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