Connecticut schools are working out opportunities for students to continue their studies since the abrupt closure of the Butler Business School in Bridgeport and Sawyer Schools in Hamden and Hartford.
Private occupational schools are required to notify the Office of Higher Education (OHE) at least 60 days before a possible closing, but both Butler and the Sawyer Schools, owned by Academic Enterprises Inc. in Pawtucket, R.I., closed Dec. 30 with only a brief email sent to OHE officials, announcing that the schools had “suspended operations.”
Two occupational schools in Rhode Island, also owned by Academic Enterprises, closed as well.
The OHE is in the process of comparing the curriculums of schools that have volunteered to accept Butler and Sawyer students, which include Bridgeport’s Housatonic Community College, an HCC spokesman said.
The Butler Business School was founded in 1900 as Brown’s Business College and later became the Butler Business School in 1917 under the management of Ernest M. Butler, according to the school’s website. Academic Enterprises bought the school in 1999.
The now-closed schools offered training programs for positions as medical assistants, secretaries, phlebotomy technicians and operators of office information systems.
According to the most recent enrollment data available, in 2011, 415 students attended the Butler Business School, 339 students attended the Hamden Sawyer School and 561 students attended the Hartford Sawyer School.
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) revoked the schools’ accreditations and announced Jan. 4 that the owners and principals would face debarment by ACICS if students’ educations are not provided for.
“As accreditors, we’re committed to helping these students succeed,” said Albert C. Gray, executive director and CEO of ACICS, in a statement. “With their best interests at heart, we’re taking extraordinary measures to resolve this issue as quickly and effectively as possible — and we’re confident we’ll do just that.”
ACICS last renewed the accreditations of Butler and the four Sawyer Schools in 2011.
In addition to the schools’ revoked licenses and accreditations, the office of state Attorney General George Jepsen is considering further penalties. State statute requires the schools to perform numerous tasks to protect students due to a closing or face penalty fees of up to $500 for each day of noncompliance. The processed fees would go to toward the private occupational student protection account.
Rhode Island authorities are also investigating whether Academic Enterprises violated state law there, according to reports.
“The attorney general’s office is looking into penalties,” said Connie Fraser, an OHE spokeswoman. “But that’s not our focus. Our focus is on the students.”
Students, many faced with student loan debt and no degree, have three options, Fraser said.
First, students can choose the “teach out” option, where schools have volunteered to help students complete their studies with minor disruption and at no cost. Any student loans previously taken out must be repaid under this option.
Second, students can choose to transfer to a different school, which may not accept all their previous credits and will require them to reapply for financial aid, on top of any previous loans taken out.
The third option is a free pass to essentially start over by forgiving all federal student loans in order to allow students to restart their education anywhere they chose. If students took out personal loans, they may be eligible for tuition reimbursement from the Connecticut Student Prosecution Fund.
“Students may want to think about whether or not they want to finish or start over and have their loans forgiven,” Fraser said. “The main benefit for students is that they’re able to finish up their studies.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of the Business Journal for the week of Jan. 21, 2013.