After Corinthian campus closings, students look for answers

Officials at WyoTech, a Corinthian Colleges campus, talk to students on the day their Long Beach campus shut down.
Officials at WyoTech, a Corinthian Colleges campus, talk to students on the day their Long Beach campus shut down.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Monday's abrupt shutdown of Corinthian Colleges' remaining 30 campuses surprised and angered students who say they were reassured as recently as two months ago that they could attend classes and finish their studies.

At WyoTech in Long Beach, officials didn't let students enter the building. They'd arrived at campus in search of answers after receiving a notice over the weekend announcing the closures.

WyoTech student Francisco Salcido said he enrolled in the $24,000 electrician certificate program last year. Instead of attending classes, he was spending the day finding out where he could finish his certificate.

"I gotta keep moving, I have mouths to feed at home, I don’t have a minute to waste," Salcido said. "It is what it is. It sucks. I’m upset, yes. Does it hurt, yes, that we didn’t have a heads up, you know?"

About 10,000 students attending Everest, Heald, and WyoTech colleges in California, Arizona, Hawaii and Oregon are affected by the announcement. They now need to find alternative colleges to attend if they hope to graduate. Many also carry big debts from federal student loans on which the Corinthian colleges had relied on for income.

"We are in the process of trying to arrange partnerships with other colleges and universities that would enable you to complete your studies," Corinthian Chairman and CEO Jack Massimino said in a letter to students. "We will be hosting meetings for you to obtain a copy of your transcript and learn about options for continuing your education."

Heald student meetings have been scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Students with last names beginning with A-L can arrive at 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and those whose last names begin with M-Z can meet from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Updates have been posted on the Corinthian website.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs, which regulates private postsecondary education operators in the state, also plans to meet with students who need help at Everest and WyoTech campuses on Tuesday and Wednesday. The agency's latest updates are available on the department's website and its Facebook and Twitter pages.

The department advised students to get copies of all paperwork that the colleges are asking them to sign and to carefully read the documents before signing.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education fined Corinthian $30 million for misrepresenting its job placement rates to Heald's current and prospective students. DOE officials said the inaccurate or incomplete information overstated the employment prospects of graduates and may have influenced applicants to choose Heald over other colleges.

The enforcement is part of the federal government's heightened scrutiny of for-profit colleges, some of which promise career training and job placements while banking on large federal loans that can burden students with thousands of dollars in debt.

Closing of the campuses may mark the final days of Corinthian, the Santa Ana-based company that grew to more than 81,000 students and 111 campuses fueled by billions in federal student loans. By last summer, it was the target of investigations by about 20 states for questionable practices in recruiting and advertising.

In July 2014, Corinthian signed an agreement with federal officials to sell or wind down all of its schools. In November, the company agreed to a purchase of 56 of its Everest and WyoTech campuses by Zenith Education Group and it sought arrangements with "teach-out" college operators so students could finish their studies. At the same time, Corinthian searched for a buyer for its Heald campuses.

Massimino said in a statement on Sunday that the company's efforts were unsuccessful, and he blamed federal and state regulators for "seeking to impose financial penalties and conditions on buyers and teach-out partners." 

"Unfortunately the current regulatory environment would not allow us to complete a transaction with several interested parties that would have allowed for a seamless transition for our students," he said.

WyoTech student Kipchoge Johnson arrived at the Long Beach campus with his mother, Ebony Williams. She had taken out an $8,000 loan through the school to enable her son to earn his electrician's certificate. His classes amounted to $20,000 in total.

"They didn’t mind calling us for those payments. So, you know, making the payments was something I was responsible for," Williams said. "I felt like I did my part and my son did his, but they failed to do theirs."

Students at schools that close can apply to have their federal loans discharged or cancelled if they can't complete their studies or can't transfer to another school, but this is not a guarantee. Students will still be responsible for private loans they took out.

The consumer affairs department has an informational guide for students whose schools have been closed on its website that explains what steps students should take to continue their education.

Constance Iloh, a USC higher education researcher, says for-profit colleges like Corinthian Colleges enroll high proportions of women and people of color from lower-income families than traditional schools. They will likely have a harder time bouncing back. Iloh said that should start a larger conversation about government regulation of the private, for-profit colleges.

"How did we even get to this point where there are now 16,000 displaced students? Like, what ethos, what policy environment allowed this to happen?" she asked.

At WyoTech, officials told Salcido that InterCoast Colleges, another for-profit network of campuses, would let him transfer there and finish up his electrician's certificate. He is skeptical of the offer, but he feels trapped.

"I have no choice. Either I go with this or I look on my own and find another school that I can go to that’ll accept the credits that I did here. Hopefully I won’t have to start over, because it’ll be wasted time, wasted money," he said.

Resources for Corinthian students

California Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education - Updates for Corinthian Colleges students, information on campus meetings for several Everest and WyoTech locations

Corinthian Colleges - Updates on closures, FAQs for students, schedule of meetings for Heald students

U.S. Department of Education - Information on the Corinthian closings, applying for a federal student loan discharge and FAQs for students

What to look out for in choosing for-profit trade or career colleges

• How much is a degree/certificate going to cost? Understand the total costs.

• Find out what employers think about the for-profit college. Ask if employers hire graduates from this school, and ask what they think about the quality of their work.

• Find out the job placement and graduation rates for the school and be sure they are accurate.

• Speak to alumni of the school. Ask if they got placed in the job they sought.

• If you can’t find any of this or other information, ask the college to provide the data you need to make an informed decision.

Compiled with help from USC researcher Constance Iloh