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Millions in student loan cash disappears as a college chain crumbles

Millions in student loan cash disappears as a college chain crumbles
  • SUSAN ESSOYAN / SUSAN [email protected]

    Bonnie Ressler and her husband, Joe, left Argosy University in downtown Honolulu Thursday afternoon. Ressler, an MBA student, stated the abrupt closure means students will earn no credits this semester.

When the Schooling Division accredited a proposal by Dream Middle, a Christian nonprofit with no expertise in larger schooling, to buy a troubled chain of for-profit schools, skeptics warned that the charity was unlikely to tug off the turnaround it promised.

What they didn’t foresee was just how shortly and catastrophically it might fail.

Barely a yr after the takeover, dozens of Dream Middle campuses are almost out of money and should close as soon as at the moment. More than a dozen others have been bought in the hope they will survive.

The affected faculties — Argosy University, South University and the Art Institutes — have about 26,000 college students in packages spanning affiliate degrees in dental hygiene and doctoral packages in regulation and psychology. Fourteen campuses, principally Art Institute places, have a new owner after a swiftly arranged switch involving personal fairness executives. Greater than 40 others are underneath the control of a court-appointed receiver who has accused faculty officers of making an attempt to keep the doorways open by taking hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for college kids.

The issues, arising amid the Trump administration’s broad efforts to deregulate the for-profit college industry, started virtually immediately after Dream Middle acquired the faculties in 2017. The charity, started 25 years in the past and affiliated with a Pentecostal megachurch in Los Angeles, has a nationwide network of outreach packages for issues like homelessness and home violence and stated it planned to use the faculties to fund its enlargement.

Now its college students — many with credits that can’t be easily transferred — are stuck in a meltdown. On Wednesday, members of the school at Argosy’s Chicago and Northern Virginia campuses informed college students that that they had been fired and instructed to take away their belongings. In Phoenix, an unpaid landlord locked students out of their lecture rooms. In California, a dean advised college students two months away from graduation to not invite family to attend from out of city.

“In less than a month, everything I have worked for the past three years has been taken from me,” stated Jayne Kenney, who is pursuing her doctorate in medical psychology at Argosy’s Chicago campus. “I am also conscious of the fact that what seems like the swift fall of an ax in less than one month has in reality been festering for years.”

The fall accelerated last week when the Schooling Division minimize off federal student loan funds to Argosy after the court-appointed receiver stated faculty officials had taken about $13 million owed to college students at 22 campuses and used it for expenses like payroll. The students, who had borrowed extra cash to cover issues like lease and groceries, have been pressured to use meals banks or skip courses for lack of bus fare.

Lauren Jackson, a single mom in search of a doctorate at the Illinois Faculty of Skilled Psychology, an Argosy faculty in Chicago, did not receive the roughly $10,000 she was due in January. She has been paying expenses for her and her 6-year-old daughter with borrowed cash and GoFundMe donations.

On Tuesday, after three months of not paying her lease, she acquired an eviction notice.

“I didn’t want to go home and tell my baby that Mommy may not be a doctor,” stated Jackson, whose faculty might close as we speak. “Now I don’t want to go home and tell her that we don’t have a home.”


Led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Schooling Division has reversed an Obama-era crackdown on troubled vocational and profession faculties and allowed new and less skilled entrants into the sector.

“The industry was on its heels, but they’ve been given new life by the department under DeVos,” stated Eileen Connor, director of litigation at Harvard Regulation Faculty’s Venture on Predatory Student Lending.

DeVos, who invested in corporations with ties to for-profit schools before taking office, has made it an company precedence to unfetter for-profit faculties by eliminating restrictions on them. She additionally allowed a number of for-profit faculties to evade even these loosened rules by changing to nonprofits.

That’s what Dream Middle needed to do when it asked to purchase the remains of Schooling Administration Corp.

Schooling Administration, as soon as the nation’s second-largest for-profit college operator, was struggling for survival after an investigation into its recruiting techniques resulted in a $200 million settlement in 2015. Regardless of these troubles, it had 65,000 students, and some of its faculties maintained robust reputations.

Dream Middle is related to Angelus Temple, which was founded by Aimee Semple McPherson, a charismatic evangelist as soon as portrayed by Faye Dunaway in a TV movie, “The Disappearance of Aimee.” It is affiliated with the Foursquare Church, an evangelical denomination with outposts in 146 nations.

Buying a chain of faculties “aligns perfectly with our mission, which views education as a primary means of life transformation,” Randall Barton, the inspiration’s managing director, stated when Dream Middle introduced its plan.

However Dream Middle had by no means run schools. It hired a group together with Brent Richardson, who labored on the conversion of Grand Canyon College to a nonprofit as its chairman, to steer the faculties’ corporate father or mother, Dream Middle Schooling Holdings. He stepped down in January.

Alarms have been ringing from the second the takeover was proposed. Dream Middle’s effort to buy the failing ITT Technical Institutes faculties had fallen apart after resistance from the Obama administration. When it requested to purchase Schooling Administration’s faculties, shopper teams, members of Congress and some regional accreditors raised considerations.

But in late 2017, DeVos’ agency gave preliminary approval to Dream Middle’s plan.

Virtually instantly, the group discovered the faculties have been in worse form than expected, with ageing amenities and outdated know-how. The schools “were, on the whole, failing without hope for redemption,” the receiver wrote in a courtroom submitting final month.

Dream Middle had anticipated a $30 million profit in its first yr, Barton wrote in a current authorized submitting. As an alternative, it was dealing with a $38 million loss.

And Dream Middle confirmed little inclination to curb the techniques that obtained Schooling Management in hassle, like misleading students about their employment prospects. The executives it put in cultivated a high-pressure tradition in which profit surpassed all different considerations, in response to a report filed final yr by Thomas J. Perrelli, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the faculties’ compliance with their state settlements.

By the top of 2018, Dream Middle was dealing with eviction on at the very least 9 campuses and owed creditors more than $40 million, and Schooling Department officials scrambled to plan for what seemed like an imminent implosion.

“We know all too well that precipitous school closures are bad for everyone involved and leave too many students high and dry,” stated Liz Hill, an agency spokeswoman. “Teams of people at the department have been working tirelessly on behalf of students — caught up in this situation through no fault of their own — with the singular goal in mind to ensure as many students as possible had options to complete their education.”


The issues grew in mid-January when a creditor sued Dream Middle Schooling Holdings over unpaid payments and requested a federal courtroom to put in a receiver to wind down the insolvent group. Within a day, a federal decide appointed Mark Dottore, who was working with Dream Middle as a paid advisor, as its receiver.

At a forum last month with college students at Argosy College in Chicago, Dottore tried to calm an anxious crowd.

“We will make it until June, I can pretty much assure you of that,” Dottore stated, based on a recording offered to The New York Occasions by a student. “By hook or by crook, I’m going to get us there.”

But on Wednesday, Dottore filed an emergency movement describing his plans to sell Argosy’s campuses, plus the South College and Artwork Institute campuses that haven’t been bought already. Any that didn’t have a purchaser by at this time would shut, he stated.

Even as Argosy campuses prepared to shut, a dean at the American Faculty of Professional Psychology in Northern Virginia emailed college students Wednesday, imploring them to attend courses the remainder of the week “if we are to save the semester.”

Scott Peck, a 50-year-old student there, left behind a six-figure wage in software and cashed out his 401(okay) savings to pay for his doctorate. But he feels worse for his youthful classmates.

“What’s so heartbreaking is to see what’s happening to these kids in their 20s, who are believing things they’re told by people that they trust,” he stated.

Argosy was imagined to pay college students the additional cash that they had borrowed, then search reimbursement from the government. However Argosy reported that the money was paid out despite the fact that it wasn’t, Dottore wrote in courtroom filings, and used the reimbursements for operating bills as an alternative.

A Dream Middle spokeswoman did not respond to requests for touch upon the fraud accusation.

Whereas Argosy students have little hope of getting again cash they paid out of pocket, the Schooling Division stated the federal loan debt of affected college students can be forgiven for this semester. If the faculties close, students can seek help underneath a program masking faculty shutdowns.


Not all the Dream Middle faculties are beneath menace of an instantaneous shutdown. Some have been just lately shunted to a new owner in a deal partly orchestrated by the Schooling Division.

But the association with Studio Enterprise, a Los Angeles firm that provides help providers for creative-industry training packages, raises its own questions. Studio is personally funded by the principals of Colbeck Capital Administration, a New York personal equity firm that set up the nonprofit proprietor.

Dream Middle stated in July that it will close more than 30 ailing campuses across all three chains, however a few months later it reached a cope with Studio to salvage some Art Institute places.

As Dream Middle’s problems mounted in December, the Schooling Division referred to as an emergency meeting. Studio agreed to coordinate an acquisition of eight Art Institute campuses and, at the very least briefly, six South College campuses.

To take care of their nonprofit status, the settlement gave Studio the appropriate to select a nonprofit to buy the faculties. Colbeck Capital used a Delaware-based nonprofit it created 5 years in the past, renaming it the Schooling Principle Basis, in line with a state submitting uncovered by the Republic Report, a website that has intently tracked Dream Middle’s unraveling.

In mid-January, a information launch informed the 15,000 college students at 14 Arts Institute and South campuses that their faculties have been owned by a basis that hadn’t existed three weeks earlier. Two individuals acquainted with the inspiration’s plans stated it meant to spin the South campuses off beneath their own leadership.

Robin Von Bokhorst, listed in legal filings as the inspiration’s president, didn’t respond to requests for remark.

Bryan Newman, Studio’s chief government, stated the Artwork Institute faculties had been “ignored for years.”

“We’re coming in with the view that these schools need investment,” he stated.

Shopper teams and lawmakers, nevertheless, are questioning the association. Two Democrats in Congress have asked the Schooling Department’s inspector basic to research the department’s position in the deal.

The fate of the faculties in receivership continues to be being sorted out. The decide who appointed Dottore scheduled a hearing for Monday to find out if he must be removed. Creditors have complained about his shut ties to Dream Middle, and the decide questioned if Dottore was managing the state of affairs in a approach that did “more harm than good.”

Many college students agree.

“The way they presented the receivership was that it would be beneficial to the students, but it’s actually been detrimental,” stated Marina Awed, a student at an Argosy faculty in California, Western State College of Regulation, who was scheduled to graduate in two months. “It shouldn’t be this easy to defraud the Department of Education.”

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