Tuesday, January 8, 2013

More for-profits close abruptly-Connecticut launches investigation

The Hartford Courant's William Weir reports:

Connecticut state officials are investigating why three for profit schools that offer occupational training closed abruptly over the weekend, and are looking into how the more than 1,200 students may continue their education.

Students at the two Sawyer Schools, in Hartford and Hamden, and at the Butler Business School in Bridgeport learned in recent days that all three schools, which are owned by Academic Enterprises Inc., had ceased operations. Classes were scheduled to resume Thursday. Officials at the state Office of Higher Education learned of the closings Monday when they saw an email sent Sunday informing them of the move.

Paul Kelly, president of Sawyer School, wrote to Patricia Santoro, director of academic affairs at the Office of Higher Education: "I regret to inform you that the School's board has directed that the Sawyer Schools and Butler Business School suspend operations. Classes scheduled to begin in January have been cancelled, and students, faculty and staff have been notified. "I have requested assistance from each of the school's landlords to provide for an orderly transition of student records. In the coming week, I hope to work with you to facilitate this process, and any other options that may be available to help our students continue their education at another institution."

Constance Fraser, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Higher Education, said the lack of notice directly goes against state regulations, which require at least 60 days' notice. "These things can happen, but there are standards and regulations that schools should follow," she said Monday. "That didn't happen in this case."

The three schools offer career training, specializing in clerical skills and medical assistance. The Butler Business School, founded in 1900, had 415 students. The Sawyer School was founded in 1916; 461 students were enrolled at its Hartford campus and 339 were enrolled in Hamden.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Monday sent a letter to Academic Enterprises, asking for assurances that students will be reimbursed for tuition paid or arrange for them to continue their studies elsewhere at no additional cost.. "The schools' notice [provides] no indication of whether hundreds of current students would receive a refund for tuition already paid toward certificate programs now terminated without any explanation," he wrote.

Blumenthal also wrote that he was "very troubled" by the closings and Academic Enterprises' "silence" about them. "The prospect of this sudden, potentially damaging closure — with losses in funds and education opportunities to hundreds of students and the federal government — strongly suggests the need for further investigation."

Fraser said that many of the students were weeks away from graduating. "The next step is that we are urging students to call our information center," she said, adding that the office will also have a website up advising students on where to go for assistance. "We are working with the office of the attorney general, school officials and the Association of Private Occupational Schools," she said. "We are exploring why this happened, but first and foremost, what's the best avenue we have for helping students?"

Academic Enterprises Inc., based in Rhode Island, purchased the Sawyer School in 1975 and purchased Butler in 1999.

Students of the schools are asked to call the state at 800-842-0229 and to consult the website at http://www.ctohe.org/.

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