Community colleges making a play to recruit former ITT Tech students

Closed ITT Tech campus in Torrance, California.
Closed ITT Tech campus in Torrance, California.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

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On Tuesday, the day that ITT Technical Institute left 40,000 students nationwide out in the cold by shutting down its campuses, administrators from Southern California community colleges were already thinking of how they could enroll those students.

“We’re trying to reach out and get the database of students,” said San Bernardino Community College District Chancellor Bruce Baron. His campus is near ITT Tech's San Bernardino campus, which is one of ten locations the technical college operated in Southern California.

“We’re also calling the various agencies at the state level to see if that database can be made available, [and] we’re also taking out ads in the local newspapers, including the Spanish-speaking newspapers," he said. Mira Costa College in San Diego County tweeted that its slashing tuition by 50 percent for ITT Tech students who want to enroll in the college's machinist and engineering degrees in January. 

Baron said his outreach is driven by his college’s mission to help.

“As with any crisis, we have to see what services our neighbors need,” he said.

But it’s also driven by a state-set community college enrollment targets linked to funding.

“The state will be funding a certain level of growth, so it’s mutually beneficial because it will help to meet our growth targets," Baron said. "That’s really a win-win situation.”

Two weeks into the semester, he said, a preliminary count shows his district's two campuses are about 200 students short of the enrollment target. If a college falls short of the enrollment targets the state could stop sending that additional funding. 

State and federal officials alleged ITT Tech used misleading recruitment tactics and pushed students into signing up for high-cost loans. Last month, the Bureau for Private and Postsecondary Education in California's Department of Consumer Affairs ordered ITT Tech to stop accepting students.

The collapse of ITT Tech is the second failure of a large for-profit higher education chain. Last year, the Santa Ana-based Corinthian Colleges chain shut down amid similar allegations of fraud.

The closures signal a slowdown of the fast-paced growth that for-profit technical colleges have seen over the last decade. That growth was fed by a demand for one-year technical degrees in fields like computing and health care. Enrollment in these colleges ballooned as public community colleges cut class offerings due to funding cuts nearly a decade ago.

It’s left to be seen whether community colleges can step in to meet the demand for these careers.

“I think the community colleges have an opportunity to get these students in a public educational institution, but I imagine that other for-profit institutions are probably going to be very aggressive in getting those ITT students over to their institutions,” said Su Jin Jez, a professor of public policy at Sacramento State University.

Jez said some students will be looking to enroll in institutions that accept the credits they’ve already earned

“It’s not a simple process,” said Cherry Li-Bugg, vice chancellor of educational services and technology at the North Orange County Community College District. There’s an ITT Tech campus of nearly 800 students, she said, near one of her community college campuses and she’d like to enroll as many of those students as possible.

North Orange's and other community college campuses said they're studying how to accept credits from ITT Tech. It’s a quality control issue, Li-Bugg said, one that involves making sure that the quality of an ITT Tech class is similar to what is offered at a community college.

And that’s made more difficult, Li-Bugg said, because community colleges and for-profit colleges have two different accreditation agencies.

“The state chancellor’s office provided some guidelines and leadership in terms of taking students who were left out in the cold by the closure of the Corinthian colleges," she said. "I’m expecting in the next few days we might see something, some clarification from the state chancellor’s office."

But state officials seem to be punting the decision back to the campuses.

“With regard to transfer of credits to a community college, it will be up to each college to determine whether units can transfer,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office spokesman Paul Feist in an email.

The California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools, the advocacy arm of for-profit colleges, suggested other for-profit colleges can fill in the gap left by ITT Tech's closure.

"While ITT Tech is not a member of our organization, we are advocates for career education and the students that wish to pursue it," the group’s president Steve Gunderson said in a written statement.  "We hope the [U.S. Department of Education] will find a way to help the students most directly impacted by this to continue their education."