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Education

For-Profit College Closes Abruptly, Leaving A Stream of Anxious Students in its Wake

A sign on the front door said only that the school would be closed for a day after Labor Day weekend. Through closed blinds, visitors could glimpse desks still laden with paperwork in offices where the lights had been left on.

All morning, a steady stream of students pulled up out front of the Hialeah campus to see if the news was true: ITT Tech, one of the largest chains of for-profit colleges in the country, with more than 40,000 students spread across 130 campuses nationwide, was closed for good.

On Tuesday, ITT Tech formally closed its doors following more than a year of mounting pressure from federal regulators to reform its aggressive financial aid practices, and do more to ensure students in its vocational programs graduated with degrees that would get them “gainful employment” in their field of study. The final blow came at the end of August, when the Department of Education announced that ITT Tech could no longer enroll students who were using federal grants and loans, cutting off one of the school’s largest revenue streams.

Stylists at Yesenia Hair Design, which occupies part of the same building along a generic stretch of strip malls and office parks in Hialeah, said they had seen employees ITT Tech working there as recently as last week.

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Credit Kyle Holsten.
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"It's out of my hands; what do you want me to do, cry?" said Mario Garcia, who came to ITT Tech's closed campus hoping to get the certificate of completion for his associate's degree.

Mario Garcia, who recently completed an associate’s degree in network security administration, which he described as cybersecurity, came looking for a way to get his diploma after hearing the news on TV. “I found out yesterday like everybody else,” he said. “I have my notes, I have my GPA, but I don’t have the certificate for that, so basically, it’s like I was never here,” he said. 

ITT Tech released a statement on the website of its parent company Tuesday saying that the vast majority of its 8,000 staff members had been laid off. “Our focus and priority with our remaining staff is on helping the tens of thousands of unexpectedly displaced students with their records and future educational options,” the statement said.  

I paid these guys a lot of money for my credits, a ridiculous amount of money. -Francisco Abreu

Students, though, got no forewarning. 

“They just shut down a giant corporation. Somebody better come in here to clear this stuff out,” muttered Francisco Abreu as he peered through the window into ITT Tech’s deserted lobby.

“I paid these guys a lot of money for my credits, a ridiculous amount of money,” Abreu said. “I just need my transcripts.”  

Abreu’s experience at ITT Tech hints at the criticisms looming over the school’s demise, which centered on its low graduation rates and heavy reliance on student loans. Abreu enrolled in an associate’s degree program in electronics at ITT Tech in his early 20s and found the financial aid office “really, really, really,” helpful—so helpful, in fact, that a representative from ITT Tech filled out most of his financial aid paperwork.

He withdrew at the end of his first year to attend to a family emergency in the Dominican Republic, and defaulted on his loans. It wasn’t until he tried to re-enroll a year later that he realized how deeply he was in debt. “Little did I know I had more loans than I thought I did… I would pay off some loans, and I would go back to school, and it’s like, ‘No, you have another loan.’”

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Credit Kyle Holsten / WLRN
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WLRN
Francisco Abreu, who was scheduled to begin his second year of classes at ITT Tech next week, is hoping to transfer his credits to a new school.

It took five years of bartending for Abreu to pay down his balance enough to go back to school, only to see ITT Tech close the week before his classes were scheduled to start and months after he signed the paperwork on an additional $20,000 in financial aid. 

Now, he hopes to enroll at another school to finish his degree, but he won’t know whether his credits will transfer until he gets his transcript. So far, he said, he hasn’t been able to reach ITT Tech through the company’s 1-800 number. “I’m pretty devastated to think of all that time I spent in classes here,” he said. “I just want to get my transcripts so I can move on.”