Corinthian stu­dents face un­cer­tainty

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Kirkham

The col­lapse of the for-profit col­lege has thrown an­other boul­der into an al­ready rocky path for those seek­ing de­cent ca­reers.

Two days of class and an in­tern­ship were all that stood be­tween Leti­cia Ruiz and a med­i­cal as­sist­ing de­gree — a cre­den­tial she now knows she’ll never get.

Her school, Ever­est Col­lege-Al­ham­bra, abruptly shut down Sun­day along with two dozen other ca­reer-ori­ented cam­puses run by Santa Ana-based Corinthian Col­leges Inc.

She had to cancel the in­tern­ship in­ter­view sched­uled for Tues­day with a car­dio­vas­cu­lar physi­cian’s of­fice in the area.

“They told me there’s re­ally no point in me go­ing,” said Ruiz, 21, who lives in East Los An­ge­les.

She’s among 16,000 stu­dents in Cal­i­for­nia and across the coun­try who face grim choices af­ter be­ing dis­placed by the sud­den clo­sure of Corinthian’s re­main­ing cam­puses. A U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion state­ment called it “the largest col­lege shut­down in Amer­i­can his­tory.”

Like many stu­dents, Ruiz has two bad op­tions: Ei­ther nav­i­gate the maze in trans­fer­ring cred­its to an­other in­sti­tu­tion — know­ing few will ac­cept them — or ap­ply for a fed­eral loan re­fund and start over.

For many of Corinthian’s non­tra­di­tional stu­dents — peo­ple rais­ing chil­dren, jug­gling full-time jobs and strug­gling to pay bills — the col­lapse of one of the na­tion’s largest for-profit col­lege cor­po­ra­tions has thrown an­other boul­der into an al­ready rocky path to a de­cent ca­reer.

It’s only the lat­est ob­sta­cle they’ve faced since the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment started crack­ing down on Corinthian last year amid con­cerns that the com­pany was fal­si­fy­ing job place­ment rates.

Some at­tended schools that were sold off to a new op­er­a­tor, giv­ing them an op­por­tu­nity to fin­ish their ed­u­ca­tion but not seek a fresh start free of debt. Oth­ers found out Sun­day that they didn’t have a choice of whether to fin­ish.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment re­ported that at least 42% of the stu­dents in the closed schools were within six months of com­plet­ing their de­grees.

Higher ed­u­ca­tion and stu­dent debt ex­perts cau­tioned that those dis­placed by Corinthian’s col­lapse should care­fully con­sider qual­ity be­fore de­cid­ing to trans­fer to an­other in­sti­tu­tion.

“The au­to­matic re­sponse is ‘I need to do some­thing right away,’ ” said Robyn Smith, a for­mer deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral in Cal­i­for­nia who was on a team that first sued Corinthian for fraud­u­lent mar­ket­ing in the mid-2000s, and now works with the Na­tional Con­sumer Law Cen­ter.

She en­cour­aged stu­dents to “calm down, slow down, take the time to re­ally in­ves­ti­gate your op­tions and make a choice that’s go­ing to make sense for you.”

Be­cause for-profit ca­reer schools such as Corinthian’s tend to of­fer pro­grams such as den­tal as­sist­ing or med­i­cal billing — with­out core aca­demic classes such as English or his­tory — their cred­its rarely trans­fer to tra­di­tional com­mu­nity col­leges or fouryear public in­sti­tu­tions. That can mean the schools most likely to ac­cept trans­fer cred­its are other for-profit in­sti­tu­tions — some with du­bi­ous track records.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment, whose in­ves­ti­ga­tion ul­ti­mately led to Corinthian’s down­fall, this week listed other trou­bled for­profit schools on its own web­site as “al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion op­tions” for stu­dents dis­placed by Corinthian.

Among those listed: ITT Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute, which was sued by the U.S. Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau last year for sad­dling stu­dents with high-in­ter­est loans, and West­wood Col­lege, which paid $4.5 mil­lion to set­tle charges from the Colorado at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice that it mis­led stu­dents by in­flat­ing job place­ment rates.

Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment spokes­woman Denise Horn did not re­spond to a ques­tion about why the depart­ment re­ferred stu­dents to those trou­bled cam­puses.

On Tues­day morn­ing, dozens of stu­dents streamed into and out of Ever­est Col­lege’s closed cam­pus in Al­ham­bra to hear about their op­tions for the fu­ture. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the state Depart­ment of Con­sumer Af­fairs handed out pa­per­work ex­plain­ing how to get tran­scripts and fi­nan­cial aid records, and how to dis­charge loans or ap­ply for re­im­burse­ment of out-of­pocket costs.

Of­fi­cials from half a dozen other col­leges were on hand to talk about trans­fer op­tions. UEI Col­lege, an­other for-profit col­lege chain, was one of those on hand. The school has of­fered to trans­fer cred­its for stu­dents who qual­ify, and is of­fer­ing a schol­ar­ship of up to $1,000 for Corinthian stu­dents who en­roll.

Es­merelda Tafalla, 22, came away feel­ing that the eight months she had spent in a med­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant pro­gram were wasted. She said she was told she might be able to trans­fer about 40% of her course­work to an­other nearby col­lege.

“You pretty much have to start all over,” she said.

David Lon­ga­necker, a for­mer top Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment of­fi­cial in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, said there are many rea­sons that cer­tain in­sti­tu­tions don’t rec­og­nize aca­demic cred­its from Corinthian and other for-profit col­leges — some more le­git­i­mate than oth­ers. In Cal­i­for­nia, for ex­am­ple, he said the com­mu­nity col­lege sys­tem hasn’t been as fo­cused on vo­ca­tional train­ing, mean­ing there may be fewer classes that over­lap.

But he said in­sti­tu­tions too of­ten will not rec­og­nize cred­its from for-profit schools as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple.

“That’s a real prob­lem, but it’s not a fair prob­lem,” said Lon­ga­necker, now pres­i­dent of the West­ern In­ter­state Com­mis­sion on Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, a re­gional ad­vi­sory group for col­leges in West­ern states.

Even stu­dents caught up in Corinthian’s down­fall, how­ever, ques­tion how much their ed­u­ca­tion will be worth amid the con­tro­versy.

“That’s what we’re all scared of,” said Erika Roque, a crim­i­nal jus­tice stu­dent at Ever­est Col­lege-On­tario who was two months away from fin­ish­ing. “We don’t re­ally know if it’s go­ing to be valid, if it’s go­ing to be taken by other schools or help us get a job.”

Ruiz, whose last day of classes was sup­posed to be Tues­day, thinks trans­fer­ring is the only vi­able op­tion. She en­rolled at Ever­est-Al­ham­bra in July, af­ter the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment had be­gun its crack­down.

All along, she said, in­struc­tors told stu­dents that the mount­ing scru­tiny from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was noth­ing to worry about. With a 4-year-old to care for, Ruiz said the last thing she ex­pected was for her pro­gram to dis­ap­pear be­fore she could fin­ish.

Dur­ing the nine months she was en­rolled at Ever­est, she worked four hours a day tu­tor­ing chil­dren in Pasadena and spent four hours at school. She said she sim­ply doesn’t have time to take a full re­fund and begin some­where else.

“I was sup­posed to be done,” Ruiz said. “To re­peat it all over again is just a waste of time.”

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

“I WAS SUP­POSED to be done,” said Leti­cia Ruiz, who had been close to get­ting her cre­den­tial at Ever­est Col­lege. Now she must go else­where.

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