PhotoThousands of students paid as much as $989 for a "high school diploma" from Stratford Career Institute that turned out to be worthless, the Federal Trade Commission charges in a federal lawsuit.

“Stratford promised that its high school program could help students get better jobs and access higher education,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “For many students, those promises were false because schools and employers rejected Stratford’s supposed ‘diploma.’”

In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Stratford advertised its "diploma" as the key to higher earnings, promotions and the ability to apply for higher education.

But in reality, the agency charged, the Stratford :diploma" was not accepted by many employers and colleges.

According to the complaint, the school purchased online advertising tied to search terms like “official high school diploma,” “real high school diploma online,” and “legal high school diploma,” among others.

But Stratford’s own records, the complaint alleges, show that consumers who tried to use the Stratford diplomas were often told by prospective employers and college admissions officers that the program was not the same as a traditional high school.

The complaint notes that the Stratford program requires only 18 credits for completion, while many states require substantially more, including credits in courses not offered by Stratford.

The complaint alleges that Stratford violated the FTC Act’s prohibition on deceptive acts by making false and unsubstantiated promises to consumers.

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