A financially troubled for-profit college has abruptly closed all of its campuses, including ones in Macon and Columbus, after losing its accreditation.
Virginia College’s Macon closed Friday, leaving its 150 students without a school or a plan to continue studying.
It was bad news for students like Erica Ham, who was studying business administration at the Macon campus off Eisenhower Parkway.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Ham said as she walked to the lobby of the 50,000 square-foot building that was once a KMart store. “I think it’s just now hitting me that the school is done for and there’s nothing to do about it.”
The school’s Birmingham, Alabama-based parent company, Education Corp. of America, announced in late October it would close several of its campuses to help shore up its financial situation.
The 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 Macon and Columbus campuses, among 15 other campuses that stopped enrolling students in September, were initially set to close in June 2019 and August 2019 respectively. The delayed closures would have allowed students to complete courses.
However, earlier this week, the company abruptly announced it would close all of its campuses.
ECA spokeswoman Diane Worthington said the company “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,” Worthington said. “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.”
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools said in a letter suspending accreditation that any owner or senior manager of the company could be barred from serving at another ACICS-accredited institution unless plans are in place to finish educating or refund money to students at the closed schools.
The loss of accreditation, coupled with a cut to Federal financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education, are among the final nails in the coffin for Virginia College.
The Department was in daily conversations with ECA and potential teach-out partners to assist as many students as possible to find a new institutional home, said Liz Hill, press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
“Education Corporation of America’s decision to suddenly close its campuses is highly disappointing and not best for its students,” Hill said. “There were other options available. … Instead of taking the next few months to close in an orderly fashion, ECA took the easy way out and left 19,000 students scrambling to find a way to finish the education program they started.”
The Associated Press,Georgia Public Broadcasting reporter Grant Blankenship and Sun Herald reporter Anita Lee contributed to this report.