Abrupt clo­sure of Vir­ginia Col­lege cam­pus in Chester­field frus­trates stu­dents and staff

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - BUSINESS - BY JUSTIN MAT­TINGLY jmat­[email protected]­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6012

Keisha Scott was weeks away from fin­ish­ing her stud­ies to be­come a med­i­cal as­sis­tant.

The 35-year-old, who lives in Far­mville, works overnight nurs­ing shifts in Goochland County be­fore trav­el­ing to Chester­field County in hopes of ad­vanc­ing her med­i­cal ca­reer. On Wed­nes­day, that dream was put on hold.

The school she at­tended, Vir­ginia Col­lege, abruptly closed af­ter its par­ent com­pany, one of the coun­try’s largest for-profit col­lege chains, shut down its cam­puses na­tion­wide. The chain’s ac­cred­it­ing body, Ac­cred­it­ing Coun­cil for In­de­pen­dent Col­leges and Schools, sus­pended its ac­cred­i­ta­tion ear­lier this week.

“Now we have to start all over,” Scott said.

Al­though the school is named for Vir­ginia, Vir­ginia Col­lege has just one cam­pus in the state — off Mid­loth­ian Turn­pike in Chester­field just west of Chip­pen­ham Park­way.

Ed­u­ca­tion Corp. of Amer­ica, the Birm­ing­ham, Ala.-based chain, has about 70 cam­puses in 21 states. Eleven schools go by the name Vir­ginia Col­lege while oth­ers are called Bright­wood Col­lege, Bright­wood Ca­reer In­sti­tute, Ecotech In­sti­tute and Golf Acad­emy of Amer­ica.

The cam­pus in Chester­field of­fered de­gree pro­grams in­clud­ing busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion, com­puter net­work­ing, cos­me­tol­ogy, culi­nary arts, elec­tri­cal tech­ni­cian, and health and med­i­cal.

Stu­dents and staff ex­pressed frus­tra­tion Thurs­day with the clo­sure and the an­nounce­ment’s tim­ing, which came be­fore the end of the fall se­mes­ter through email.

CEO Stu­art Reed said in the no­ti­fi­ca­tion to stu­dents and staff Wed­nes­day that ECA wasn’t able to raise more money to op­er­ate while re­or­ga­niz­ing be­cause of the com­pany’s im­pend­ing loss of ac­cred­i­ta­tion.

“It is with ex­treme re­gret that this se­ries of re­cent cir­cum­stances has forced us to dis­con­tinue the op­er­a­tion of our schools,” Reed wrote.

An ECA spokes­woman did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment. The Ac­cred­it­ing Coun­cil for In­de­pen­dent Col­leges and Schools said in a state­ment that it had con­cerns with the “stu­dent progress, out­comes, stu­dent sat­is­fac­tion, cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and li­cen­sure, and staff turnover” in ECA schools. The com­pany has un­til Dec. 19 to ap­peal the de­ci­sion to re­voke the schools’ ac­cred­i­ta­tion.

Out­side the Chester­field cam­pus Thurs­day, stu­dents said an­swers about how cred­its will trans­fer and fi­nan­cial aid are un­clear.

“I don’t know which way to go,” said stu­dent Domonique Cham­bers, 29, of Hen­rico County. The mother of a 9-year-old, with a sec­ond child on the way, was study­ing to be­come a med­i­cal as­sis­tant.

Said Shalonda Jones, her 40-year-old peer: “This is crazy. They just put us in a messed up po­si­tion.”

The State Coun­cil of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion for Vir­ginia cer­ti­fies schools, in­clud­ing Vir­ginia Col­lege, to op­er­ate but does not is­sue ac­cred­i­ta­tion. A SCHEV spokes­woman said the agency learned about the closing Wed­nes­day.

A sign in­side the locked Chester­field cam­pus touted the num­ber of Vir­ginia Col­lege grad­u­ates, which will sit at 95,441.

“Are you the next suc­cess story?” the sign reads.

Tashana Sin­gle­ton, 21, of Rich­mond, thought she was, es­pe­cially last week dur­ing a spe­cial cer­e­mony in which she was rec­og­nized for be­ing on the dean’s list.

“They told us they were ac­cred­ited,” the med­i­cal as­sis­tant stu­dent said. “Then this week they weren’t.”

Danielle Down­ing, 21, also of Rich­mond, was study­ing to be­come an oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy as­sis­tant. Months away from a de­gree, now she doesn’t know what to do.

“We saw the light at the end of the tun­nel and it got ripped out from right be­neath us,” she said. “We’re all in a panic.”

Patty Thorpe, a culi­nary in­struc­tor, said the news also came as a sur­prise to fac­ulty, who are now out of jobs. Her depart­ment, she said, will con­tinue through Dec. 18.

“Ev­ery­one was shocked. We re­ally thought that they had pulled it to­gether,” Thorpe said. “We thought we were go­ing to be OK, and ob­vi­ously we’re not.”

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