It was a commencement ceremony for students without a school.
Thirty-two former Argosy University students were honored Saturday afternoon at Church of Christ at Bouldercrest in DeKalb County for completing their coursework amid chaos. The for-profit school abruptly closed its operations nationwide in March, including in Georgia.
Many of these students scrambled to finish classes in those last days, helped by professors who worked to ensure they reached the finish line.
While these students received confirmation that their degrees were conferred, many still don’t have transcripts proving they completed the coursework. The transcripts are required to get professional licenses from the state to work in fields such as counseling. Some students said they’re unsure they’ll ever receive an actual degree.
On this rainy, dreary Saturday, it didn’t matter. They were honored as graduates.
“We did it,” Kimberly Cabral, a clinical mental health counselor from Woodstock who spoke for the class at the ceremony, said to classmate Cheryl Walker after the ceremony. “We made it.”
Murray Bradfield, former president of Argosy’s Atlanta campus, remarked how “very strange” it was to describe the school in past tense. Bradfield, whose son, Philip, was one of the students honored Saturday, said in the commencement speech, “You hung in there. You stayed with it.”
The ceremony was organized by the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of Georgia, who wanted to celebrate the students for their work. The students wore caps and gowns and the audience of about 200 cheered and snapped pictures. Each student was pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree.
At least 18 for-profit schools have folded in the past three years, about two-thirds of all of the closures in Georgia, records show. The schools and their parent companies typically blame the closings on financial problems. Argosy had a similar downfall.
Argosy couldn’t pay some vendors, court records show. Nationally, Argosy students waited for an estimated $13 million in financial aid, according to one document. Argosy, one of the nation’s largest for-profit schools, had 16 campuses in 11 states and online courses.
Argosy had about 1,500 students who took classes in Georgia.
A state official said last week his agency is working to get tuition refunds for some former students and created a weblink with additional resources. Twenty-three schools have offered to teach former Argosy students. The state’s Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission gave three of those schools that weren’t operating in Georgia authorization to teach those students, said Kirk Shook, the commission’s executive director.
Several students raced to complete reports and make presentations to faculty in Argosy’s final days. Some faculty worked with students after Argosy closed to help them complete the coursework. Stone Mountain resident Nikkiya Brooks, 37, who was pursuing a doctoral degree in counselor education and supervision, worked to quickly organize a session to defend her dissertation.
“Although Argosy abruptly closed it is clear that we are who we say we are — hopeful, enduring, imaginative and passionate about each other and other people,” she said.
Many of these students enrolled at Argosy to further their education to get better jobs, change careers or, in the case of Walker, to start a career.
Walker, 44, a mother of four girls who lives in Atlanta, was a stay-at-home mom. Counseling interested her and she pursued a master’s degree in the field.
Walker heard the rumblings months earlier that something was wrong at Argosy, but continued with her studies. She says she often wears rose-colored glasses.
Walker was near the end of her final class at Argosy in March and the rumor mill was in overdrive. A faculty member told her to believe the rumors. She did what would be her final presentation two days before the school closed.
Like many students, Walker ordered her transcripts to prove she completed the coursework.
She nervously waited. Walker helped organize Saturday’s ceremony as she waited.
Eventually, one transcript arrived that showed she completed her coursework.
“It’s a huge relief because I know what it took to get here,” said Walker, who now works as a behavioral specialist.
Walker said she hasn’t received her master’s degree. She’s unsure if and when she’ll get it, but Walker believes life is about how you adjust to difficult situations and she adjusted.
Was it worth it?
“Absolutely,” she said. “It was worth it.”
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