Thousands of higher ed students across Pennsylvania have been “school-less” since last week.
After the U.S. Department of Education decided in August to end federal financial aid for new students, ITT Technical Institutes abruptly closed schools nationwide.
That left students hanging, but area colleges are stepping in to help the suddenly displaced.
At a Thursday information session at Montgomery County Community College, several teachers and administrators talked to former ITT students about their options.
“We’re opening our doors to them because we really want to help them,” said Joyce Wheatley, executive director of recruitment and partner programs at the college. “Helping them know what their options are as far as any loan debt that they may have had at ITT. Also helping them to see if perhaps our school was the choice for them to pursue their education.”
David Ziviello, a former ITT student, attended to get some guidance.
“Well I’ve been angry. I’ve been upset, a whole lot of emotions going on,” he said. “Will any other schools accept credits from ITT Tech or do I have to start all over the place? Or do I decide to, at age 43, bag furthering my education and just continuing working like everybody else?”
The Montgomery County native was halfway through his degree while working part time. He’d already invested approximately $15,000 when he found out about the closing from another student.
“She goes, ‘You better read today’s email because there is no more Tech,'” Ziviello said. “And that’s when I opened it up and realized the doors are closed, and no one’s working, and no one’s going to school any longer.”
The Indiana-based company shuttered 130 campuses across 38 states, one week after it announced the private technical schools were no longer accepting new students.
The for-profit college chain had seven locations in Pennsylvania. Four campuses in the region — Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks and Marlton, New Jersey — served hundreds of students.
Two other for-profit colleges, DuBois Business College and Cambria-Rowe Business College, also closed last month. They shuttered six campuses in western Pennsylvania.
More than 20 colleges and institutes across the state are partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to assist students affected by the closures.
But the impact goes beyond whether credits will transfer and loans will be discharged.
Mike Hauger taught at ITT for eight years as an adjunct instructor. On the last day of classes, he recommended his students consider similar programs at Montgomery County Community College.
The week since the for-profit tech schools closed hasn’t been great, Hauger said.
“I miss it. I miss the students. I was hoping to see them here tonight,” he said.
The 51-year-old works full-time as an electrical engineer.
“I just enjoy teaching because I get to see these folks in the field,” he said. “So I like to share my experiences with them.”
He told his students he would follow them wherever they land, possibly to adjunct there and see his students through.
Displaced students may transfer, but the college decides whether to accept their credits.
For those who don’t transfer, the federal government will forgive federal loan debt but private loans will have to be discussed with the private lender. If loans are discharged, any credits will be lost, meaning the student would have to start over again.
Diego Rodriguez, who studied computer-aided design and drafting at ITT, said the school’s closing was like “having a dream broken.”
“It wasn’t like going into a classroom. It was going into a living room, a family room,” the 27-year-old said. “My classmates, I call them my brothers.”
Although the info session didn’t have the program he was looking for, Rodriguez said he will share what he learned with his “brothers” in the hopes of helping them.
Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges are reaching out to the stranded students, along with Philadelphia-based Peirce College, Neumann College, Hussian College and Workforce Institute’s City College. The U.S. Department of Education has an information page for displaced ITT students.