If students are abandoned, Virginia College owners and managers could be held responsible

Virginia College, a financially troubled chain of for-profit colleges, has closed abruptly in dozens of locations nationwide, including in Biloxi, after its accreditation was suspended.

Parent company Education Corp. of America, based in Birmingham, on Wednesday closed schools operating as Virginia College, Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute and Golf Academy of America.

The company in October said it owed $46.8 million to unsecured creditors, asking a federal judge in Alabama to keep landlords from kicking it out of locations. The judge, Abdul K. Kallon, temporarily kept creditors at bay but in November allowed his order to expire after determining the federal court had no jurisdiction over the case.

The Biloxi campus had stopped accepting new students in September and was initially scheduled to close Aug. 1, 2019, which would have allowed enrolled students to complete courses. About 200 students were enrolled in Biloxi. Before the abrupt closures, other campuses also were slated to wind down and “teach out” current students.

Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill says students can ask the U.S. Department of Education to cancel loans if if their campus closed. The company website says information about transcripts and recommendations about transfers will be available starting about Dec. 17.

“We will work with students to ensure access to their transcripts so they can complete their studies at another school,” spokeswoman Diane Worthington said in an email to the Sun Herald. “We are proud of our thousands of graduates who have entered the workforce with skills they acquired at our schools along with our faculty and staff who have shown unwavering support for our students.

“This is not the outcome that we envisioned and is one that we recognize will have a dramatic effect on our students, employees, and many partners.”

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools said in a letter suspending accreditation that any owner or senior manager of the company could be barred from serving at another ACICS-accredited institution unless plans are in place to finish educating or refund money to students at the closed schools.

The ACICS letter, dated Dec. 4, also said, “The council is seriously concerned about the educational outcomes for the approximately 15,000 enrolled students across all campuses of Virginia College LLC, which includes students who are set to complete at the end of December 2018 term . . . “

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College has just announced that it will be holding an outreach session for former Virginia College students at 2 p.m. Dec. 13 at its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in Gulfport. Registration is available on the MGCCC website.

The Associated Press and Staff Writer Anita Lee contributed to this report.