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Beyond the News

Getting Closure

The aftermath of a for-profit’s abrupt shuttering
University Business, March 2013

Students imagine a number of outcomes when they enroll in a course of study, but the one that probably doesn’t occur to them is the possibility they’ll show up to class and find their college closed.

That is what happened to students in Connecticut and Rhode Island attending Butler Business School and Sawyer School. The abrupt January closures happened without advance notice. The for-profit institutions were both owned by Academic Enterprises Inc. Published reports speculated the abrupt closures were due to financial difficulties brought on by declining enrollment and a new law requiring students who receive federal financial aid to have either a high school diploma or a GED.

In Connecticut, where around 1,200 students were left in the cold, Housatonic Community College President Anita Gliniecki says she’s never seen a closure on this scale before. “Other schools have closed, but they’ve typically taken care of their students. I’ve never seen a situation where it was just a note on the door with no plans. This is, thank heavens, an unusual and atypical event.”

As events were unfolding, her institution was ready to step up and assist the displaced students, some of whom were in the final weeks of their programs. But, she explains, there is a concern to not be “perceived as vultures by the students.” Her team was following the state department of education lead, awaiting access to student transcripts, and serving as host for one of the state-organized information sessions for displaced students. Internal discussions focused on non-credit courses that might transfer, especially since Butler was a non-accredited institution.

In addition to Housatonic and Gateway Community College also in Connecticut, six career schools operating in the state indicated they might take students.
In Rhode Island, state officials had quickly acquired the records of the approximately 300 students who attended the Sawyer School. However, Richard Coren, director of marketing and communication of the Community College of Rhode Island, has heard they are paper records, rather than digital, which will slow things down considerably. “What has happened is terrible. They are adult students and are trying to better themselves. Some of them are very close to graduating and have nowhere to turn,” he says. “I think all the public institutions in Rhode Island have made it known we’re here to help.”

The primary concern in a situation like this should be with the welfare of the students, says Norma Kent, senior vice president of communications and advancement at the American Association of Community Colleges. Accommodating the extra students on a public campus might not be as difficult as it would have been a few years ago, she notes. “Our enrollments had been going up and up, but over the last two years, they flattened.”

As the investigation into the closures continues, there has been concern about the tuition the students have already paid. “There are some good for-profits out there, but sometimes the student will borrow enough money to go straight through,” says Kent, adding that students enrolled in community colleges tend to work and attend part time.