For-profit oper­a­tor to shut down all schools

The Washington Post - - RELIGION - BY DANIELLE DOU­GLAS- GABRIEL

Ed­u­ca­tion Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica, owner of a na­tional chain of for-profit schools, in­clud­ing Vir­ginia Col­lege and Bright­wood Col­lege in Mary­land, is end­ing op­er­a­tions this week in the face of dwin­dling en­roll­ment and reg­u­la­tory pres­sures.

“This is not the out­come that we en­vi­sioned and is one that we rec­og­nize will have a dra­matic ef­fect on our stu­dents, em­ploy­ees and many partners,” Diane Wor­thing­ton, a spokes­woman for Ed­u­ca­tion Corp., said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day.

The abrupt clo­sure left some 20,000 stu­dents at more than 75 cam­puses scram­bling to com­plete their ed­u­ca­tion once the cur­rent term ended Fri­day. Wor­thing­ton said the com­pany, known by its acro­nym, ECA, will en­sure stu­dents can ac­cess their tran­scripts to trans­fer to an­other school.

On its web­site, ECA prom­ises stu­dents it will pro­vide in­for­ma­tion within two weeks about tran­script re­quests and trans­fer rec­om­men­da­tions. The hap­haz­ard plan­ning has drawn the ire of the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment, which has been in talks with the com­pany to cre­ate a tran­si­tion plan for stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment spokes­woman Liz Hill.

“In­stead of tak­ing the next few months to close in an or­derly fash­ion, ECA took the easy way out,” Hill said.

She said the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment will work with stu­dents to trans­fer their cred­its to new in­sti­tu­tions or ap­ply for fed­eral stu­dent loan for­give­ness un­der what’s known as a closed-school dis­charge. Stu­dents will be in­el­i­gi­ble for the dis­charge, though, if they trans­fer cred­its to com­plete the same de­gree at an­other in­sti­tu­tion.

For-profit col­lege in­dus­try lead­ers also ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment with ECA’s de­ci­sion to close its schools with­out warn­ing.

“We un­der­stand busi­ness de­ci­sions. But, sud­den clo­sures are the worst mo­ments for our sec­tor be­cause they pro­vide no time for stu­dents to trans­fer and no time for staff to pre­pare,” said Steve Gun­der­son, pres­i­dent of the in­dus­try ad­vo­cacy group Ca­reer Ed­u­ca­tion Col­leges and Univer­si­ties. “Thought­ful plan­ning and com­mu­ni­ca­tions can avoid such chal­lenges.”

In Vir­ginia and Mary­land, ECA ran a Vir­ginia Col­lege lo­ca­tion in Rich­mond, and Bright­wood Col­lege had cam­puses in Tow­son, Beltsville and Bal­ti­more. Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian E. Frosh be­moaned the im­pact on stu­dents and called on the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment to rein in for­profit col­leges.

“The clo­sure of Bright­wood Col­lege’s three Mary­land cam­puses is dis­tress­ing and sad­den­ing be­cause of the harm­ful ef­fect this has on hun­dreds of Mary­land stu­dents,” Frosh said in a state­ment Thurs­day. “The con­tin­u­ing harm to stu­dents of for-profit col­leges shows the need for the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to change course and start pro­tect­ing stu­dents.”

ECA is the largest for-profit chain to shut­ter dur­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. De­spite Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos’s roll­back of Obama-era reg­u­la­tions aimed at for-profit col­leges, the in­dus­try con­tin­ues to grap­ple with low en­roll­ment.

Problems at ECA had been brew­ing for some time. Its mar­quee brand, Vir­ginia Col­lege, has wit­nessed a steady de­cline in en­roll­ment. Steve McClearn, who serves as both chief mar­ket­ing and chief aca­demic of­fi­cer, said last month that a stronger job mar­ket had helped shrink the pool of ap­pli­cants.

Mar­ket­ing the school, he said, was also dif­fi­cult af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion stripped its ac­cred­i­tor — the Ac­cred­it­ing Coun­cil for In­de­pen­dent Col­leges and Schools — of the power to par­tic­i­pate in the fed­eral stu­dent aid pro­gram. That move left Vir­ginia Col­lege and other for-profit schools search­ing for a new ac­cred­i­ta­tion agency to re­tain ac­cess to fed­eral stu­dent loans and grants, a crit­i­cal source of revenue.

Vir­ginia Col­lege had trou­ble finding a new ac­cred­i­tor. The school ap­plied to the Ac­cred­it­ing Coun­cil for Con­tin­u­ing Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing, and it was re­jected in a 59-page let­ter that de­tailed “weak­nesses” across cam­puses and at the cor­po­rate of­fice.

In Septem­ber, ECA said it would close 16 of 33 Vir­ginia Col­lege cam­puses. A month later, the par­ent com­pany dis­closed in court doc­u­ments that it was on the brink of in­sol­vency, sad­dled with law­suits and un­der threat of evic­tion.

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