Ashleigh Tickell’s quest to earn more than $8.50 an hour brought her to Virginia College in Biloxi, where she hopes to earn a certificate as a pharmacy technician before the school closes Aug. 1, 2019.
The part-time daycare worker, wife and mother of a toddler believes she can earn at least $11.75 an hour in her new career after she graduates in the spring. Tickell, who lives in Vancleave, enrolled at Virginia College in June, after seeing a billboard advertisement.
The financially troubled private school offers associate’s degrees, diplomas and certificates that are supposed to help students find jobs.
But 17 of its 28 schools are closing, including campuses in Jackson and Biloxi, because the school for a time had trouble securing accreditation and the job market has improved, dampening demand for its degrees and certificates, according to parent company Education Corporation of America.
The Biloxi campus stopped accepting students in September and will close Aug. 1, 2019.
Diane Worthington, spokeswoman for Education Corporation of America, said market demand has tapered off in Biloxi. She said 200 current students can complete their programs before the school at Cedar Lake and Popp’s Ferry roads is shuttered. Virginia College campuses, which are mostly in the southeastern United States, have a total of 8,500 students.
Whether credits from Virginia College transfer depends on the receiving school, Worthington said. She said some regional colleges do not accept credits from Virginia College, which focuses on finding jobs for students.
Virginia College fought to maintain accreditation at least partly because of failure to meet standards for course completion, student satisfaction, methods of instruction, financial procedures, equipment and supplies and other criteria, accrediting agencies have said. Campuses are currently accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools.
The graduation rate for full-time, first-time undergraduates at Virginia College in Biloxi, within the normal time frame, was only 30 percent for 2012 students tracked, numbers from the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics show. The graduation rate was 43 percent for 2013 students when courses were completed within 150 percent of normal time.
Parent company ECA has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stave off creditors, including landlords who are trying to evict Virginia College from locations in Georgia and Oklahoma over failure to pay rent, federal court records show.
Birmingham-based ECA also wants the judge to appoint a receiver who would oversee company assets until a reorganization plan is developed, the lawsuit says.
The receiver would oversee restructuring and refinancing of specific Virginia College schools remaining open and the orderly closing of the other campuses, the lawsuit says.
Presiding in Birmingham, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon granted a temporary injunction, finding that creditor action could cause ECA “irreparable injury.”
“In particular,” Kallon wrote, “the potential eviction of (ECA) institutions from their physical campuses threatens to disrupt the educational programs of students nationwide” and prevent restructuring.
The injunction expires Oct. 29, when Kallon will consider extending court protection and appointment of a receiver.
The court action in Alabama could be crucial for ECA but seems far-removed from the quest of Tickell and other students in Biloxi for better jobs and pay.
“It’s sad to see the college go because it’s taking opportunity from other people,” said Tickell, who gave high scores to her instructors and pharmacy program manager at the Biloxi campus.
Tickell said the pharmacy technician program will cost her just under $15,000. The federal government put the total cost of tuition and fees for the school’s largest program, medical/clinical assistant, at $15,800.
“It’s a little pricey,” she said, “but if it can get you into a good career — a good lifelong career — it’s worth it.”