Just one day after ITT Technical Institute closed its campuses across the country, including three in the Houston area, the phones started ringing nonstop at Lone Star College, said Amos McDonald, the college's vice chancellor of external affairs. With more than 1,600 displaced Houston-area ITT students who will have to look for a new college just as they were supposed to begin classes, similar-sized institutions, such as Lone Star and Houston Community College, are pouncing at the chance to enroll those students.
Yesterday, more than 150 students called Lone Star to inquire about transferring credits and beginning classes, not including all those who walked in, and more than 1,300 unique visitors went to the school's new webpage, ITThelp.com, according to McDonald. He said the school heard from students who had waited years to finally begin school after saving up money, or after taking a long break from classes to support family, before ITT abruptly closed on September 6. One student, McDonald said, had just four credit hours left separating her from that degree and her future.
"You can only imagine being four hours away from completion and thinking either your career is going to take off or your life is about to change, once you've obtained that degree or certificate," McDonald said, "and now she's trying to figure out, what's my next step? Where do I go? The universal theme for all of them is that they're looking for answers."
ITT announced its nationwide closure Tuesday — affecting 45,000 students and 8,000 faculty— not long after the federal government banned the institution from pulling in students who rely on federal financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education. Problems started back in April, when the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools sent ITT a letter that questioned ITT's financial viability and its ability to meet the council's acceptable standards for serving students, according to the Department of Education. The feds were alerted and, mirroring the concerns, forced ITT to set aside an additional $43 million in surety funds used to refund students in case the school has to close, bringing the total to $123 million.
By August, the accrediting council sent another letter, informing the school that it failed to meet those accreditation standards and wasn't adequately serving students, leading the feds to strip ITT of its ability to enroll new students who use federal financial aid. A huge portion of ITT's revenue stream — around 70 percent of its $850 million — came from federal student loans. And so it looks like the school knew it had reached the end of the line.
"We had no intention prior to the receipt of the most recent sanctions of closing down despite the challenging regulatory environment that now threatens all proprietary higher education," ITT officials said in a statement Tuesday. "We have also always worked tirelessly to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and to uphold our ethic of continuous improvement."
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The Department of Education has pledged to assist the thousands of students who hit a bump the size of a Montrose pothole in their education. Students have two options: They can apply for a closed school loan discharge and get that refund, or they can transfer their earned credits to another institution — such as Lone Star or HCC.
Both colleges offer similar workforce-geared programs, spokespeople said, and although classes have already begun, both colleges offer late-starts this semester, convenient for the scrambling ITT students. Lone Star's begin as late as September 26,and HCC's begin September 19.
"For us, it's how can we keep that educational dream alive, keep that moving for them?" McDonald said. "It's about really walking them through individually what we have to offer, and how does it meet what their expectations were? So we realize this is a setback for them, but we're ready to help."
While tuition at ITT for one semester was roughly $5,100 to $6,300, by comparison, tuition at Lone Star is roughly $800 per semester and $800 to $1,000 at HCC. Accredited education and service of students even comes with the price.