In two different lawsuits filed in January and September of this year, 39 former clinical psychology PhD students are claiming that their alma mater, Pacifica Graduate Institute, knowingly misled them about one of its key accreditations, an alleged omission that the ex-students say robbed them of thousands of dollars in tuition and fees and future income. For more than 10 years, the lawsuits allege, Pacifica misrepresented its clinical psychology program’s accreditation status with the American Psychological Association (APA), which the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation have endorsed as a top accreditation for professional psychology programs.
The former students claim that prior to and during their years at Pacifica, the school told them its program was APA certified or had accreditation pending; the school first applied for the APA stamp of approval in 2008 but was rejected. Eric Woosley, the lead attorney for the former students, said that each student discovered the issue at different times but were unable to transfer units from a non-APA school to an APA school. As a result, the lawsuits state that the students are each about $150,000 in debt — from tuition, student fees, and commuting expenses — and those who are not living in California, where APA accreditation isn’t required to get licensed, are having trouble finding work.
Erik Davis, Pacifica’s director of communications, released a statement on the lawsuits: “We are proud of our standard of education and the programs we provide. We have always been forthright about our APA accreditation status, and we are confident that our clinical psychology programs provide our graduates with knowledge and skills sought after by employers across the country.” Davis also added that all of Pacifica’s programs are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
According to Jeffrey Thomas, the assistant executive officer of the California Board of Psychology, clinical psychology graduates of schools with WASC accreditation can get licensed in California, but other states may require APA accreditation. Woosley said specific dollar amounts have not been set in the cases, but that the ex-students are suing the school for the program’s expenses, loss of future earnings, and attorney’s fees. Woosley said he expects more former students to join the lawsuits.