Helping students from failed for-profits

Earnest Simpson and his son Matthew transferred from ITT Tech to Tidewater Community College (TCC) in Virginia. Photo: TCC

Earnest Simpson enrolled in an electrical engineering program at an ITT Technical Institute campus in Virginia a year ago after being laid off from his shipyard job. His son Matthew soon followed, with the goal of becoming a video game designer.

Those plans were disrupted when the for-profit college abruptly shut down in September. But then Tidewater Community College (TCC) reached out to the father-son duo, along with other former ITT Tech students.

“When we learned of ITT Tech’s closure, we responded quickly to what amounted to a crisis in our community,” says TCC spokesperson James Toscano. “These are students in our backyard, our friends, neighbors and family; we wanted to help them out.”

TCC is one of many community colleges around the county that have made an effort to recruit former students from ITT Tech and other failed for-profit institutions. Some colleges offered scholarships, and one even created a new program just for former ITT Tech nursing students.

The company shut down its 138 campuses in September after the U.S. Department of Education blocked ITT’s access to federal aid, then filed for bankruptcy, displacing more than 35,000 students nationwide.

A helping hand

“When I first heard about ITT closing, I was confused and angry,” Matthew Simpson says. Now in a computer science program at TCC, he says, “it’s sort of like someone threw a rope down to us after we fell into a hole.”

“TCC gave us a helping hand. We had somewhere to go. They were the only ones reaching out to us,” adds Earnest Simpson, who is pursuing an associate degree in electrical engineering. At least some of their credits will be accepted at TCC.

As soon as ITT shut down, TCC organized an information session and began meeting with students on a case-by-case basis to evaluate their transcripts, determine whether any of their credits will transfer “and have a conversation about their future,” Toscano says.

According to U.S. Education Department rules, former ITT students can apply to have their loans forgiven, but only if they don’t transfer any of their credits.

TCC’s fall semester had already started when ITT closed, but the college was able to enroll about 10 students in its eight- and 12-week sessions that started later in the fall. About 50 others are expected to enroll in the spring semester. Of the total number of students who submitted transcripts, TCC was able to award 60 credits.

TCC provides $1,000 scholarships, financed by donors, that gives priority to any student from a for-profit college that closed or lost its accreditation within the last 24 months.

“These students face financial hardship. We wanted to meet their needs and make sure we get these students back on the path to success,” Toscano says.

Serving the community 

Among the many other colleges that hosted information sessions or open houses or otherwise reached out to former ITT students were Austin Community College (Texas), Virginia Western Community College, San Bernardino Community College District (California), Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio), the Community College of Philadelphia, Calhoun Community College (Alabama) and Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ).

About 100 former ITT students came to a full-day event at FSCJ, where advisers met with them one-on-one and discussed whether any credits might transfer, says spokesperson Jill Johnson. National certifications in information technology are early transferable, but for other work completed, FSCJ is looking at whether to give credits for prior learning or demonstrated proficiency on exams, such as the College Board’s College Level Examination Program.

About 60 former ITT students are considering enrolling in FSCJ’s spring semester, Johnson says, and six have already enrolled in the college’s abbreviated 12-week session this fall.

Scholarships awarded 

Leaders at Columbus State Community College (CSCC) agreed to use scholarship funds left over from students who didn’t use their full award to provide one-time $500 scholarships to any former ITT Tech or Heritage College student who enrolled by the spring 2017 semester, says spokesperson David Wayne. Heritage, a for-profit institution specializing in healthcare training, closed Nov. 1.

According to Wayne, just under 140 former ITT students requested information from CSCC and about a third of them expressed interest in enrolling for the spring semester. Six former Heritage students also said they plan to enroll.

Although the fall semester had started when ITT closed, four students were able to enroll right away because they had already taken classes at CSCC.

College officials are evaluating students’ records on a case-by-case basis to determine if their credits can transfer. In some cases, students are getting partial credits for prior learning, based on a proficiency test or portfolio of their work.

CSCC reached out because “those displaced students are part of our community,” says Martin Maliwesky, associate vice president for academic affairs. “We saw it as an opportunity to serve our central Ohio community if our college turned out to be a good fit for them.”

ITT Tech students who were in information technology are more likely have their credits accepted at CSCC, he says, while “we were not a good fit for many students who were in ITT nursing programs.   

A new nursing program  

In Oregon, Portland Community College (PCC) created a new nursing program just to accommodate former ITT Tech students. About half of the 555 students who were studying nursing at ITT enrolled in PCC.    

To accommodate them, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission approved an associate of applied science degree in nursing at PCC in October, even though the program was still being developed.

The community college couldn’t absorb those students without state intervention because the ITT program was not well aligned with the community college’s nursing program, says Elizabeth Lundy, PCC’s interim vice president of academic affairs.

If PCC’s request for emergency state funding for start-up costs is approved, the program could start in January, Lundy says. PCC hopes to arrange to use ITT’s clinic partners and faculty to supplement its own staff. The program also needs approval from the regional accrediting body.

Former ITT students who transfer won’t be eligible for loan forgiveness, but all their credits will transfer and they will have much lower tuition costs at PCC.

“This is a mission thing for us,” Lundy says. It’s not a long-term attempt to increase the size of PCC’s program or raise revenue; in fact PCC hopes to break even. It will, however, help meet local labor market needs for nursing graduates.  

Outreach challenges  

The Contra Costa Community College District in California (CCCCD) tried to reach out to former students from ITT Tech and Heald College, a subsidiary of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit institution that closed in April 2015. That was difficult, though, as CCCCD didn’t have access to their contact information.

The college held an informational session in a local library for former ITT students, but “students had to find us,” says CCCCD spokesperson Tim Leong. Although the district promoted the event on social media, “we couldn’t reach them, couldn’t talk to them, couldn’t empathize with them,” he says. “They were angry about the closure, about wasting so much time.”

“Our experiences with the two institutions was like day and night,” Leong says. The day after the local ITT campus in Concord, Calif., shut down, “doors were closed and the lights were off.”

When Heald shut down, some of their staff “volunteered their time to be there because they knew their students would be devastated by the announcement,” he says. Heald also hosted a hosted a college fair for students, inviting CCCCD and other institutions and provided information on getting transcripts and applying for loan forgiveness.

Nineteen former Heald students signed for appointments with CCCCD counselors, and 11 showed up, he says. It isn’t known how many actually enrolled.

“The opportunity to have their loans forgiven was a big driver for Heald students,” Leong says. Not having to repay $15,000 or $20,000 in student aid is great, but losing all the credits earned is a hardship for students a year and a half into a two year program who have to start all over.”

CCCCD couldn’t promise those students an easy transfer. “In most cases, the programs those students were in aren’t areas where we were providing the same level of coursework and focus,” Leong says.

“For a number of these students, having a clean slate may be an omen of some sort; it’s a chance to think about changing careers and maybe think about other passions in their life,” he says. “Because we offer so many different pathways, that seemed to resonate with many students.” So instead of continuing with computer science, for example, some have switched to different careers, such as social work or criminal justice.

CCCCD representatives encouraged former Heald students who had been in computer programs to consider careers in process technology, a field with lots of opportunities, as local utilities and oil refineries need to replace retiring workers. That field “requires a logical, methodical mindset, and the skill set is transferable,” Leong says.

The message to the public is, “if someone needs high-quality, affordable education, you need to talk to us,” he says.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.