For-profit college chain is suddenly closing campuses in Salida and elsewhere

Brightwood College in Salida is among more than 70 for-profit campuses whose closing was announced Wednesday by their parent company.

The Sisk Road school, which trains dental assistants and for a few medical careers, will shut down Friday, student Rubi Tamayo of Keyes said in a phone interview.

“They just told us that we had to be out of the school Friday because it was going to be closed,” the dental assistant student said.

Brightwood and the other colleges are owned by Education Corp. of America, based in Birmingham, Ala. It announced that they are closing because of an impending loss of accreditation.

The campuses are in 21 states under the names of Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Virginia College, Ecotech Institute and Golf Academy of America.

Tamayo, 20, said she has taken out about $13,000 in student loans for a 10-month program that recently started. She plans to attend a Thursday morning meeting to learn details about debt forgiveness. The meeting also will provide information on alternative schools, but Tamayo said they are about an hour away.

The Salida campus also trained people to be vocational nurses, medical office specialists, therapeutic health technicians, medical assistants and respiratory therapists. It offered classes in basic life support for child care providers, lifeguards and other people who might confront emergencies.

Brightwood is part of a cluster of for-profit colleges visible from Highway 99 in Salida. It used to include Heald College, which closed in 2015 as its parent company faced a $30 million federal fine for misrepresenting job placement rates.

ECA is the latest in a series of for-profit colleges to close after allegations that they were loading students up with debt while not providing them with marketable skills.

ECA spokeswoman Diane Worthington told the Associated Press that at most locations, Friday would be the last day of classes, and students would get academic credit for this term. One ECA institution, New England College of Business, is not closing.

In a letter to students, ECA CEO Stuart Reed said the loss of accreditation, along with added requirements from the U.S. Department of Education, made the company unable to raise more money to operate the schools while it sought to reorganize.

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

In October, the company sued the Education Department seeking to maintain its federal funding, which was in jeopardy over its dire financial situation. A judge later dismissed the suit.

Court documents filed by the company said its lagging revenue left it unable to make payments on its debt or rental fees, and that it faced eviction at several campuses. ECA estimated it owed $66 million at the time.

ECA largely blamed falling enrollment on an upswing in the economy, which left fewer adults heading to school for job skills, and on increased federal regulation of the for-profit college industry.

The sudden closure drew criticism from the Education Department, which said it had been working with the company to arrange a shutdown that gave students time to transfer.