Kris Jenner is pulling out of the university she helped relaunch after learning of its troubled past, The Daily Beast has learned—but the school might have much bigger problems.
The New York State Education Department on Tuesday informed the Legacy Business School, which does not grant degrees, that it must cease and desist advertising them. The state has also referred the Trump Tower-based school to the New York Attorney General’s Office of Fraud and Consumer Protection for allegedly advertising master’s and bachelor’s degrees without permission from the state, The Daily Beast has learned.
The Kardashian matriarch served as the school’s chairwoman and as its public face at a launch event earlier this year. The school did not respond to a request for comment on Jenner’s departure at press time.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office is “reviewing the matter.” Tuition at the school, which is set to open this fall, can cost as much as $105,360 per year, not including room and board. That figure is over double the tuition at Sarah Lawrence College, the most expensive accredited American university, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Jenner cut all ties with Legacy Business School after a June report from The Daily Beast showed that the school had been told by the state to cease and desist three times before and that the school had been hit with dozens of lawsuits in the United States and abroad over the last decade.
A representative for Jenner Communications provided a statement to The Daily Beast on Tuesday about her departure from the school’s board.
“Kris is honored that the Legacy Business School invited her to assist the school in its mission to provide students with real world experience. However, due to her many time commitments, she is unable to commit the necessary time in support of the school and is no longer involved.”
As of Monday, Legacy Business School’s website still greeted visitors with a promotional video featuring Jenner. By Tuesday, the video and all likenesses of Jenner had been pulled.
The Daily Beast’s June series reported for the first time that Jenner’s new venture was apparently a rebranding of the European School of Economics (ESE)—an organization that for years had seemingly bucked state law and which NYSED said was operating “illegally” by offering degrees without the proper approval.
While Jenner had no comment at the time, Legacy administrators insisted in interviews that ESE and Legacy were completely separate entities. In response to their claims, The Daily Beast filed a request under New York state’s Freedom of Information Law and received a 277-page history of ESE’s dealings with the state that appeared to confirm The Daily Beast’s reporting.
In an April email to a NYSED program assistant, one month before claiming to Daily Beast reporters that ESE and Legacy were not the same organization, Legacy CEO Alessandro Nomellini wrote to the state to formally change the school’s name from ESE to Legacy, the documents show.
“Nothing change at corporate level, I follow your advise and I change the name of the corporation from ESE NYC INC. to LEGACY ORGANIZATION INC. Please see attached the change name of the corporation,” Nomellini wrote.
“The educational purpose is exactly the same as before when we obtain the approval for EUROPEAN SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS in fact the school academic offer is exactly the same.”
When reached by phone on Tuesday, Nomellini insisted once again that the two schools are different, even after a reporter cited government documents signed in his name declaring the schools to be “exactly the same.”
“They are not the same school because they’re two different concepts. We are two different concepts. We’re not the European School of Economics,” said Nomellini, who was reached by calling a phone number for his office as the chief financial officer of the European School of Economics.
When asked about the cease and desist letter from NYSED, Nomellini said that “we didn’t receive any letter yet” but quickly added that “they told me they are sending this letter. But we’re not under the jurisdiction of the New York State Education Department.”
All schools operating in New York state are under the jurisdiction of the New York State Education Department.
Nomellini insisted that the school’s master’s and bachelor’s degrees would be validated by five separate U.K. universities. He would not reveal which universities would be validating those degrees.
“I’m not commenting on private information. Because there are contractual obligations that are private,” he said.
Asked if prospective students know which schools they will technically be attending, Nomellini said, “They know where the degree will come from the moment they are enrolled—prior to signing the enrollment.”
He declined to comment on why the students would be privy to the “private information” of where they were getting their diploma shortly before signing up to enroll, but not members of the general public. “We will make sure that information is public,” he said. “We are making clear and want to make sure our communication is in compliance with the state.”
Legacy’s semester was set to begin on Sept. 7, but Nomellini said the start date had been pushed back to Oct. 3. He said the school has not yet formally enrolled applicants but will “let them know which school they’ll receive validation from [before Oct. 3]. At that time the student will have the choice to enroll and have the British degree or certificate program or... just not [go to the school].”
Legacy is currently in candidacy status as a proprietary school with the NYSED and is not approved to offer degree programs, making it illegal for the school to do so. (Proprietary schools can only offer certificates, according to the state.) When a Daily Beast reporter called in July as a prospective student and asked whether it offered MBA programs, an admissions officer advised him to enroll in a certificate program, claiming that in two years’ time he could earn an MBA validated by London Metropolitan University.
When the reporter questioned how that would work, the admissions officer said a partnership with London Metropolitan University had been finalized and he would be receiving an MBA validated by that school, and he would only technically be enrolling in a certificate program.
“Honestly, you should forget about the certificate program,” the representative explained.
The state’s agreement with Legacy allows the school to issue certificates—not degrees of any kind—and only on a one-year trial basis.
A follow-up email from the admissions office and an attached brochure confirmed Legacy offered not only “UK-validated” MBAs, but master of science and bachelor’s degrees.
NYSED told The Daily Beast that Legacy had not run the London Met affiliation agreement by the state agency as part of its application.
“[Legacy] remains a non-degree granting school in candidacy status,” a representative from NYSED said.
In a statement, London Metropolitan University also denied any official agreement had been made.
“London Metropolitan University entered into memoranda of understanding with various European School of Economics companies to explore the possibility of future collaboration,” Luke Foddy, communications manager for London Met, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “These are not a legally binding relationships [sic] and the University has not entered into any formal partnership with the various schools,” he added.
The careful statement echoes one posted to ESE’s London website: “London Metropolitan University and the European School of Economics have entered in a Memorandum Of Understanding with an intention to collaborate on an educational project leading to a British Degree.”
If an agreement is made between Legacy and London Met, it would be the third partnership with a degree-granting institution since ESE began operating in 1994.
ESE originally offered students degrees through Nottingham Trent University, but after a series of complaints that the school failed to pay its lecturers and a “strategic review,” Nottingham Trent severed the relationship in 2002.
Then, in 2005, the University of Buckingham agreed to step in and issue ESE graduates diplomas. Aware of reports that the school had neglected to pay some of its professors, an administrator at the University of Buckingham at the time said they could “knock the ESE into shape.”
In 2014, the University of Buckingham stopped validating ESE’s degrees, “for strategic reasons,” according to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (PDF).
As The Daily Beast recently reported, ESE’s history in New York has been controversial.
Since ESE began operating out of New York in 2006, the company has been forced to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits filed by creditors and landlords—often awarded after ESE failed to appear in court—as well as judgments and tax liens.
It remains unclear where funds raised by the school’s foundation, purportedly meant for charity, actually went. The school declined to comment on the whereabouts of the money in June. The European School of Economics Foundation collected monies from galas in which Donald Trump and Kathy Hilton were honored, and tables sold for up to $100,000 apiece, but the foundation’s tax-exempt status was revoked in 2011 for failing to file paperwork.
Charities that ESE claimed were to be beneficiaries of the school’s fundraisers, like the Mayor’s Fund for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, have no record of any donations from the school, its foundation, or any of its executives or administrators, according to a review of public records by The Daily Beast.
Admissions officers for ESE were, for a time at least, paid on commission, according to a lawsuit filed by former admissions director Maria Ferla in 2010. Included in that suit’s documents was a contract with ESE’s New York campus agreeing to pay 8 percent of each student’s tuition to the recruiter. According to the suit, an officer earning a base salary of $32,000 could expect to collect some $200,000 in commissions. ESE representatives declined to comment on the suit in June.
As for past ESE students, several reported to The Daily Beast that they weren’t able to transfer credits when they couldn’t afford another year of tuition, which one former student said could cost as much as $90,000 per year. One former student told The Daily Beast the school was “more like a club.”
Still, Nomellini told The Daily Beast that he was “happy” with the coverage the school has been receiving.
“We’re very happy you’re paying so much attention to us,” said Nomellini. “I’ll be happy to see you any time you want. I love your story, guys. You gave us so much advertising.”
—with additional reporting by Henry Spethmann