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Stepping Up To Help Students From A Closed School

The EvoLLLution | Stepping Up To Help Students From A Closed School
As institutional closures become more common, postsecondary leaders are going to have to start stepping up to the plate and helping the students affected if they are to stay true to their missions of changing lives.

When Argosy University announced its sudden closure earlier this year, students were sent reeling. Should they seek loan discharge? Should they transfer to another institution? Should they just turn their back on higher education?

Unfortunately, college and university closures aren’t as rare as they used to be. For-profit colleges and universities continue to struggle amidst a rapidly changing regulatory landscape and non-profit/private colleges and universities continue to battle increased expenses and declining enrollment.

While there are many state and federal implications (mostly related to Title IV financial aid) at the institutional level, the biggest impact of a closure is on the students. Argosy University certainly wasn’t the first to close and definitely will not be the last, so why is it important to be ready to help students from a closed school?

It is not the student’s fault that this happened. Put yourself in the shoes of a student coming from a closed institution. Imagine you are just a few classes away from completing your educational journey only to have a bomb dropped on you that includes financial confusion, uncertainty, disbelief, anger, self-doubt, and many other negative emotions all mixed together at the same time. What would you do? Hopefully, you will never find out.

About four years ago, I worked at a university that put together a formal teach-out pathway for a closed institution in the for-profit sector. Hundreds of students took advantage of the teach-out benefits and, many months later when some of those students crossed a stage, they shook my hand or hugged me (while crying), and told me that I had helped to “save their life” or that I “was the only one who would help.” From that moment, I vowed to do everything possible to help students coming from a closed institution as long as I work in higher education.

Since that time, I have helped transfer in students from eight closed institutions through articulation agreements or formal teach-outs (at different points in my career). At one college in Texas a few years back, I led a dedicated team that enrolled 648 students in less than 48 hours. Most recently, as COO of Claremont Lincoln University, I was able to bring my past experiences to the present to assist a significant number of Argosy students continue their education at the graduate level.

A big part of the mission of Claremont Lincoln University is to operate through the Golden Rule—to treat others as you would want to be treated. If you were halfway toward achieving a degree, how would you want other colleges and universities to treat you?

To help students from Argosy University, Claremont Lincoln University has done the following:

  • In our Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program, we created a concentration in Professional Studies designed to maximize transfer credit for students in multiple disciplines.
  • We identified a core group of employees and dedicated them to ensuring that Argosy University students are accommodated.
  • We helped students order their transcripts if they were having difficulties and ensured students received a transfer evaluation result in 24 hours or less.
  • We declared all Argosy University students eligible for scholarships to ensure reduced financial burden and created a streamlined admissions process.

This was all put together in a matter of days after hearing of the Argosy University closure. Unfortunately, many of today’s institutions aren’t naturally set up to move as quickly as a student from a closed institution needs them to move. Administrative malaise and bureaucratic black holes are more common than operational and academic agility. And frankly, accepting any number of students from a closed school brings potential operational and financial difficulties that you have to embrace.

Remember that students looking to transfer right away after a school closes are very motivated and focused on their goal or nearing completion of their degree. The majority of students, however, go through a process over time as they decide if or how they are going to proceed. I have spoken to scores of students over the years who have decided to seek loan forgiveness (and lose all of their academic credit associated with the closed school) or just turn their back on academia forever. It’s unfortunate, but also not impossible to understand. Not only do these students feel cheated and disheartened, they begin to question the overall legitimacy and value of higher education in general.

For the institutions accepting students from a closed school, there are consequences that must be considered:

1. There must be a recognition that any increases in revenue and population are short-lived. This sounds like common sense but failing to plan is planning to fail.

2. Realize that there is going to be an increase in administrative and academic expenses, both to bring closed school students on board and to help them adapt to new technology, new curriculum, and changes to student and faculty expectations.

3. Know that you are accepting a spotlight from these students, state agencies and accreditors.

Manage all of this correctly, though, and you will have alumni who will passionately represent your brand.

It is my humble opinion that a strong willingness to help these students has many positive consequences. What’s more, you will learn very quickly if operational and academic staff and processes are elastic and focused on meeting the needs of students.

Many people who work in education say that it is “changing lives” that makes them passionate about what they do. Helping students from a closed school is exactly that. So, who is willing to step up?

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