Roland Evans worked hard to get three children through college — with one even completing medical school — before he pursued his own degree.
But ITT Technical Institute shut down after his first semester on the Kansas City campus.
Evans is 47. The abrupt closing of ITT earlier this month sets back his career plans once again, meaning perhaps another year atop a mower.
“With my kids through school, I thought now was my time,” said Evans. “This landscaping job isn’t what I want.”
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He and other displaced ITT students — about 700 in Missouri and 400 in Kansas — have decisions to make.
In some cases they’re saddled with thousands of dollars in college debt that the federal government may forgive under a safety-net program for students of closed schools. Yet if they choose the safety net, they must surrender the course credits they earned.
They would be debt-free but starting over.
Liz Harvey completed 14 summer credits toward a degree in electrical engineering at ITT, a private for-profit college network. She spent $500 on tools that her courses required.
By giving up her credits, “it’ll be as if it never happened...like a crop loss,” she said. “But at least I can move forward” and have $6,300 in federally backed loans wiped away.
Harvey, of Sugar Creek, last week attended a presentation at the Metropolitan Community College’s Business & Technology campus to size up her schooling options. She decided to enroll in welding and pursue a degree in industrial technology.
“Since I only finished one quarter at ITT, I feel lucky,” said Harvey, who is 34 and works for a real estate data company. “I could’ve ended up with half a degree and $30,000 in debt.”
ITT Educational Services Inc. sent emails to students earlier this month announcing the closings. The U.S. Department of Education in August barred ITT from enrolling students who relied on federal financial aid. That action came amid regulators’ concerns about the company’s “organizational integrity, financial viability and ability to serve students.”
The shutdown involved 140 ITT campuses in 35 states, including locations near Kauffman Stadium and in Overland Park. The move apparently ends a 50-year-old business that was a leader in the controversial for-profit college industry.
The subject of numerous federal and state investigations for its promotional and educational practices, ITT told its students and 8,000 employees nationwide that it tried to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Education but had “exhausted the exploration of alternatives.”
In other words, you’re stuck.
Metropolitan Community College is among the area’s public institutions trying to reach out to former ITT students by offering late-term classes in technical fields.
“For some, instead of transferring their credits into the same program, the best bet might be to look at other academic programs and have those student loans discharged,” said Kathrine Swanson, MCC’s vice chancellor for student success and engagement.
“They’re going to be better off here than where they were,” Swanson said. MCC students who live within the system’s taxing district can earn a two-year associates degree for $5,700, she said, whereas an 18-month program at ITT would cost $40,000 or more.
She noted that many colleges, including MCC, will not easily accept transfer credits from ITT. The institute was overseen by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which in August determined that ITT was not in compliance with accreditation criteria.
ITT’s own website warned that “it is unlikely that credits earned at the school will be transferable” to institutions other than itself.
The website of Johnson County Community College recently posted its own appeal to former ITT students: “We are sorry to hear about the obstacles you are facing with your educational goals. We would like to visit with you...”
A visit might disappoint. JCCC’s Paul Kyle, dean of student services and success, said some applicants may have already reached the maximum federal aid for which they can qualify.
“We’ll at least propose to them a pathway,” he said.
For Evans, the pathway was to be ITT’s network systems curriculum. He signed up in February, wanting to learn in class rather than online.
He had 15 years of experience as a computer technician. Evans left such a job in Texas last year, after his own kids had completed college. He returned to the Kansas City area to spend time with his 90-year-old mother.
He took the landscaping job to get him through school.
When he started out working with computers he didn’t need a college education. But anymore, “in order to compete in this marketplace you need to have that degree,” Evans said.
He accrued almost $10,000 in debt attending ITT, adding to $55,000 he borrowed to help get his children through school.
“If I can transfer those credits, I will,” he said. “I’d hate to start all over.”
Former ITT student Mariah Peterson has applied to University of Central Missouri. If accepted, she won’t be able to start classes until the next semester begins in January, she said.
“I’m still up in the air about what I’m going to do,” said Peterson, 20. She spent her freshman year piling up debt at Rockhurst University, and worries that her financial aid may run out before she completes a four-year program.
While ITT may have seen its closure in the tea leaves after years under investigation, Peterson said the students had no warning.
“When we took our finals on Aug. 29, we said to each other, ‘See you in a couple of weeks,’ ” she said. “I think it caught everyone off guard.”