After Vocational School Closes, Debt-Laden Students Decry Fraud: In the Wake of Harrison Career Institute's Closure in 2007, Many Students Have Been Left Paying Back Loans without a Diploma

Article excerpt

Delaware resident Kim Cawley had dreams of becoming a cardiovascular technician. And in 2005, she enrolled in pharmacology classes at the Wilmington, Del., campus of the Harrison Career Institute.

In its prime, HCI had more than a dozen campuses across the Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania region. But a host of financial problems and decreasing student enrollment forced the institute to close 13 of its campuses, including the one in Wilmington.

Although the campus permanently shut its doors in 2007, Cawley says she's still being forced to repay about $10,000 in student loans. Cawley is one of hundreds of students--including many minorities--across the country who have acquired student loan debt with the end goal of earning a much-desired credential.

But Cawley says she shouldn't have to pay for a credential she didn't receive.

"I'm paying on student loans, and I didn't get a certification or diploma or anything ... I'm sending them money for education purposes that I did not get, and I feel that it's fraud," says Cawley. "The Harrison Career Institute just shut its doors and walked away."

Patrick Dunn, a state-approving agent for private business and trade schools for the Delaware Department of Education, adds that about 100 students were unable to finish their studies or receive diplomas. However, he has been successful in guiding about a dozen students through the federal loan forgiveness process since the school closure.

"Unfortunately, there were several former students in that situation who were still faced with a loan," says Dunn. "I was not able to help everyone 100 percent."

HCI and dozens of other vocational and technical schools have closed in recent years amidst claims of fiscal mismanagement, accreditation struggles and other issues, according to recent reports. HCI officials could not be reached for comment.

In the event of a school closure, officials at the U.S. Department of Education say that they first work with the respective state agency that licensed the school or institution to provide what is called a "teach-out" program. As part of this program, the closing institution and the state arrange for students to use any federal money they receive to continue their education at a neighboring institution.

Dunn says that the Delaware Department of Education was able to offer a teach-out program, and at least 30 HCI students were able to enroll in another local trade school and finish medical-related studies.

"The objective is to always try to help the students complete their education," says Stephanie Babyak, an Education Department spokeswoman.

If a teach-out is not possible, students may file a "closed school discharge" and submit a discharge application to the DOE to absolve any outstanding federal loans, Babyak says. …