Virginia College students preparing to protest, sue after sudden closing
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Students at Virginia College’s Montgomery campus said they are preparing a class action lawsuit and plan to protest after a second day of “no answers” since learning their campus is set to close on Friday.
They got the news Wednesday morning; many said they were told just minutes before taking their final exams. Now, questions are circulating about graduation, student loans, transcripts and students' ability to transfer their credits to another institution.
Jill Harrelson said she was able to get a copy of her transcript on Thursday night from the Montgomery campus, but it did not include her final class.
“It’s missing grades," Harrelson said. “I have an unofficial, missing transcript, and that’s not okay. It’s unacceptable because I can’t even take this today and get my certification or apply somewhere else because it’s not showing all of my classes. I feel like the staff here now understands that this is time sensitive for us students, but there’s no higher power here. There are no deans here, there’s no presidents here. There’s no one speaking. In the wake of all this, they need to be here.”
Harrelson and her classmate Margaret Sanders said they completed all of their coursework to receive their degrees. The only thing they must do now is complete 200 hours of unpaid work in their “externship.” They were told they would have five weeks to complete their hours. Sanders was set to graduate in mid-January, and Harrelson was told she would walk in February.
“Not they’re telling me, if I want to graduate this month, I have to do the whole 200 by Dec. 18,” Sanders said. “That’s impossible.”
Both women were able to get their transcripts and were told students can come get their transcripts through Dec. 14. They are concerned about having enough time to complete their hours by the new deadline set by the college and the impact it will have on their ability to take the necessary exams for employment.
Meanwhile, other students, like Josh Thomas, are still concerned about getting their credits transferred to another institution.
“Nursing credits don’t transfer like your other class credits,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he has been through this process before. He said he came to Virginia College after ITT Technical Institute closed its doors in 2016 because VC was the only school he found that would take his credits.
Some students are also concerned that the time they will have to wait to get answers and next steps will create a barrier to them getting the information they need to transfer to another institution.
Education Corporation of America (ECA) is the company that owns Virginia College. Diane Worthington, a spokesperson for ECA, stated that ECA is closing all 69 of its career college campuses. However, she said students will be able to complete the current term, which ends Friday.
Worthington also provided this statement:
“After many years of training students for new careers, it is with a heavy heart that today we announce that Education Corporation of America (ECA) is closing all its career colleges effective with the completion of the current module or term for most students. We will work with students to ensure access to their transcripts so they can complete their studies at another school. We are proud of our thousands of graduates who have entered the workforce with skills they acquired at our schools along with our faculty and staff who have shown unwavering support for our students. This is not the outcome that we envisioned and is one that we recognize will have a dramatic effect on our students, employees, and many partners.”
Students were instructed to check this link “within a few weeks.” Currently, the link goes to a page with no information uploaded, but it says ECA expects to “start loading information” about the transcript request process, transfer recommendations, contact lists and general question “on/around” Dec. 17.
Both Sanders and Harrelson said they received notification that their student loan funds were disbursed for the remainder of their time at Virginia College.
“Where is that money going?" Harrelson asked. “When I ask them about it, they just say they don’t have any answers, and they’re sorry.”
Harrelson said she was later told, when she went to get her transcript, that students whose loans were disbursed have the option to request loan forgiveness.
“We’re being told now, since the school closed suddenly, to have our loans forgiven,” Harrelson said. “But that’s not a guarantee. We know that’s not really forgiving for us.”
Sanders said she and other classmates are working on a lawsuit.
“We’re doing it before they declare bankruptcy so we can try to get something back,” Sanders said. “We matter. Our education matters. I have no words. I’m just really angry.”
They also plan to march in protest at the school at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.
“We are not going to let this go,” Sanders said. “We’re parents. There are people with cancer, people who are homeless and have been walking to school. We won’t take this.”
Meanwhile, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) released its own statement and list of requirements for ECA and Virginia College campuses. ACICS is the company’s accrediting body and stated the group informed ECA of its initial concerns in early May and shared further concerns that Virginia College would likely not be able to continue to operate in early November. ECA President and CEO Stu Reed stated ACICS pulled Virginia College’s accreditation Tuesday night, which he stated led to Wednesday’s notification of closure.
ACICS' statement goes on to say the group is concerned about the students who are hoping to continue their education and who were set to receive their degrees in December. ACICS is requiring Virginia College to submit evidence that of “executed transfer agreements to other institutions for students still enrolled after December” and “evidence of the successful completion of programs for students scheduled graduate in December” by Dec. 19.
ACICS President and CEO Michelle Edwards said new information will be posted here.
Senator Doug Jones released a statement Thursday calling the ECA’s response and handling of the closings “unacceptable” for the nearly 20,000 students enrolled nationwide.
Additionally, a representative from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office said, while it’s too early for the office to speculate on the situation at this time, it is aware of the situation and monitoring the proceedings with hopes of being able to offer helpful assistance.
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