Stratford Univ. students in Alexandria demand answers and a plan as school prepares to close

About 800 students are in limbo as Stratford University prepares to close all Northern Virginia campuses by the end of the week. (InsideNova/Jared Foretek)

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

Over 100 Stratford University students packed the school’s Alexandria campus Monday afternoon, looking for answers about their future after the for-profit college announced Friday that it would be closing all three of its local campuses by the end of the week.

Many left with still more questions and little faith that they would be able to pick up where they left off at another college, though school officials said they are working on transfer plans and that they would have more answers Wednesday.

Falls Church-based Stratford has campuses in Woodbridge and Baltimore in addition to Alexandria.

For now, about 800 of the university’s full-time, in-person students are in limbo. Many say they aren’t confident that the credits they’ve already paid for and earned will transfer to another university. Including its part-time and online programs, the university has about 2,000 students enrolled.

On Friday, the university sent a letter to all students informing them that because the U.S. Department of Education had decertified Stratford’s accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), in August, the school would not be allowed to enroll new students while it searched for a replacement accreditor.

Although the Department of Education is allowing ACICS schools to remain provisionally accredited for 18 months while they search, President Richard Shurtz told InsideNoVa that the university wouldn’t be able to afford another year of classes without any new students. Therefore, he said, the school would have to close its campuses.

ACICS has to meet federal accrediting standards for its schools to be eligible for federally backed student loans or Pell grants. Shurtz told InsideNoVa that about 150 Stratford employees would be losing their jobs on Friday.

Packed into a lecture room at the Alexandria campus Monday, over 100 nursing students – Stratford’s nursing program has its highest enrollment – pleaded with Shurtz and other administrators to keep the school open for another year to allow current students to finish their degrees. If that wasn’t possible, they asked for a firm commitment that they would all be guaranteed placement in another program that would accept their transfer credits.

“Can you promise to us we can finish our degree without starting over?” one student asked Shurtz during the heated meeting.

Over 100 Stratford University students packed the school’s Alexandria campus Monday afternoon, looking for answers about their future after the for-profit college. (InsideNova/Jared Foretek)

Shurtz did not offer that commitment, but said he was working on a deal to move the nursing students to Chamberlain University College of Nursing – another for-profit college in Tysons – with their credits and that more would be known on Wednesday.

He told those assembled “I know you’re upset, but I love you” before leaving the room as students demanded he stay to answer more questions.

Ahead of the meeting, one student, Jasmyn McEachin, told InsideNoVa that the school held a town hall two weeks ago and told students that the college would be allowed to hold a “teach-out” program for 18 months while current students completed their coursework and received their degrees.

Last Wednesday, McEachin said, students were even invited to enroll – and pay – for the upcoming term. Two days later, though, they received the letter that the school would actually be closing at the end of the month.

“We’re three, four classes away from finishing – so, like, 10 weeks,” McEachin said, adding that she’s been in the program for about two years.

Amethyst Whitaker, another nursing student, said, “All of us were kind of scrambling to finish up, trying to take final exams, and this bomb was dropped on us.”

Both Whitaker and McEachin said they have jobs lined up with Inova Health System after graduation, but they wouldn’t be allowed to start work without a degree. So far, they have taken out around $50,000 in loans for their education.

On Monday, school officials continued to tell students that they were still working on a plan to have the nursing students transfer along with their credits to another school, likely Chamberlain. But they said the plan hadn’t been finalized, and students worried that the school could simply close Friday and leave them in the wind. Shurtz promised students that any tuition money paid for the upcoming term would be refunded.

During an interview with InsideNoVa before the town-hall style meeting Monday, Shutrz called the education department’s decision to decertify ACICS “purely political. They’re trying to drive for-profit schools out of business.”

He called the university a “family business” and said he and his wife were crushed that they wouldn’t be able to continue providing an education for their students. He added that the decision to not allow new students to enroll while Stratford found a new accreditor was “an overreach.”

But he also said that his long-term plan was to “reinvent education.”

“I’m working with a group in California, Silicon Valley. Because I think education in general has to re-tool,” he told InsideNoVa, going on to explain Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near” and the Latin root of the word education. “What I’m going to try to do is to reinvent education.”

As the town hall meeting with students was beginning, Stratford employees called Alexandria police to the campus, though no arrests were seen.

Back in August, the Department of Education said ACICS had been found non-compliant with federal regulations on several occasions.

“Recognition by the Department must be reserved for agencies that adhere to high standards, just as accreditation by agencies must be reserved for institutions and programs that adhere to high standards,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten said in a statement.

Marten added that ACICS had multiple opportunities to achieve full compliance and had been found non-compliant as far back as 2016. “Despite its professed improvements, the agency remained out of compliance in 2018, at which time it was given another opportunity to reach full compliance. Its continuing failure to reach full compliance with this criterion alone is a sufficient basis to terminate ACICS’ recognition.”

After speaking to InsideNoVa, Shurtz went to the meeting room to talk to the nursing students. After he explained that he was working on the transfer plan with Chamberlain, a number of students pleaded with him to just keep the school open for one more year, as is allowed by regulators, so that they could finish their degrees.

One student said she had lost sleep since finding out that the school would close, saying it would leave her with thousands of dollars in debt and no degree or job prospects to show for it.

“One more year!” the students chanted.

After the nursing meeting ended, a much smaller group of culinary students waited in the building lobby. Stratford officials told them they were working on a similar transfer plan but with University of the Potomac in Washington.

But that school doesn’t actually have a culinary arts degree program, just a hospitality program. There are no other culinary schools in the area, and either way, there is no guarantee the credits they have earned at Stratford would transfer.

Daisha Stewart, who started in the culinary program in January, said she’d already spent about $15,000 – some out of pocket and some financed – on her credits.

“All I know is, grades are getting put in this Friday,” Stewart told InsideNoVa. “So if we plan on transferring … we’ll just have to see if it works.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

 

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