Abrupt closure of Corinthian Colleges, including Heald, shocks students

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been a harsh critic of Corinthian Colleges, characterizing some of the organization’s practices as “predatory.”
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been a harsh critic of Corinthian Colleges, characterizing some of the organization’s practices as “predatory.” Sacramento Bee file

Some were only weeks away from graduation. Others were just beginning their quests for a higher degree.

But on Sunday, scores of Heald College students in Roseville, Salida and statewide were left feeling bitter and bewildered at finding their campuses would immediately close. That news came following an announcement by parent company Corinthian Colleges that it would shutter all 28 of its remaining campuses, rounding out months of trouble for the for-profit college giant.

“I went to school all week, just like normal, and I thought (today) would be just another regular day,” said Maria Mejia, 45, who was 10 weeks away from completing her medical office administration degree at Heald College Modesto in Salida. “I still have homework due for tomorrow. I keep thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ ... If I show up to class tomorrow, are the doors going to be locked?”

While some students received an email from Corinthian’s chief executive officer Sunday morning explaining the company’s decision, many current and former students told The Sacramento Bee they first heard about the closures via social media.

Ryan Shirley, 41, who recently graduated from the medical assistance program at Heald College’s Roseville campus, said he was planning on attending a May 15 graduation ceremony. He said that ceremony, along with remaining classes, was canceled with Corinthian’s announcement Sunday.

“I’m absolutely terrified,” said Shirley, a military veteran who planned on continuing his education with Heald this summer. “I spent the last year and a half working really hard to keep straight A’s, and now that the school is closing, my degree is absolutely worthless. There’s a very strong chance that I’ll have to start at the very beginning all over again.”

The closures affects more than 16,000 students in California and beyond.

The majority of Corinthian’s schools were sold last year to a nonprofit student-loan servicer after California Attorney General Kamala Harris sued Corinthian, claiming it misled students about the value of their education and a federal inquiry effectively cut off much the company’s revenue flow.

Several of the 28 campuses have been on the auction block. Among those for sale were the company’s Heald College locations, 10 of which are in California and two in the Sacramento area: Rancho Cordova and Roseville.

“I knew that the school could actually close if they didn’t find someone to buy it,” Mejia said. “But (administrators) kept saying they had potential buyers and they had high hopes that we’d get bought by someone, so we could all just continue with our education like normal. I don’t think anyone realized it was this bad.”

In a news release Sunday, Corinthian said it has had trouble selling its schools because local and federal authorities sought to “impose financial penalties and conditions” on prospective buyers.

Finding someone to take over the schools’ operations or buy them outright would have allowed its students to continue their educations, the company said.

“We believe that we have attempted to do everything within our power to provide a quality education and an opportunity for a better future for our students,” said Jack Massimino, Corinthian’s CEO, in a statement on the company’s website. “Unfortunately, the current regulatory environment would not allow us to complete a transaction with several interested parties that would have allowed for a seamless transition for our students.”

Earlier in April, Harris called on the federal government to forgive student-loan debt for those who attended the for-profit chain’s schools.

Students enrolled in Corinthian schools may be eligible for a full discharge of their debts, according to a U.S. Department of Education policy that allows such dissolution for students who cannot complete the program they enrolled in because of a school’s closure.

“What these students have experienced is unacceptable, and we look forward to working with Congress in an effort to improve accountability and transparency in the career college industry,” said Ted Mitchell, the U.S. undersecretary for education, in a statement Sunday. “A college education remains the best investment a student can make in his or her future, and this administration will continue to work to make a college degree affordable for all students, to hold colleges accountable, and to safeguard the interests of taxpayers.”

Mejia said she’s about $30,000 in debt because of student loans. Shirley, who’s covered by the federal GI Bill, said the school still owes him $12,000 in back pay for student loans.

Christina Droughton, who attended and worked at the Roseville campus, said she’s on the hook for $34,000.

“The closure of Heald College is not only keeping me from getting my degree,” Droughton said. “(It’s) also keeping me from being able to help support my family.”

Last summer, the department restricted Corinthian’s ability to receive federal financial aid amid concerns that the company had falsified its graduates’ job-placement rates, which the company used in advertisements to recruit prospective students.

Earlier this month, the federal government fined Corinthian $30 million, saying it paid temporary-employment agencies to hire students after graduation for brief periods, which allowed Corinthian to embellish its job-placement numbers.

In its statement Sunday, the company continued to tout its “historic graduation rate and job placement rates” as compared with community colleges.

“Colleges like ours fill an important role in the broader education system and address a critical need that remains largely unmet by community colleges and other public-sector schools,” Massimino said. “Overall, our schools did a good job for the students they served. We made every effort to address regulators’ concerns in good faith. Neither our Board of Directors, our management, our faculty, nor our students believe these schools deserved to be forced to close.”

Heald students who spoke to The Bee said the school offered a welcome alternative to more traditional colleges whose classes or schedules didn’t work for them.

“Heald College saved me, had faith in me, supported me, believed in me,” said Suchi Suarez, who was to graduate June 12 with an associate’s degree in medical assistance. “I became the woman I was meant to be. And now thousands of students have been ... knocked down and left in the dust.”

Several Heald students said there would be rallies Monday morning on the Roseville and Salida campuses.

The 28 school closures include Corinthian’s 13 remaining Everest and WyoTech campuses in California, Everest College Phoenix and Everest College Online Tempe in Arizona, the Everest Institute in New York, and the 150-year-old Heald College and its schools in California, Oregon and Hawaii.

Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.

Student meetings

Heald College has asked its students to attend on-campus meetings Wednesday and Thursday to “learn more about options for continuing (their) education.”

Students with last names beginning with A through L will meet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students with last names beginning with M through Z will meet from 1 to 4 p.m.

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