Education

Heald students were willing to pay more for convenience, access

Heald students Melissa Valentine, 35, left, and Aja Furgason, 24, background right, hold signs  near Heald College's campus in Roseville while demanding answers from administrators as they express their unhappiness with the college's abrupt closing.
Heald students Melissa Valentine, 35, left, and Aja Furgason, 24, background right, hold signs near Heald College's campus in Roseville while demanding answers from administrators as they express their unhappiness with the college's abrupt closing. rpench@sacbee.com

Despite cheaper courses at community colleges and many public four-year universities, Heald College students borrowed tens of thousands of dollars for what they believed would be a fast track to a decent job.

Education experts said in some cases, Heald students didn’t know their available options and may have been swayed by heavy advertising campaigns. For-profit schools such as Heald also provided access to specialized courses that were full or unavailable at community colleges, especially during the recession. And many for-profit schools promote convenient class times and a faster pace, as well as a low academic bar to entry.

“I think the message from the for-profit is, ‘Absolutely, yes, you can,’” said Debbie Cochrane, research director for The Institute for College Access and Success in Oakland. “The message from more traditional and often more reputable campus is, ‘Maybe this is a good fit for you. Let’s talk about that.’”

On April 27, Heald College campuses closed in California, Oregon and Hawaii, turning away thousands of students systemwide, including more than 1,300 in Roseville and Rancho Cordova. Parent company Corinthian Colleges could not find a buyer for its remaining 28 properties after facing federal and state sanctions after officials alleged that campuses exaggerated job-placement data.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris’ lawsuit says Corinthian sold expensive programs in California to students with annual incomes near the federal poverty line who were “stuck and unable to see and plan well for the future.”

Yvonne McCauley, 49, said she was initially drawn to Carrington College because of its television commercials.

“It was a sign,” she said of the ads airing at a time when she was eager to change her life after working as a caregiver. Soon after she enrolled, she said, the phone calls and mailers began arriving from Heald.

After nine months at Carrington, McCauley said, she could not find a job, in part because she had no experience. She decided to make the leap to Heald and the prospect of a degree to shore up her employment prospects as a medical office administrator.

She said a Heald mailer caught her attention with the mantra, “Get in. Get out. Get ahead.” But Heald closed before she could finish her 18-month stint, leaving her with no degree. She said she wishes she had started Heald sooner so she could have finished before it shut down.

“I really miss school,” she said. “I’m kind of lost without it.”

Hans Johnson, a research fellow at Public Policy Institute of California who studies higher education policy, said for-profit colleges attract students because they are good at marketing themselves, have minimal entrance requirements and offer a broad course selection, especially to students who might not be able to get into a California State University or University of California school.

“They also have been a model of providing classes at convenient times and convenient formats for students,” Johnson said. Some are offering a growing share of online courses, he said.

Johnson also recalled that many students had difficulty several years ago finding room in needed classes at community colleges during the peak of the recession.

As the state budget improves, community colleges say those days of struggling to get a seat are over.

Judy Mays, interim dean of counseling at American River College, said counselors are meeting with students to evaluate whether their Heald credits match courses available at ARC. Some units, she said, can be recognized as an elective at a community college but might not satisfy general education requirements.

“We provide a list of all degrees and certificates we offer, our course catalog, and share procedures for becoming students so they can see if we offer something that is of interest to them or may be similar to what they were pursuing at Heald,” she said.

Other Los Rios Community College District campuses, as well as Sierra College in Rocklin and California State University, Sacramento, offer similar guidance.

“We want to help them understand whether the coursework they have taken works here,” Emiliano Diaz, Sacramento State’s director of admissions and outreach, said in a prepared statement. “There are some Heald courses the CSU system does honor.”

Heald students have a tough call to make. Under federal guidelines, they would remain responsible for their student loans if they transfer credits to another campus. If they start over and forfeit their past work, however, their student loans will be forgiven.

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.

Campus events to help former Heald students

Sierra College: Help Day, Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Event seeks to help former Heald students understand the options available for financial aid, career guidance, what Sierra College offers and options for credit transfer. Members of the California Student Aid Commission will attend.

Sessions start at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Counselors will be available 3 to 5 p.m. for individual student appointments. Room W-110, Rocklin campus, 5000 Rocklin Road.

RSVP: (916) 660-7300 or hub@sierracollege.edu

California State University, Sacramento: Workshops are set for June 10 and June 17 to advise Heald College students on how to continue their education at the CSU campus.

Representatives from CSU’s Outreach Department will be available from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Lassen Hall, 1100 Welcome Center.

Call (916) 278-7766 or visit www.csus.edu/admissions for information.

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