A financially troubled for-profit college is set to close more than half of its campuses next year including ones in Macon and Columbus.
Virginia College, a school geared toward non-traditional students and adults seeking job skills, has for years been affected by lower enrollment numbers and low job placement rates, according to letters from accreditation agencies and court records.
The Alabama-based school announced in September that it would stop enrolling new students at 17 of its 28 campuses.
Aisha Jackson is studying to be a medical assistant at the Macon campus, which was established just off Eisenhower Parkway inside an old Kmart building.
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Jackson said she did not know too much about the campus closing, but “I’ll be finished before they close.”
“It’s fast-paced,” Jackson said of the nine-month program she is in. “I start externship in January.”
Academic Dean Christopher Ellis asked Telegraph reporters to leave the Macon campus and referred all questions to Diane Worthington, vice president of Education Corporation of America, the parent company of Virginia College.
Worthington told The Telegraph by phone that the Macon campus, which opened in 2010 and had a current enrollment of about 150 stuents, is set to close in June 2019. The campus on Veterans Parkway in Columbus, which had about 200 students enrolled, is set to close in August 2019 after opening in 2011, Worthington said.
The school’s campuses in Savannah and Augusta will remain open.
Earlier this year, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools sent a compliance warning letter to the college’s headquarters in Birmingham, Alabama, stating that the rate at which Macon students were getting jobs and certifications relevant to their studies was at 16 percent. That’s well below the acceptable level of 60 percent, according to the letter, which was posted on ACICS’s website.
At the Columbus campus, the rate was 30 percent in April.
ACICS, the accrediting agency for Education Corporation of America and most for-profit colleges, has troubles of its own.
During the Obama administration, it was “derecognized” by the U.S. Department of Education. ACICS provided schools with a seal of approval for educational quality and, as a federally recognized accrediting agency, allowed those schools to receive Title IX money.
ACICS appealed the decision before it was finalized in a September 2016 decision letter from the U.S. Department of Education, which cited “pervasive compliance problems” involving ACICS.
In April, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered a further review of the agency and allowed it 12 months to show compliance.
Lawsuits against the college
Earlier this month, Virginia College and its parent company were sued for allegedly not paying September and October rent on its 50,000-square-foot space in Macon.
The federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Middle Georgia, which involves a different Alabama-based limited liability company named VC Macon, alleges that Virginia College was “retaining tuition instead of paying the amounts due under the leases.”
It also alleges Virginia College “knowingly made false representations to induce the federal government to deliver the tuition loans,” according to the lawsuit.
A search of all federal court records shows the college is accused of not paying rent at several other locations, including ones in Oklahoma, California and Florida.
However, another federal lawsuit in Birmingham, Alabama, is keeping the college from being evicted from the campuses, an action Virginia College alleges could disrupt the studies of its almost 20,000 students nationwide.
Education Corporation of America, Virginia College’s parent company, sought federal protection from creditors and the appointment of a receiver to manage the private school. The receiver would oversee restructuring and refinancing of Virginia College schools remaining open and the orderly closing of the other campuses, according to the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon granted a temporary injunction, finding that creditor action could cause Education Corporation of America “irreparable injury.”
When colleges close, the institutions are required to have what is called a teach-out plan that allows for students to complete their degrees before the closure. If a student is unable to complete their program, he or she can either transfer class credits or request a tuition refund.