An ominous hint dropped by Kyle Schreder’s English instructor during class in late August rattled the 24-year-old, driving him to the web to research the fate of his school.
The search terms were simple: “ITT Tech, news.” Up popped pages and pages of results about federal sanctions and financial woes. Within a few weeks, his instructor’s prescient hint had become prophetic: Schreder’s ITT Technical Institute campus in Brooklyn Center closed, as did all of the for-profit school’s 130 locations in 38 states.
“We were all very [angry],” said Schreder, who was studying network systems administration. “We didn’t know where that put us — especially financially. Was it all a sham? Did they not see this coming six months ago? Why didn’t we have any warning?”
For Schreder and the hundreds of Minnesota students whose lives were upended by ITT’s abrupt shutdown, these questions hang in the air and haunt their next steps in higher education.
And across the state, more than 1,000 students face similar uncertainties in light of the recent or impending closures of other for-profit schools, including Regency Beauty Institute, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and Art Institute International, as well as the potential closure of Globe University and Minnesota School of Business, which are appealing the revocation of their license to operate.
Many students are scrambling to transfer — to community colleges, to four-year programs, or even to other private career schools — before a new semester begins.
In recent weeks, state education officials have been rushing to smooth the path for these students, offering free transcripts and working to make transfer policies more lenient at the schools considering their applications.
Since ITT’s sudden closure, for instance, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education has been fielding up to 50 requests for free transcripts each week — a sign that students are looking to transfer immediately, said Betsy Talbot, manager of registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
Education officials also have hurried to piece together web guides that untangle financial aid and transfer options, with pages specifically tailored to ITT and Regency students. These pages also list schools that have agreed to ramp up efforts to work with students looking to transfer courses.
“We created agreements of what classes transfer to what, and those agreements are generally more favorable than what a student could get individually or historically,” Talbot said.
The recent spate of closures, education officials say, is largely symptomatic of tightening federal regulations and plummeting enrollment among for-profit schools. About 15,000 students enrolled in private career schools across Minnesota last year — less than half of those enrolled in 2009, when the Great Recession led many job seekers to consider college, according to state enrollment data.
After a school closure, students face two main courses of action. They can discharge their loans — and abandon their current programs of study — or work to transfer credits to a new school.
For prospective colleges and universities, displaced students represent an opportunity for growth, but it can be tricky to court this group without seeming predatory, admissions staff said.
“Whenever stories like this break, it’s ‘Oh, we need to get their students,’ but at some point we have to play devil’s advocate and ask, ‘Do they even want to go into higher education right now?’ ” said Ricardo Gonzalez, director of enrollment management at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
Other than posting on social media, the community college, which has campuses in Coon Rapids and Cambridge, has avoided “aggressive” marketing and is largely waiting for students to reach out, Gonzalez said, adding that he hopes to enroll 15 to 20 transfers for next semester and up to 50 by next fall.
Students coming from for-profit schools say the lower tuition at community colleges is especially appealing.
“The cost difference is huge,” said Carl Olson, who paid $50,000 during his two years at Minnesota School of Business — compared to the roughly $3,000 he plans to pay for his part-time course load next semester at Anoka-Ramsey.
At Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, school officials have also been fine tuning recruitment and marketing plans, creating transfer guides, sending e-mail campaigns, and have even held two special open houses for ITT students.
With a student body made up largely of transfers, adult learners and nontraditional students, Metro State is a natural fit for many drifting away from the for-profit scene, said Julio Vargas-Essex, admissions director.
Since July, more than 80 students from for-profit schools have shown interest in Metro State, with 62 having applied so far, Vargas-Essex said. Most will begin classes next semester.
But for some displaced students like Suze Christenson, a January start date was too far away. When Regency closed in September, most other school semesters had already started. With school loans weighing on her, Christenson opted to enroll in Minnesota School of Cosmetology, another for-profit, because of its flexible start date.
“I didn’t want to wait until spring,” said Christenson, of Brooklyn Park. “I just wanted to be back in school and be working every day to graduate. It was a good fit for me.”
After ITT folded, Schreder decided to transfer to Dunwoody College of Technology, a private, nonprofit college in Minneapolis. He’ll begin full-time in January and hopes to finish his program in web programming and database development in two years.
“My brother went to a trade school, and I knew that was what I wanted to do, too,” Schreder said.
Over the last few weeks, Schreder has attended orientation, obtained a parking pass and picked up his student ID. Now he’s calculating whether to discharge his ITT loans while also working to see if any of his previous classes align with his new program.
At Dunwoody, school officials assess students’ prior learning by comparing course content, discussing prior coursework and offering test-out options or special project opportunities.
They also take work experience into account.
“We find that the classes they took are just one piece of the puzzle,” said Cindy Olson, vice president of enrollment management.
More than 20 students from ITT and 19 from Art Institute International have already been accepted for upcoming semesters.
On a recent afternoon, Schreder met with his new program manager to talk through his transcript and decipher which of his ITT courses — if any — overlap with classes Dunwoody.
Schreder answered questions about what he could remember, but gaps in course concepts also showed through.
“It’s disappointing,” Schreder said at the end of the meeting. “I was at ITT for six months and spent a good amount of time on my homework each week. This really opened my eyes on what I missed there.”
On his daily commute to work, Schreder always drives past the ITT campus, eager to put it behind him.
“I fully thought I was going to leave ITT with a degree,” Schreder said. “That’s still what I want to do. I know I need a degree to get further in life.”