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There are two ways a business school can raise a quick bit of cash without lifting a finger. The first is a robust online degree program; the second is conjuring a bunch of newly-made-up certifications offered in short “executive education” courses at staggering cost.

While neither may in practice require much effort on the part of the offering institution, they do require two other key elements: reputation, and a willingness to give a little of it up or otherwise prostitute it in service of profit which, after all, is what business schools are there to teach.

Two of Philadelphia’s leading M.B.A. slingers know this all too well. One, Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management, in going the online route, knew it had to bolster its reputation to garner the biggest bang for its digital bucks. The other, Wharton, has reputation to spare and thensome—enough that it can just forego the rankings that were Fox’s lifeblood—which is apparently why it felt no compunction about having a company called CredForce throw together a two-week certificate program in human resources (we’re sorry: “talent management”) for the low, low price of $23,350 in its name.

The executive-education course had been taught in previous years by some of Wharton’s top management professors, and a third party called CredForce America Inc. marketed and managed it, signing up executive students and collecting tuition payments under the TMI-Wharton brand…. “You’re just licensing your name, some faculty time, and some content but it’s a much lower lift and can generate significant returns,” [University of Illinois Gies College of Business associate dean Brooke Elliott] said. “I just couldn’t get comfortable with it.”

You also probably couldn’t get anyone to pay 20 grand for two weeks in Champaign, Brooke, but that’s by the by, because in addition to reputational costs, both of the aforementioned approaches are also apparently at serious risk of (alleged) fraud.

TMI-Wharton emailed enrollees last spring to say the August program would be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Enrollees got another email this past February, this time from the business school, saying Wharton had severed business ties with CredForce and the TMI-Wharton brand, and hadn’t received the executives’ tuition payments from CredForce….. Wharton alleges CredForce failed to pay the school more than $1.2 million in fees and interest accrued since 2018 and fraudulently used its intellectual property and logos in continuing to market the course, though Wharton hadn’t signed an agreement for one in the 2020 academic year. It also alleges that CredForce used a forged signature of a school employee to make promises to prospective students of future on-campus classes at Wharton.

CredForce executive Sanjeeva Shukla counters colorfully that “Wharton is lying through its cheeks.” Sure, he says, his company was, as it were, behind on the rent, given the global pandemic that forced the postponement in the first place. But the school was very much a part of recruiting last year’s class of suckers, er, fellows, and anyway it was totally going to pay that money eventually (as it will have to do now per a court order from a judge who seems a bit skeptical about CredForce’s intentions).

[Shukla said,] “We regret and feel utterly distraught that a very understandable delay in payment of dues under a million dollars can make a century-old brand like Wharton so desperate that it starts a campaign of lies and falsehoods against a dynamic, growing company.”

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker granted Wharton’s motion for a default judgment, ordering CredForce to pay the $1.2 million and restricting the company and its affiliates from using any logos or images related to Wharton for sales purposes.

Anyway, there’s a happy ending, if not for CredForce—now renamed Edvantic and pivoting from questionable credential-slinging to “education management,” whatever that might be—than for those it allegedly defrauded. For where once they were to get an arguably bogus résumé-builder from a fly-by-night for-profit company with a bit of Wharton magic dust sparingly sprinkled on top, now they’ll get it directly from Wharton itself, in addition to a powerful lesson on credulousness.

Last month, Wharton emailed the HR executives enrolled in the 2020 class again to say it couldn’t refund their tuition, but would offer a makeup program at no charge after Covid-19 restrictions at the university were lifted.

“We recognize that you had no reason to know that information you have received about the program could have been misleading or false,” the school wrote…. “We didn’t pick another university, we picked Wharton,” [Stout Risius Ross chief talent officer Simon Heaton] said. “You pay a premium for that brand. Wharton’s made good on a difficult situation.”

Behind a Wharton School Program’s Collapse: Lawsuits and Unpaid Bills [WSJ]


Wharton: Strangely silent on the whole matter. By WestCoastivieS (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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