Army veteran David Lariviere had planned to complete his bachelor of science degree in cyber security next June at ITT Tech in Arlington. But an email sent on Tuesday morning notified him that his campus, along with more than 130 others, was shutting down. That means Lariviere's three-year education, along with all tuition payments through his GI Bill, are down the drain.
"Last year, me and my wife moved [to Arlington] because the jobs down here with my degree were a lot better," Lariviere said. "I earned that GI Bill, and basically we’re getting told that our degrees are worthless and that we’re basically going to have to go to school again. I'm basically having to start my college education all over again."
ITT Tech, a private, for-profit chain that offered degrees in business, nursing and technical trades, shut down nationwide on Tuesday, not long after the federal government banned it from enrolling students receiving federal student aid or loans. The school had 10 branches and more than 3,200 active students in Texas, state officials said.
"With what we believe is a complete disregard by the U.S. Department of Education for due process to the company, hundreds of thousands of current students and alumni and more than 8,000 employees will be negatively affected," ITT Educational Services Inc. said in a statement released Tuesday.
Now, those students essentially have two options. Those who were enrolled at the time of the shutdown or left the school shortly before it may be able to have their student loans forgiven, federal officials have said. Or students can try transferring to a community college, although doing so might make them ineligible for loan forgiveness and may cause them to lose some or all course credit from ITT Tech, state officials warned.
"There is a huge range in the way for-profit institutions and other programs operate, and it is unlikely that it will align perfectly with community colleges," said Raymund Paredes, Texas higher education commissioner.
Paredes said the board reached out to ITT to get information about refunds or transfer assistance for students and to find out what will happen to the transcripts and other records of students who already graduated from the 50-year-old college. The board will make the answers it received public after they are verified, he said.
Other than that, there is little that the state can do, he said. In Texas, it's fairly easy to start a for-profit college, he said. The coordinating board monitors them but has limited oversight ability.
"We urge [students] to be literate about the cost of higher education, whether it is public, private or for-profit," Paredes said. "There is no doubt that students aren’t as scrupulous as they should be in finding out all they can about the institutions in which they are taking classes."
Questions had been raised about ITT Tech and other for-profit schools for years. Critics argued that they saddle students with debt and mislead them about job prospects. Other for-profit schools have similar problems and could face similar punishment from the federal government soon, Paredes suggested.
"The fact is that the students will be troubled by the news they get from ITT and other institutions down the road," he said.
The Lone Star College System announced Tuesday that it has created a special help desk and phone line to assist former ITT Tech students in Texas. Stephen Head, the system's chancellor, said they have already heard from 100 students and seen more than 1,500 hits on the website's platform for ITT Help in one day.
Head said ITT Tech credit transfers will depend on the programs from each ITT Tech campus in Texas but that advisers are translating each course to see if it dovetails with Lone Star's program.
"We've already done crossovers," Head said. "There are about 10 [ITT Tech] programs locally, so we're taking each of those programs and courses to see where we can give credit and we're already making progress."