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Stratford University Suddenly Shuts Down

Published: 09/27/2022

A for-profit university gave its 2,000 students little notice it will close – and it blames the Education Department for its decision.
The Virginia-based university's accreditor was stripped of its power..
Students may face losing their money, time and difficulty transferring credits to another institution.

For-profit college chain Stratford University, which has offered degree programs in nursing, business, and other career fields, announced Friday that it would close its remaining campuses, located in Woodbridge and Alexandria, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland, effective at the end of the current school term.
By today, the school told students it was actually shutting down all classes, on campus and online, and that the campuses would close this week (even though the school catalogue says the term ends October 9).
The school will also lay off 150 employees by Friday.

(Stratford’s website lists an additional campus in New Delhi, India.)

The Department’s action came in the wake of an announcement this month by Stratford’s accreditor, ACICS, that it will shut down by early 2024. The Department reached a final decision in August to end ACICS’s status as a recognized accreditor, after years of revelations of abuses against students by ACICS-accredited schools including Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech, and Kaplan College, and after a long series of proceedings and court skirmishes. ACICS decided to close rather than appeal the Department’s decision.

The Department action means that the remaining 40 or so schools accredited by asleep-at-the-switch ACICS, including Stratford, the largest of them, will no longer be eligible for federal aid unless they find new Department-approved accreditors in the next 18 months.

The Department initially moved to kick out ACICS in 2016, before the accreditor sued and the Trump/DeVos education department reversed the decision. The Biden administration renewed efforts to terminate ACICS in early 2021. Stratford thus has had ample warning and years to improve its instruction and management and seek approval from a new accreditor — there were other accreditors, such as ACCSC, that have long tolerated school shortcomings — instead of just hoping lax ACICS would be saved. (Stratford’s owner now claims the school was 8 to 10 months away from getting approval from another Department-recognized body, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.)

Echoing past for-profit college shutdown explanations, Stratford said it would quickly run out of cash if it was not permitted to enroll new students.

In reality, many for-profit colleges are more call center than educational institution. They spend their money on advertising and recruiting, not teaching. They exist to enroll; they’re all about new students, not current students. If they lose a month of two of new enrollment cash, they say they can’t go on. The students, such as the some 1000 to 1500 now enrolled at Stratford University, then get locked out of their campuses.

The Department of Education has traditionally aimed to avoid college closures at all costs, now matter how bad the school and outcomes for students, and has bent to school demands as a result. But in the final years of the Obama administration, the Department finally started to recognize that closing bad schools, and dealing with the hardships of current students, is better than allowing more generations of students to enroll in them and face crushing debt. The Biden administration’s firm stance with Stratford is a hopeful sign that this kind of decisiveness is coming back. (The Department was mostly firm, but still somewhat indulgent — it apparently was still going to allow the school to enroll new students if they could complete their studies within 18 months.)

In the face of a contentious meeting on the Alexandria campus Monday, where more than 100 nursing students, many with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt already, rightly demanded answers about their futures, and school employees called police to campus, Stratford president and owner Richard Shurtz blamed the Biden Department of Education, rather than the performance of his school or its accreditor.

Read More: USA Today
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