Through tears, former students of defunct Argosy University told Minnesota lawmakers about finding themselves within weeks of starting dream careers — and plunging instead into profound uncertainty about their futures.
Former employees spoke about scrambling to find answers for students, even as their paychecks stopped and their own prospects grew dim.
The House higher education committee heard testimony Wednesday about Argosy’s abrupt closure in March as legislators and state officials vowed to help some 1,000 students who attended the national for-profit network’s Eagan campus. Those include a proposal in the works to forgive state loans and pay the students directly loan money that Argosy withheld from them, apparently to cover operating expenses.
For some, the uncertainty about completing their studies is even more dispiriting than the estimated $1.3 million in state and federal loan payments Argosy kept from Minnesota students. While some have been able to work out transfer options, others said they are finding local programs don’t have space for them or expect them to redo extensive coursework.
“Everyone had plans to start a new chapter in our lives,” said former dental hygiene student Callie Roberts. “It’s not fair.”
Argosy went into receivership, a form of bankruptcy, earlier this year and eventually shuttered its campuses after the federal government cut it off from receiving loans for its students.
Erin Jones spoke about her dream of launching a mobile dental clinic for elderly residents after campus outreach to senior homes showed little in the way of dental care. The goal was meaningful to Jones because her grandmother lost most of her teeth after she entered an assisted living facility.
Jones along with 34 other seniors were six weeks from graduating when the campus closed and they have found no good options to wrap up their studies.
Century College President Angelia Millender called the students’ situation “a tragedy of great proportions” and told lawmakers her campus is ready to take them on, with plans in place to allow them to graduate this year. But the college is running into red tape because Argosy closed without putting so-called “teach-out” arrangements in place.
Lawmakers have written to the Chicago-based Commission on Dental Accreditation, imploring it to make an exception to a rule that is getting in the way.
The state Office of Higher Education said it is working with lawmakers on the Argosy loan bill, which would pay students money they borrowed beyond tuition for living expenses that the university withheld from them. Meanwhile, the state will work to recoup those dollars from Argosy.
“We have been inundated with calls from students on the verge of losing their homes; they can’t pay for child care,” said Sandy Connolly, a spokeswoman for that office. “This is something our office can do to alleviate that financial stress.”
Jim Roberts, the father of Callie Roberts, the dental hygiene student, said he is glad some of her classmates will get that financial relief. But his family footed some $50,000 in tuition bills for the program out of pocket. What students really need is more help finding campuses where they can complete their degrees, he said.
“These kids were blindsided,” he said. “The rug was pulled from under them.”