College closings: 5 Things to do if your school shuts its doors
The higher education landscape is changing. One noticeable shift is the rising trend of college closings in recent years, which has created a frightening reality for students and administrators alike. In fact, a recent analysis of federal data conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that nearly half a million students have been displaced by for-profit college closures since 2014.
The more than 1,200 college campuses that have closed in the last five years have disproportionately impacted adult and low-income students. And approximately 57 percent of displaced students have been racial minorities. Worse yet, many students never sensed there was an imminent problem prior to the closing notices being posted.
“Some students are just weeks away from graduating, and then their college closes,” explains Sean Nemeth, associate vice chancellor of enrollment services, retention and advising at Brandman University. “There are some heartbreaking stories about how these sudden closures can impact their lives.”
If you’ve found yourself at a college that’s closing its doors for good, you’re not out of options. Join us as we outline some steps you can take to move forward. But first, it’s worth exploring what causes schools to close.
What leads to college closings?
Steep financial pressures are taking a significant toll on colleges and universities across the country. While the vast majority of college closures have impacted for-profit schools, public and private nonprofit institutions are certainly not immune these struggles.
“Lack of enrollment can be a huge factor — it can put further financial pressure on an institution,” Nemeth offers. “If it doesn’t have the funds to support its facilities, faculty and the other various expenses it has, a college will often have to close its doors.”
Nemeth also points out that some colleges are forced to close as a result of accreditation issues. If a school fails to meet accreditation standards, it can affect the institution’s ability to offer financial aid to students.
“This can be a death blow for schools,” Nemeth explains, “as they need to be able to offer financial aid so that students can afford their programs. Those accreditation adjustments can be devastating.”
5 Steps students should take when they discover their college is closing
If you find yourself facing a college closure before completing your degree program, you will probably have a number of worries about your academic and professional future. Nemeth suggests students take action soon after they hear their college will be shutting its doors for good in the following ways.
1. Determine whether your credits are transferrable
You’ll first need to figure out whether the credits you’ve already earned will be easily transferrable to a different institution. In most cases, this will come down to the school’s accreditation status. When a college is accredited, it serves as a sign to students and employers that the school meets or exceeds the minimum standards for a particular program. But there are different types of accreditation you should be aware of.
“Some schools do not have regional accreditation, but regional accreditation is more widely accepted than national accreditation,” Nemeth explains. While nationally accredited schools will generally accept credits from other nationally accredited schools and from those with regional accreditation, regionally accredited schools are much more reluctant to accept credits from those with national accreditation.
Nationally accredited schools are commonly for-profit institutions that offer vocational, career or technical programs. Colleges that opt to accept transfer credits from schools with similar types of accreditation choose to do so because it can serve as an indication that the schools have comparable curricula and educational standards.
When it comes to the prospect of transferring your credits to a different college, you also need to ask an enrollment coach or admissions representative about the college’s residency requirement.
“Even if you find out your credits are transferable and you find a school that will accept them, the school is going to have a minimum number of units you’re going to need to take there in order to earn a degree from that institution,” Nemeth outlines. Brandman University, for example, has a residency requirement of 30 units for its bachelor’s degrees.
2. Decide if you want to discharge your loans
Once you determine whether your earned credits can easily be transferred, you have an important decision to make regarding any school loans you have. Students displaced by school closures have the option to utilize their earned credits or to forfeit them in exchange for getting their student loans discharged. Nemeth explains that this process will depend on the current presidential administration at the time this happens to you.
“Under the Obama administration, for example, there was something called an Automatic Closed School Discharge,” he elaborates. “If a student’s credits weren’t being utilized after a certain amount of time had passed since their school had closed, that student’s loans would be automatically discharged.” These automatic discharges have since been rolled back under the current administration, Nemeth adds.
If you’re unsure about the student loan discharge process in relation to your situation, reach out to your loan servicer or your school’s financial aid office for more information. Generally speaking, you can opt to use the credits you’ve earned by transferring them to another school, or you can choose to have your loans discharged. In the latter scenario, you’d be off the hook for any loans, but it comes at the risk of possibly feeling like you wasted the time you spent in those classes.
3. Consider finishing your courses (if possible)
In some cases, a shuttered school will implement teach-out plans for the students who are enrolled when the doors are scheduled to close. These programs are designed to offer students pathways to complete the remaining courses they need to earn their degrees. If not all locations have closed, a college may have other campus locations students could choose to attend. Or it may have online opportunities for students through a separate branch of its school. Other institutions may forge partnerships with nearby colleges through which students can complete their programs.
“Most accrediting bodies will require a school to have a teach-out plan in place,” Nemeth says. “When a school is shuttering, those plans may not be well-developed, but they should still exist.” Most students, he acknowledges, are interested in finishing their program as quickly as possible.
Nemeth adds that students should also consider the implications of dropping a course mid-way if they’re informed their school will be closing in a number of months. It’s not always the best idea.
“I’d encourage these students to finish those courses if possible,” Nemeth offers. “Certain things like Satisfactory Academic Progress [a factor considered in financial aid evaluations] take into consideration how many units a student attempted and how many they completed. That can have an impact on your future eligibility for financial aid.”
4. Look into your financial aid status
If you’re among the 85 percent of first-time, full-time college students utilizing financial aid at a four-year school, you’re likely wondering what will happen to that financial aid when your school closes. It can be helpful to remember that financial aid is typically packaged based on an academic year. So if you find yourself in a position where you need to transition to a new school in the middle of an academic year, you should still have your financial aid available to you. Once your aid year ends, you’d be able to access new aid packages. Determining how to proceed will depend on your situation.
“It’s important for students to connect with a financial aid professional at whatever school they’re thinking of attending to understand the impact of what could happen if they enroll immediately versus starting at the beginning of the next academic year,” Nemeth encourages.
Schools like Brandman University make this especially easy for incoming students with its One Stop Student Services. Every campus — including the online campus — has at least one specialist available to help students put together a plan to pay for their education.
5. Get official copies of your transcript
While most schools that face closure provide options for students to access their transcripts after the doors have officially closed, it’s a good idea to get some official copies as soon as possible. The last thing you want is to encounter trouble getting your transcripts when you’ll need them in the future.
“Remember that official copies of transcripts are considered sealed copies,” Nemeth points out. “Even if it was official when you first received it, your transcript will become unofficial as soon as you open that envelope.” He also suggests getting multiple copies that you can take to different institutions if needed.
Continue your educational journey
It’s understandable if you’re feeling a bit lost after hearing that your school is joining the college closings trend. But if you keep these five steps in mind, you can help ensure that your path forward remains promising.
If you’re eager to find an institution that actively supports its students from the moment they inquire through the day they walk across that graduation stage, head over to Brandman University’s resources page to learn more. Enrollment coaches are also available to talk through your options.
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