A local technology training company that promised to provide computer education and certification to its students was shut down by Maryland officials for operating without a teaching license, government officials said.
Technology Training Consortium of Silver Spring, which operated as U.S. Training.com, ran 26 computer training sites in 13 states, including two in Maryland.
According to the cease-and-desist order issued by the Maryland Higher Education Commission late last month, the "company operated as a privately owned and operated career school despite its contention that it offered `continuing education' only to those who were already `information technology professionals.' " The company also was instructed to withdraw its advertising on all World Wide Web sites, including its own, and to refund all money paid by students.
The message on U.S. Training.com's answering machine said the company had closed its doors as of July 2 in compliance with the state-issued order.
Eric Friedman, an investigator with Montgomery County's Consumer Affairs Office, is trying to get refunds from the company for angry consumers. "The reason [U.S. Training.com] closed has nothing really to do with the cease-and-desist order," he said. "That's their excuse."
Friedman said the school could have remained open in the other states because Maryland has jurisdiction only in its own state.
"We had people telling us of run-down buildings and converted bathrooms with paper towels on the walls being used as classrooms. Teachers weren't showing up, and the textbooks never arrived, some in the last week of class," Friedman said. "They said the service was terrible."
Friedman said the company insisted it was running a legal business and not a vocational school, which would have required a license in Maryland.
U.S. Training.com President F.B. Ayazi did not return calls seeking comment.
Edward J. Johnson III, president of the Better Business Bureau, said the bureau began receiving complaints about U.S. Training.com in April. In three months 20 complaints had been filed and 125 inquiry calls had been made.
"Here we have people who were sincere and who wanted to better themselves and their careers, and now they're out of their money and the training," Johnson said.
Neither the state of Maryland nor Montgomery County officials know how many students attended the schools or how many need refunds.
But former students report losing thousands of dollars after sending money for classes that were either canceled or rescheduled numerous times. Raymond Sundland, who canceled his registration with U.S. Training.com last year after his classes were rescheduled three times, paid $4,000 for a package of courses. Ten months later, he is still waiting for the refund to arrive.
"This was an alternative to college for me," Sundland, 20, said. "I did this as a way to make things better for me. But it didn't make things better for me to have to go through all this trouble."
Sundland, who recently filed a lawsuit against the company to get a refund, was intrigued by the promises the company offered because "for only $4,000, I could get lots of training that would have cost $10,000 or $12,000 at other places," he said.
Although there are plenty of qualified learning programs that students can find over the Internet, the difficulty tends to lie with filtering through the available programs, said Michael Teitelbaum, program director of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit institution in New York.
Friedman advised consumers to be wary of schools that promise certification and hands-on training.
"What they need to look at is what kind of guarantee refund policy there is, if the company is properly registered with the state and has a license to operate as a school, and always pay by credit card because it's much easier to work out a deal with the credit card company to get a refund," he said.
Though Sundland was able to become certified through another company and is now working in the computer industry to save money for college, he said he learned a valuable lesson.
"I'll always double-check everything to make sure it's real," he said. "Everything."
For More Information
Customers who have paid fees to U.S. Training.com and have not received a refund should write to
Maryland Higher Education Commission
16 Francis St.
Annapolis, Md. 21401
... or call 410-974-7129 or
1-800-974-0203. Those who paid for services by credit card should contact the card issuer.