Former Kaplan University students have collected more than 6,000 signatures with an online petition demanding that the school shut down its admissions and hire an outside party to handle student complaints. Twenty-five ex-students started the petition after reports that the for-profit university had been billing students for classes they never took to boost enrollment numbers and secure large amounts of federal education money.

"More and more former Kaplan students are coming forward with horror stories about the bogus classes, surprise fees and deceptive policies they encountered as they struggled to achieve the American dream," reads the petition, which is posted on Change.org.

Kaplan has denied authorizing employees to use the tactics -- dubbed "guerrilla registration" -- which is detailed in dozens of student complaints filed with the Florida Attorney General's Office.

The petition wants the publicly traded Washington Post Co., which owns Kaplan, to enact reforms.

"Change.org generated a significant increase in petition signers by issuing a news release and soliciting signers through a mass e-mail," Washington Post Co. spokesman Ron Iori wrote in an e-mailed statement. "It is unlikely that many of these signers are actually students."

The Web site does not require signers to prove they are current or former Kaplan students.

Kaplan generated 58 percent -- or $1.5 billion -- of the Washington Post Co.'s revenues in 2009. According to the Washington Post Co.'s 2010 annual report, "The company is more dependent than ever on a single business: Kaplan."

The university's business model relies heavily on federal student aid -- consistent with most other for-profit colleges -- and the government rewards more aid to schools with higher enrollment.

In recent weeks, members of the military -- who have increased access to federal financial aid -- have reported being targeted by Kaplan.

The university enrolls 110,000 students, with about 70,000 attending class online, and has 75 campuses nationwide. The school derived 87 percent of its revenue from federal student aid in 2009. According to Department of Education data released in 2009, only 28 percent of Kaplan students repay their student loans.

Kaplan is facing an investigation by the Florida attorney general into recruiting practices at for-profit colleges. Kaplan suspended enrollment at two of its campuses after a Government Accountability Office investigation found that recruiters were exaggerating how much applicants could earn from a Kaplan education.

The school also has come under fire by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is suing the university for rejecting job applicants based on credit history, a decision that discriminated by race.

hpeterson@washingtonexaminer.com