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Jones urges DeVos to assist students impacted by Virginia Colleges closures

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, wrote to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on behalf of the students impacted by the Education Corporation of America’s (ECA) sudden closure of its campuses nationwide. ECA represents Brightwood Career Institute, Brightwood College, Ecotech Institute, Golf Academy of America, and Virginia College throughout the country.

ECA was based in Birmingham, and operates for-profit Virginia College campuses in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery and serves more than 3,800 Alabama students. Of those students, 670 are using GI Bill benefits.

“I write today on behalf of the students affected by the closure of Education Corporation of America’s (ECA) chain of for-profit colleges around the country,” Sen. Jones wrote. “As you know, this closure will affect more than 20,000 students enrolled at more than 70 campuses across 20 states. This includes more than 4,000 veterans and military service members using benefits from the G.I. bill.”

Federal law allows students who withdraw from a college 120 days before the school closes to be eligible for a discharge of their federal loans. Jones asked Secretary DeVos to use her authority to extend the period of relief to May 8, 2018.

“Though many of ECA’s students and teachers were blindsided by the sudden closure, the higher education community was not,” Jones wrote. “ECA is the third major for-profit chain in three years to collapse. Its shutdown continues a troubling pattern of for-profit closures that has devastated students, educators, and communities across the country.”

On December 6, Jones wrote to ECA’s CEO Stu Reed calling for ECA to help students navigate their options and understand the resources available to them.

Many of ECA’s students and teachers were blindsided by the sudden closure.

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“It is critical that the Department of Education (“Department”) takes every possible step in order to relieve and remedy this harm,” Sen. Jones wrote to Secretary DeVos. “As you know, federal law states that students who withdrew from college in 120 days before the school closed are eligible for a discharge of their federal loans. However, you possess the authority to extend the 120-day period under exceptional circumstances related to the school’s closing.”

“We ask you to extend this period of relief through May 8, 2018. On this day, ECA’s accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools issued an institutional show-cause directive to ECA’s largest chain, Virginia College,” Jones continued. “This occurred after Virginia College was denied accreditation by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET) . The ACCET found that Virginia College was noncompliant on 23 standards, and publicly reported a long list of issues affecting the for-profit college chain . Since this series of events publicly signaled ECA’s underlying problems and students may have chosen to withdraw, we believe students who withdrew after May 8th should also be eligible for loan discharge.”

“We urge you to grant this extension as part of the Department’s broader efforts to support the students harmed by this closure,” Jones concluded. We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and look forward to your response.”

Senator Jones was elected last year in a special election.  Prior to his Senate service, he was an attorney in Birmingham.  He was appointed a U.S. Attorney by President Bill Clinton.  Prior to that he was a top aide for Sen. Howell Heflin (D).

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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