- A California judge tentatively approved a $1.25 million settlement Tuesday for former Mills College students, who alleged in a lawsuit that the institution misrepresented its academic offerings when it was merging with Northeastern University.
- Plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit argued the two institutions had presented the merger, which formally occurred in 2022, as a boon for students that would allow them to finish their studies. In reality, the colleges eliminated academic programs before the students could complete them, forcing them to spend extra money and delaying their degree progress, they alleged. They also missed deadlines to transfer elsewhere.
- The 408 students involved in the settlement will receive $655,000, or $1,600 each, while the remainder will apply to lawyers’ costs, according to media reports. The settlement made clear the two institutions do not admit to wrongdoing but “concluded it was desirable to avoid the time, expense, and inherent uncertainties of defending protracted litigation.”
Northeastern’s acquisition of Mills brought the all-women’s college in California under the umbrella of the coed private nonprofit institution in Massachusetts. Legal drama ensnared the deal almost from the start.
Mills announced in June 2021 it was mulling the Northeastern merger as it battled financial challenges. Shortly after, current and former Mills governing board members sued to block the arrangement, arguing college leaders had withheld relevant information about the 171-year-old institution’s finances.
Still, that was not the end of Mills’ legal troubles.
The former students sued in May 2022, accusing the colleges of misleading them. They said Mills urged them to remain enrolled during the merger, only to discover later that Northeastern would phase out many of their degree programs.
Lead plaintiff Willa Cordrey had said she enrolled at a five-year Mills program in 2019, which put her on track to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a state teaching credential, in that time.
She remained at the college even after it announced its financial difficulties in 2021 because Mills officials had assured her she could complete her studies, according to the lawsuit.
However, Mills later said it would drop degree programs — including Cordrey’s.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman scheduled final approval of the settlement for March 2024.
A spokesperson for Northeastern did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.