When Garreth Reed was looking into educational options, he wanted to attend Santa Ana College but found it difficult to work, care for his family and go to a traditional college all at once.
He was interested in a career in criminal justice and found that ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit technical school, offered an associate’s degree in that field. It seemed like a faster way to complete his education, so he enrolled.
Reed spent six quarters at ITT Tech’s Orange campus and accumulated about $70,000 in student loan debt in the process.
But now Reed, and 35,000 former ITT Tech students like him, are in limbo after the chain closed all 130 of its campuses weeks before the start of its fall semester. Now, students are left without a college and no clear path for the future.
“I feel like I went to school for nothing,” Reed said.
The announcement of the abrupt end to ITT Tech’s 50-year reign as one of the nation’s largest for-profit college chains came in early September, days after the U.S. Department of Education banned ITT Tech from enrolling any more students who rely on federal loans to cover tuition.
In the last few years, the DOE had become concerned about ITT Tech’s “administrative capacity, organizational integrity, financial viability and ability to serve students,” according to a statement released by the DOE about the ban.
On its official website, ITT Tech says that it had tried working with the DOE before deciding to cancel its September quarter, which was supposed to start Sept. 12. According to a statement on the site, the school proposed alternatives to the DOE, including staying open “and giving us time to sell our schools to another company that would continue your education, but they were rejected.”
As a result of the chain’s closure, many former ITT Tech students have been left with hefty loans and non-transferable units. But the DOE and some community colleges, like Santa Ana, are implementing plans to help them.
At an enrollment fair held Sept. 15 at Coastline Community College, many community colleges —including Santa Ana College — hosted booths where representatives gave those affected by the technical school closure information on transferrable credits, student loans, and how to enroll in another college.
About 60 ITT Tech students attended the event, but it’s unknown how many people actually enrolled in new colleges as a result, said Dejah Swingle, director of grants and educational services for the Coast Community College District.
Representatives from the DOE attended the enrollment fair. They have also been in contact with community college leaders, and regional and national accreditors about giving students a chance to transfer credits from ITT Tech by providing an option at each college’s discretion to offer credits by exam.
Shortly after ITT Tech announced its closure, the DOE contacted the chain’s 35,000 students to inform them about their options, including seeking discharge of their federal loans, transferring credits to another school and resuming their studies.
The DOE is encouraging students to use the Next Steps EDU website, a collaboration between Beyond 12 and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, that will match students from recently closed colleges, including ITT Tech and Santa Ana-based Corinthian Colleges, with financial aid and academic counselors who can provide them with guidance as they determine how to continue their studies.
Some community colleges are allowing the students to receive credits they have already earned from ITT Tech by taking an exam featuring criteria similar to what they learned at the technical school.
Santa Ana College is also placing ITT students into a program that aims to help the newly enrolled students succeed in their first academic year by loaning them HP laptops.
Although they may have some options, students like Reed say they are fearful of returning to college because of the many uncertainties they still face.
“I would like to go back to school eventually but I don’t feel like I can right now. If I do qualify for the help, I can begin to look into it,” he said.
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