For-profit University of Stratford suddenly closes

University of Stratford students on the Alexandria campus on Monday. Screenshot from InsideNova @ JaredGM19 video.

The for-profit university chain Stratford University, which has offered degree programs in nursing, business and other professional fields, announced on Friday that it would close its remaining campuses, located in Woodbridge and Alexandria, in Virginia, and in Baltimore, Maryland, beginning in at the end of the current school term. To date, the school has told students that it is in effect closing all classes, on campus and online, and that campuses will close. this week. The school will also lay off 150 employees by Friday. (The Stratford website lists an additional campus in New Delhi, India.)

Stratford’s abrupt announcement came after the US Department of Education informed the school that it would stop providing federal scholarships and loans to incoming students who were not on track to complete their programs. in 18 months. The department also required the school to post a letter of credit to remain in the federal aid program.

The Department’s action came following an announcement this month by Stratford’s accreditor, ACICS, that it will close in early 2024. The Department made a final decision in August to end to ACICS’ status as a recognized accreditor, after years of revelations of abuse. against students by ACICS-accredited schools including Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech and Kaplan College, and after a long series of legal proceedings and skirmishes. ACICS decided to close rather than appeal the Ministry’s decision.

The Department first decided to expel ACICS in 2016, before the accreditor sued, and the Trump/DeVos Department of Education reversed the decision. Stratford had years to search for a new accreditor, instead of just hoping ACICS would be saved.

The Department’s action means the approximately 40 remaining ACICS-accredited schools asleep at the switch, including Stratford, will no longer be eligible for federal aid unless they find new Department-approved accreditors over the course of of the next 18 months.

Echoing past explanations of for-profit college closures, Stratford said he would quickly run out of money if it was not allowed to enroll new students.

In reality, many for-profit colleges are more call centers than educational institutions. They spend their money on advertising and recruiting, not on teaching. They exist to register; they are for all new students, not current students. If they lose every other month of money on their new signups, they say they can’t keep going. Students, like the approximately 1000 currently enrolled at the University of Stratford, are then excluded from their campuses.

The Ministry of Education has traditionally aimed to avoid university closures at all costs, no matter now how bad the school is and how bad the students are doing, and has therefore bowed to the demands of the school. But in the final years of the Obama administration, the Department finally began to recognize that closing bad schools and dealing with the hardships of current students was better than allowing more generations of students to enroll and to deal with crippling debt. The Biden administration’s tough stance with Stratford is a hopeful sign that this type of decision will return.

Facing a contentious meeting on the Alexandria campus on Monday, where more than 100 nursing students, many of whom already had tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, rightly demanded answers about their future, and school employees called police on campus, Stratford President Richard Shurtz blamed Biden’s Department of Education, rather than the performance of his school or his accreditor.

Shurtz told InsideNova news outlet that the Department’s decision to de-recognize ACICS was “purely political” and that the decision to end federal aid for new enrollees was “overbroad.” He added: “They are trying to drive for-profit schools out of their business.” Shurtz called Stratford a “family business.” Faced with students worried about the future, Shurtz presents himself as a visionary entrepreneur:

“I work with a group in California, in Silicon Valley. Because I think education in general needs to reorganize,” he told InsideNoVa, then explaining Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity Is Near” and the Latin root of the word education. “What I’m going to try to do is reinvent education.”

None of this will mean much to single mothers, veterans and other motivated Americans lured by Stratford’s aggressive online advertising and recruiting. Shurtz owes these students and the American taxpayers a better explanation than he offered.

Stratford’s performance was not great.

The school had had problems with ACICS, despite the accreditor’s history of lax oversight.

In September 2019, ACICS informed Stratford that it was investigating reports that the school was misleading students about the accreditation status of a Stratford campus located in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. In February 2020, ACICS President Michelle Edwards wrote to Shurtz alleging that Stratford had opened a campus in Erbil “which has not been approved by ACICS”. Edwards cited a whistleblower account, internal school emails, as well as a YouTube video in which Shurtz explains “in English that the Erbil campus is fully accredited and offers programs that are offered in the United States. United”.

Based on the information, ACICS ordered Stratford to cease enrollment at all campuses and submit education plans to find new schools for existing students. Stratford sued and won an injunction from a federal judge in Virginia, saying ACICS should have given Stratford time to respond before suspending registrations. The case was dismissed later that year. Stratford claimed he intended to open only a separate language school in Erbil and blamed his Iraqi partners for unauthorized actions.

But Stratford failed on other performance measures. Two Stratford programs – medical and culinary assisting – even failed the low standards of the Department for Education’s 2017 gainful employment rule, which measured whether graduates could earn enough to manage their loan debt.

In 2019, Stratford abruptly announced the closure of three other Virginia campuses, creating upheaval for students.

Stratford, seemingly better at lobbying the government than educating students, was widely hailed by Virginia state lawmakers in a 2017 resolution celebrating its 40th anniversary and, due to its long tenure in the state , has been exempted from certification or endorsement requirements by the national higher education oversight agency. Shurtz, conveniently, served on the agency’s Career College Advisory Board.

Shurtz told nursing students on Monday he was seeking an agreement to allow them to transfer to another for-profit school, Chamberlain University, owned by Adtalem, the company formerly known as DeVry Education. Chamberlain faced her own regulatory issues, based on low pass rates on the nursing license exam.

Comments are closed.