Argosy University students Shelly Hampton Huguley (from left), Ashley Jones and Darlene Rosario, who are working on their master’s in the clinical mental health program, leave the Dunwoody campus after being informed Thursday it may close. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Students search for answers as for-profit college likely to close

Students at the metro Atlanta campus of one of the nation’s largest for-profit universities scrambled Thursday to figure out their next steps after its administrators announced the school is likely to close Friday.

Administrators at cash-strapped Argosy University sent state officials late Wednesday a seven-page “campus closure plan.” The documents say operations may end Friday unless a new owner emerges or Argosy finds a transfer partner. Argosy, which holds classes in an office building on Hammond Drive near Ga. 400, has about 1,500 students who take classes from its Georgia campus, according to state officials.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said student Brian Santiago, who is one class short of completing his master’s degree in clinical mental health.

Argosy’s parent company, Dream Center Education Holdings (DCEH), agreed to a receivership plan in January after, court records show, being unable to pay some vendors. Federal education officials gave DCEH a March 11 deadline to show why it should continue to participate in federal student aid programs.

Related: Argosy students fearful as feds set deadline

“We are working with students, accreditors, state regulators and the U.S. Department of Education to provide as many options as possible for students, to include transfer to another higher education institution or student loan discharge,” Mark Dottore, the court-appointed receiver, said in a three-sentence statement Thursday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Argosy offers associate to doctoral degrees in courses such as clinical psychology, business, law and creative arts and design. It has 16 campuses in 11 states and online courses, and many of them could also close Friday. Federal officials say the situation has become so severe that some faculty members at one Argosy school in Phoenix were called out of their classrooms while teaching and told they were fired, documents show.

Argosy University student Darlene Rosario discusses finding out the cash-strapped university’s Dunwoody campus may close on Friday. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Federal education officials last week denied Argosy’s application to become a nonprofit institution. For-profit colleges close at higher percentages than nonprofits, experts say, because they spend more on advertising and other tools to recruit students and less on classroom instruction.

With closure looming, Argosy held the first part of a two-day transfer fair Thursday in which at least five colleges and universities sent representatives who shared information about their curriculum. More than 100 students arrived, waiting in hallways to get details. Other students came or sent relatives to get their transcripts.

Santiago and other students said the fair was disorganized and rushed. Argosy’s closure plan suggested one option for students is to finish their course requirements by Friday. Clinical mental health students Shelly Hampton Huguley, Ashley Jones and Darlene Rosario left the fair doubtful they will get their financial aid this semester. They were unsure of their next steps.

“We’re trying to finish,” said Rosario, who’s taken courses there for four years, worried she won’t be able to transfer most of her credits to another school.

“It’s just a bunch of broken promises,” Jones said of the situation.

Argosy University holds classes in an office complex near Ga. 400 in Dunwoody. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nationally, Argosy students are waiting for an estimated $13 million in financial aid, according to one document. Instead of distributing the money to students, Argosy used the funds for other expenses, including payroll and legal fees. Some Argosy students have started online fundraising programs to raise money for classmates facing eviction because they haven’t received financial aid. Some students borrow money above tuition and school fees to pay for daily expenses like child care and rent.

Argosy wrote to the state it will hold information sessions for students if it closes. A federal provision allows students to seek loan forgiveness if they feel a college or university misled them or engaged in other misconduct. Georgia students, if they qualify, could seek tuition refunds from a state fund.

Some students are doubtful they will be reimbursed, but left the school Thursday somewhat optimistic.

“We’re going to get through this,” Jones said as the three women walked to their cars.

Stay on top of this breaking news story throughout the day. AJC.com will be posting updates at noon Friday.

ARGOSY UNIVERSITY, ATLANTA

Enrollment: 1,500 students

Tuition: $20,317

Six-year graduation rate: 13 percent

2014 student loan default rate: 15.2 percent

Sources: U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics 2016-17 data; U.S. Department of Education; Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commission

WHY IT MATTERS

Georgia has about 140 for-profit colleges and universities, state officials say. 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. Many have closed with little notice, forcing students to scramble to continue their education elsewhere. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported on many of these closings, exposing problems about how these schools are regulated. Some education experts and industry observers say the federal government needs to tighten regulations of the schools.

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