Stu­dents try to fin­ish be­fore Biloxi cam­pus shuts down

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ANITA LEE

BILOXI

Ash­leigh Tick­ell’s quest to earn more than $8.50 an hour brought her to Vir­ginia Col­lege in Biloxi, where she hopes to earn a cer­tifi­cate as a phar­macy tech­ni­cian be­fore the school closes Aug. 1, 2019.

The part-time day­care worker, wife and mother of a tod­dler be­lieves she can earn at least $11.75 an hour in her new ca­reer af­ter she grad­u­ates in the spring. Tick­ell, who lives in Van­cleave, en­rolled at Vir­ginia Col­lege in June, af­ter see­ing a bill­board ad­ver­tise­ment.

The fi­nan­cially trou­bled pri­vate school of­fers as­so­ciate’s de­grees, diplo­mas and cer­tifi­cates that are sup­posed to help stu­dents find jobs.

But 17 of its 28 schools are clos­ing, in­clud­ing cam­puses in Jack­son and Biloxi, be­cause the school for a time had trou­ble se­cur­ing ac­cred­i­ta­tion and the job mar­ket has im­proved, damp­en­ing de­mand for its de­grees and cer­tifi­cates, ac­cord­ing to par­ent com­pany Ed­u­ca­tion Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica.

The Biloxi cam­pus stopped ac­cept­ing stu­dents in Septem­ber and will close Aug. 1, 2019.

Diane Wor­thing­ton, spokes­woman for Ed­u­ca­tion Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica, said mar­ket de­mand has ta­pered off in Biloxi. She said 200 cur­rent stu­dents can com­plete their pro­grams be­fore the school at Cedar Lake and Popp’s Ferry roads is shut­tered. Vir­ginia Col­lege cam­puses, which are mostly in the south­east­ern United States, have a to­tal of 8,500 stu­dents.

Whether cred­its from Vir­ginia Col­lege trans­fer de­pends on the re­ceiv­ing school, Wor­thing­ton said. She said some re­gional col­leges do not ac­cept cred­its from Vir­ginia Col­lege, which fo­cuses on find­ing jobs for stu­dents.

Vir­ginia Col­lege fought to main­tain ac­cred­i­ta­tion at least partly be­cause of fail­ure to meet stan­dards for course com­ple­tion, stu­dent sat­is­fac­tion, meth­ods of in­struc­tion, fi­nan­cial pro­ce­dures, equip­ment and sup­plies and other cri­te­ria, ac­cred­it­ing agen­cies have said. Cam­puses are cur­rently accredited by the Ac­cred­it­ing Coun­cil for In­de­pen­dent Col­leges & Schools.

The grad­u­a­tion rate for full­time, first-time un­der­grad­u­ates at Vir­ginia Col­lege in Biloxi, within the nor­mal time frame, was only 30 per­cent for 2012 stu­dents tracked, num­bers from the fed­eral govern­ment’s Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics show. The grad­u­a­tion rate was 43 per­cent for 2013 stu­dents when cour­ses were com­pleted within 150 per­cent of nor­mal time.

Par­ent com­pany ECA has filed a law­suit in fed­eral court to stave off cred­i­tors, in­clud­ing land­lords who are try­ing to evict Vir­ginia Col­lege from lo­ca­tions in Ge­or­gia and Ok­la­homa over fail­ure to pay rent, fed­eral court records show.

Birm­ing­ham-based ECA also wants the judge to ap­point a re­ceiver who would over­see com­pany as­sets un­til a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion plan is de­vel­oped, the law­suit says.

The re­ceiver would over­see re­struc­tur­ing and re­fi­nanc­ing of spe­cific Vir­ginia Col­lege schools re­main­ing open and the or­derly clos­ing of the other cam­puses, the law­suit says.

Pre­sid­ing in Birm­ing­ham, U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ab­dul Kal­lon granted a tem­po­rary in­junc­tion, find­ing that cred­i­tor ac­tion could cause ECA “ir­repara­ble in­jury.”

“In par­tic­u­lar,” Kal­lon wrote, “the po­ten­tial evic­tion of (ECA) in­sti­tu­tions from their phys­i­cal cam­puses threat­ens to dis­rupt the ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams of stu­dents na­tion­wide” and pre­vent re­struc­tur­ing.

The in­junc­tion ex­pires Oct. 29, when Kal­lon will con­sider ex­tend­ing court pro­tec­tion and ap­point­ment of a re­ceiver.

The court ac­tion in Alabama could be cru­cial for ECA but seems far-re­moved from the quest of Tick­ell and other stu­dents in Biloxi for bet­ter jobs and pay.

“It’s sad to see the col­lege go be­cause it’s tak­ing op­por­tu­nity

from other peo­ple,” said Tick­ell, who gave high scores to her in­struc­tors and phar­macy pro­gram man­ager at the Biloxi cam­pus.

Tick­ell said the phar­macy tech­ni­cian pro­gram will cost her just un­der $15,000. The fed­eral govern­ment put the to­tal cost of tu­ition and fees for the school’s largest pro­gram, med­i­cal/clin­i­cal as­sis­tant, at $15,800.

“It’s a lit­tle pricey,” she said, “but if it can get you into a good ca­reer — a good life­long ca­reer — it’s worth it.”

JOHN FITZHUGH jc­fitzhugh@sun­her­ald.com

Stu­dents walk in and out of the Vir­ginia Col­lege cam­pus in Biloxi on Wed­nes­day. It is sched­uled to close in Au­gust of next year.

Ash­leigh Tick­ell

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