in January that inflated student test data was used to rank the school, triggering the dean’s resignation and a probe by the state attorney general this month.

In a letter dated May 24, federal student-loan investigator Nancy Rosario requested records of the business school’s data-collection policies and personnel, along with student enrollment and performance data—both kept internally and submitted to U.S. News and World Report for ranking purposes. The publication revised Temple’s position to “unranked” after being notified by Fox School staff of the inaccuracies.

The government also requested copies of Fox School advertisements for its online M.B.A. to prospective students, including school brochures and online materials.

The Education Department’s investigative unit looks at whether federal student loans and grants from taxpayer dollars have been improperly used to fund school programs, or whether if students were misled in deciding where to attend, according to a person familiar with its practices. Past consequences for such violations have included reimbursing student tuition costs and steep fines, including a $30 million penalty for one school, among other enforcement actions against for-profit schools.

The agency began its investigation after learning that an online M.B.A. student had filed a lawsuit alleging that Fox School administrators had engaged in fraud and deceptive business practices, according to the letter.

A spokesman for the Education Department called the investigation “ongoing” but declined to comment on it further.

“The department has requested information related to the Fox School of Business’ Online MBA program. We are complying with that request,” said Temple spokesman Ray Betzner. “At the same time, the university’s examination of the Fox School’s rankings data and processes continues.”

Temple University President

Richard Englert

on July 9 asked Fox’s dean of 22 years, Moshe Porat, to step down as a four-month review by the law firm Jones Day, came to an end. Jones Day was hired by the university.

“Fox School, under the leadership of Dean Moshe Porat, knowingly provided false information to at least one rankings organization about the online MBA,” Mr. Englert told students, staff and alumni in a letter announcing the investigation’s findings.

Finance professor Ronald Anderson on Monday was appointed to the interim dean role, which he will likely hold for two years, according to a school announcement. A nationwide search for a permanent Fox School leader will be conducted during the 2019-2020 school year.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro directed the state consumer-protection agency to examine Temple’s marketing practices on July 13. In a letter to university officials, Mr. Shapiro said he was troubled to learn a state-funded institution, legally mandated “to educate our citizens, is alleged to have so flagrantly violated the trust of students, families and taxpayers alike.”

Academic rankings are typically based on universities’ self-reported data about the number of students submitting standardized test scores to gain admission and other factors, such as average debt held by its graduates. Rankings are also based on weighted factors, such as student acceptance rates and alumni salaries.

Academic rankings are one of the most important considerations for students trying to decide where to apply to graduate school in professional fields, and especially so in recent years as business schools have launched new degrees to counter waning demand for a traditional, two-year M.B.A. Temple’s Fox School launched its online M.B.A. in 2009, making it one of the early entrants into the market for online business degrees.

The business school also offers more than a dozen specialty master’s degrees in areas like information-technology auditing and strategic advertising. Tuition and fees for Fox School’s online M.B.A. total roughly $60,000, according to the school, and applications have been on the rise since 2014.

Write to Kelsey Gee at kelsey.gee@wsj.com

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