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Tumult for many for-profit colleges, why students still attend

Nov 29, 2016 03:12PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

A sign posted on the door of the ITT Tech campus in Murray announces the closure of the school. The national for-profit school closed all its doors in September. (Kimberly Roach/City Journals)

Gallery: Tumult for many for-profit colleges, why students still attend [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Mandy Morgan Ditto | m.ditto@mycityjournals.com


Many students and graduates of ITT Technical Institutes didn’t expect a college to close so rapidly. However, that’s exactly what happened with ITT Tech on Sept. 6, right as the school year was beginning.

ITT Educational Services, which operates  ITT Technical Institutes — private colleges that have operated in more 140 locations across the nation for more than 50 years — announced closures after the Department of Education decided “to bar the chain of colleges from using federal financial aid to enroll new students,” according to the New York Times. 

The only ITT Tech location in Utah was in Murray, Utah, and students that planned to attend the 2016 fall semester on Sept. 12 were surprised to have plans changed a few days before.

“It is with profound regret that we must report that ITT Educational Services, Inc. will discontinue academic operations at all of its ITT Technical Institutes permanently after more than 50 years of continuous service,” said ITT Tech’s official news release announcing the closure of the schools. “The actions of and sanctions from the U.S. Department of Education have forced us to cease operations of the ITT Technical Institutes, and we will not be offering our September quarter.”

For Kevin Neff, a graduate from ITT Tech in Murray in 1998, the worth of his degree and the education he received is still entirely valid to him, no matter the school closure. Neff, who received an associate of applied science degree in computer-aided drafting and design technology, was looking for a school to help him get a secondary education degree and have time to spend with his family.

“In speaking with the school, reviewing the schedules and looking further at the classes offered, I was pretty much sold from day one,” Neff told the City Journals in an email. He had considered the programs for computer-aided drafting and architecture at both Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah, but the programs would take too much time while he was working full time, and he was hoping to get his degree in less than four years.

“I feel the education and training I received at ITT Tech was as thorough as I would have received attending any community college,” Neff said. “There was never a time at ITT that I felt the curriculum or my instructors were sub-par when compared to my public community college options. I did feel that the algebra and physics courses at ITT were tailored more towards real-world applications faced in drafting and design scenarios than an overall study of each course.”

Neff has worked for over the last 16 years in a position focused on “the utilization of both GIS and computer-aided drafting systems.” He and his family currently resides in Oregon.

Though most graduates haven’t felt much impact from the closure of the school, it was jolting for some employees. Tony Rose, who worked at the Phoenix location of ITT Tech, was surprised to see an email several days after it was sent to his work account about the school closure, before the semester started.

There was an email sent to all ITT Tech employees’ work accounts at 4:30 a.m. in Arizona, right after Labor Day weekend, he recalled. “Nobody had checked their email unless you worked in the offices,” he said. “I’m driving home from my day job, and I hear on the radio that they closed it.” He believes management was aware before other employees that the institute would close. He also said many people didn’t get their final paychecks due to scattered management of finances overall.

Luckily, Rose has another job working as a network administrator in the Creighton School District in Phoenix, but he won’t have a chance at another community college job until potential hiring takes place before the next semester that starts in January. For those students who were hoping to finish their degree at ITT Tech, there is a process some qualify for to get their student loans through the school forgiven, Rose said, though some are simply going to have to pay off federal loans and find another school that may or may not take already earned credits to finish a degree. 

The sudden closure of ITT Tech hasn’t impacted Kyle Judson much, as he has security in his current job. Judson, who graduated from one of the previous two ITT locations in Massachusetts in 2007, was top in his class with a degree in computer networking. He is still living in Massachusetts.

“I’ve never actually had a job in computer networking, but that’s the same old song and dance for all of us,” Judson said. “I work for a medical device company now, I’m a technical support manager after being in the engineering world for about seven or eight years after I graduated.”

Why students choose schools like ITT Tech over four-year colleges is a question that can only be answered by everyone at these schools, who like Judson, have found factors that work best for them.

Judson wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do after he graduated from high school; he attended a few universities before landing on ITT Tech. “I’ve always had an aptitude for math and science,” he said. “I knew computers were kind of a combination of the two, and I needed a degree and I needed one fast, so I said ‘ITT Tech, why not?’”

The smaller class sizes and regular interaction with professors who worked in the industry all provided positives for Judson at ITT, which led to more connections and networking. There wasn’t, however, as much hardware to use and learn from at the university, which was something Judson said he saw as a bit of a problem, especially with the amount of tuition being paid. For being a technical college, it was the one thing that didn’t quite make sense — to not have the very equipment there all the time to help students really learn the trade they were studying.

When it came to funding at ITT, Judson said “there were always some rumors and some whispers about — for lack of a better term — some shady financial practice,” Judson said. “But at the time I didn’t really know about it, and I just wanted an education, but I’m lucky it worked for me. I got a great job after I graduated, and I was able to pay my student loans, but I also did really well in school so I got a really good job when I was done.”

Judson graduated with $48,000 in student loan debt, after a two-year program, including two private loans that were $20,000 and $18,000, with high interest. His federal government loan was low-interest, and he has paid off every loan since.

Though programs may end up costing students a lot at schools like ITT Tech, the quicker nature of getting degrees from them is often what brings students to their doors.

As for accreditation, Judson feels ITT Tech never had any problems with that; most concerns came with finances, which is ultimately what led to the closure of the nationwide school.

However, other colleges that have remained open in the valley are dealing with accreditation issues, since the Department of Education took away accreditation privileges from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the largest national accrediting organization of degree-granting institutions. 

Those like The Art Institute of Salt Lake City, Broadview University, Neumont University and Eagle Gate College are either waiting for the appeal to go through and provide ACICS with authority once again or are making plans to gain accreditation from another source. Though all schools accredited by ACICS will remain so through a transition period of 18 months, all will want to be sure students from their university will leave with valid, accredited degrees.

Neumont University President Shaun McAlmont announced shortly after the announcement about ACICS that they were already in the process — months ago, in fact — of changing accreditors. Neumont is located in downtown Salt Lake City. 

“We’re already through the first two steps of the five-step process for changing accreditors,” McAlmont said. “This change will not affect the quality — or value — of education that has always set Neumont apart. Regardless of our accreditor, Neumont will continue to deliver a hands-on, rigorous, project-based and results-driven computer science education for all of our students.”

Neumont expects to have a new accreditor in the next six to nine months.

Since finding out about the possible loss of accreditation from ACICS, Broadview University — located in West Jordan — has also started on the process of being re-accredited with a previous accreditor as a backup plan.

“The process is already in place as far as taking care of the front-end work, as kind of a preventative measure, just in case, should we need to use that,” said Michelle Knoll, senior marketing and communications manager for Broadview. “And then, should ACICS prevail, we would just stay with ACICS.”

If any changes were to occur, Broadview University would inform students of the change, which would only mean they might have a different company accrediting the university by the time many of them graduated, Knoll said.

“It’s kind of a tricky situation, but we know that the students are top priority, so we want to make sure that anything that impacts them they are aware of, but now it shouldn’t impact them, until there’s a decision,” Knoll said.

If Broadview had believed that ACICS was doing anything they shouldn’t have done as an accreditor, they wouldn’t have stuck with them, Knoll said. The university supports ACICS and will stay with them if they win with the appeal.

No one at the ITT Technical Institute, the Art Institute of Salt Lake City or Eagle Gate College responded to the City Journals for comment. 

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