HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The sudden closings of ITT Technical Institute schools nationwide have left many of the more than 45,000 former students with debt and credits that may not transfer. One of those former students is James Preston, a medical student who was enrolled at the institute’s only West Virginia campus, in Huntington.
“I had three quarters to go until I graduated, so hopefully I can get my credits transferred so I don’t have to start all over again,” Preston said Tuesday, as he and about 80 other former ITT students gathered at an event held by the West Virginia Community and Technical College System at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington.
“It’s a really unfortunate situation, but we’re trying to show them that it’s not over,” said Roy Simmons, registrar of BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston. “We aren’t here to recruit. That’s why you don’t see 20 colleges in the room, because community college is the best way to start anew, so we’re here to get them going where they need to go.”
BridgeValley, along with Huntington’s Mountwest Community and Technical College and Huntington Junior College, had representatives at the event to offer financial aid advice and possible enrollment opportunities.
Former ITT students’ biggest worry at Tuesday’s event was student loan debt.
Andrea Pritchard has already graduated, but she says she has $48,000 in student loan debt for her two-year program and is looking for reprieve from her loan debt. ITT used more than four times her lifetime allotment of federal Pell Grants, she said.
“When I first started, [ITT] had a great administration, but when I left, the new administration was not helpful,” the Huntington resident said. “I can’t get loans now. I wanted to go forward with my master’s, but because of my loans, I can’t.”
Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, said ITT did not provide anyone at their Huntington location with advice about what they needed to do with financial aid information or information about transfer of credits. She estimates as many as 550 students were enrolled at the Huntington school.
After the U.S. Department of Education investigated ITT’s student loan practices, it imposed financial sanctions that would prevent new students from qualifying for federal student loans or Pell Grants.
“Despite our ongoing service to this nation’s employers, local communities and underserved students, these federal actions will result in the closure of the ITT Technical Institutes without any opportunity to pursue our right to due process,” the statement said.
The federal government has offered former students the option to discharge all of their federal student loans, but they will be unable to transfer credits into a similar program at another institution if they go that route, according to Tucker.
“It’s a tough decision to make, and we want to make sure the decision they make is what they want to do,” she said.
Besides student loan debt, the transfer of credits is another hurdle for former ITT students to face, according to Daniel Sadler, associate dean for student services at Mountwest Community and Technical College. He said institutions that are regionally accredited, which are typically nonprofit or state-owned institutions, are easier to transfer credits from than nationally accredited institutions, which are typically for-profit like ITT.
Adam Toler, 33, of Ironton, Ohio, enrolled in ITT’s medical assisting and administration Program, said he was due to graduate in December before the school shut down. However, he said Huntington Junior College would be able to transfer most of his credits and he still has four years allotted for a Pell Grant.
“Financially, I thought I was dead, but at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Toler said.
Simmons said he was impressed by the optimism at the event, and that the different programs offered by each community college should give former students a path forward.
“The road is certainly not what they hoped for, but we’re going to get them there,” he said. “We all have different programs, so it’s about which program will get them the results they want.”
Reach Max Garland at [email protected], 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.