Education

Sudden closure of for-profit colleges in Salida and beyond leave questions

Brightwood College in Salida, Calif. is among more than 70 for-profit campuses whose closing was announced Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, by their parent company. Education Corp. of America, based in Birmingham, Ala., is closing the colleges because of an impending loss of accreditation.
Brightwood College in Salida, Calif. is among more than 70 for-profit campuses whose closing was announced Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, by their parent company. Education Corp. of America, based in Birmingham, Ala., is closing the colleges because of an impending loss of accreditation. jholland@modbee.com

Students at Brightwood College in Salida and more than 70 other for-profit campuses were left with questions Thursday about their sudden closures.

The parent company in Birmingham, Ala., announced Wednesday that it would shut the schools because of a pending loss of accreditation.

Friday is the last day for the Kiernan Court campus, which trains students to be dental and medical assistants, respiratory therapists, vocational nurses and a few other medical careers. The local management referred the Modesto Bee to a spokesman for Education Corporation of America, but he did not provide details as of Thursday evening.

Dental assisting student Rubi Tamayo of Keyes said she hopes to transfer to Carrington College in Stockton following a Thursday meeting at Brightwood, where students heard about these options. Another meeting Friday will deal with what to do about student loans, which for Tamayo amounts to about $13,000.

Toby Merrill, who directs the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, said students can ask the U.S. Department of Education to cancel loans if a school closes. However, that opportunity doesn’t apply if a student transfers credits or if a school hires a successor to offer students classes to complete their programs.

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

ECA spokeswoman Diane Worthington said 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.

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 chain was overseen by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

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

“Instead of taking the next few months to close in an orderly fashion, ECA took the easy way out and left 19,000 students scrambling to find a way to finish the education program they started,” Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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