MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - One of the largest for-profit colleges in the United States is closing its doors, citing financial challenges and accreditation issues as the reasons.
Virginia College, based out of Birmingham, has multiple campuses across the Southeast. It’s parent company, Educational Corporation of America, has approximately 20,000 students enrolled in courses that teach disciplines including cosmetology, culinary arts, and medical and dental assistant programs.
While it has 75 campus across the nation, the majority are centered in the Southeast.
Virginia College’s president and CEO Stu Reed, sent an email outlining the reason for the closure in an email obtained from a current Montgomery student.
The letter reads:
In early fall, we undertook a path to dramatically restructure Education Corporation of America (parent company of your school) in an effort to best posture it for the future. This plan entailed the teach out of 26 of our campuses and then the commitment of capital from our investors additional funds from investors [SIC].
However, recently, the Department of Education added requirements that made operating our schools more challenging. In addition, last night ACICS suspended our schools' accreditation with intent to withdraw. The uncertainty of these requirements resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools.
It is with extreme regret that this series of recent circumstances has forced us to discontinue the operations of our schools. Your campus will close this month. Please contact your Dean or Program Director for the specific closure date of your campus.
You will receive credit for all courses that you completed and passed by the closure date. Information on how to request your transcript will be posted at www.ecacolleges.com within the next few weeks. If you do not graduate this month, we encourage you to continue your career training by requesting your transcript and contacting local schools to determine transferability.
This is clearly not the outcome we envisioned for you or our schools, and it [SIC] with the utmost regret that we inform you of this direction.
President & CEO
Closures were expected, but they happened faster than expected and included all campuses.
ECA had shuttered more than a third of its campuses earlier in 2018 at both Virginia College and at Brightwood College, which it also owns and is now in the process of closing. Those closures were part of a court-approved receivership, Inside Higher Ed reported. ECA fell behind on its payments to creditors and stopped paying rent on buildings.
The end came Tuesday as ACICS suspended Virginia College’s accreditation.
A link to what used to be the Montgomery campus' website confirmed it would “no longer enroll new students effective Sept. 10, 2018...." after “Virginia College, Montgomery has been placed on institutional show cause by its accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (“ACICS”), because of the final adverse action taken by another recognized accrediting agency.”
In October, would-be student graduates from the Montgomery campus received notifications from Virginia College that it would be closing as of April 1, 2020. The notification stated that despite the closing, students would still receive their diploma from an accredited school upon graduation. The letter further asked students to acknowledge they had received notice of the closure.
Virginia College’s website was still functional as of Wednesday afternoon, but its social media accounts had been taken down. The company said some employees would remain on campuses to help students with transcripts.
According to its website, Virginia College was founded in 1983 with its first branch opening in Birmingham in 1992. That Birmingham branch became the college’s main campus. From there, it grew to campuses in Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery, Alabama; Fort Pierce, Jacksonville, and Pensacola, Florida; Biloxi and Jackson, Mississippi; Austin and Lubbock, Texas; Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee; Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, and Spartanburg, South Carolina; Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah, Georgia; Baton Rouge and Shreveport, Louisiana; Richmond, Virginia; Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Greensboro, North Carolina.
The closures are playing out in multiple cities with surprised students now trying to figure out their next moves.
In Montgomery, a student who did not want to be identified shared a photo with WSFA 12 News.
“I pull up to find out what is going on and a shred it truck is out front,” the student said. “We deserve help and answers.”