National for-profit college chain abruptly closes, stunning thousands of students – USA TODAY


Dozens of for-profit college campuses across the country abruptly closed this week after their parent company lost its accreditation and funding. 

The schools are owned by Birmingham, Alabama-based Education Corp. of America (ECA), which runs more than 75 campuses across the USA. Its campuses operate under a variety of names, and several offer “career-focused” diploma and associate’s degree programs.

A statement on ECA’s student information page announced the closure of its campuses, including those operating as Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute, Golf Academy of America and Virginia College.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools suspended ECA’S accreditation Dec. 4.

The company is one of the nation’s largest for-profit colleges, serving at least 20,000 students, according to Inside Higher Ed.

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At the Corpus Christi, Texas, branch of Brightwood College on Wednesday, stunned students walked around the campus crying. 

Alexis Gurrola, a student in the dental assistant program, said she didn’t know what her next steps would be. She was “top of the class” and received straight A’s in the four months she attended Brightwood.

“They don’t really have many answers for us,” Gurrola said. “We can take our final (test) and get credit for this last course.”

The loss of accreditation was a fatal blow for struggling ECA. In October, the company reported nearly $50 million in debt to unsecured creditors, prompting ECA to seek legal remedies before landlords evicted it from its locations.

The company previously announced that some locations would close after students completed classes.

A letter addressing students by Stu Reed, ECA’s president and CEO, cites changing Department of Education requirements during the company’s restructuring as a challenge ECA faced.

The letter in full reads:

Dear Students,

In early fall, we undertook a path to dramatically restructure Education Corporation of America* (parent company of the campus in which you applied) to best posture it for the future.  This plan entailed the commitment of additional funds from investors.

However, recently, the Department of Education added requirements that made operating our schools more challenging. In addition, last night ACICS suspended our schools’ accreditation with intent to withdraw. The uncertainty of these requirements resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools.

It is with extreme regret that this series of recent circumstances has forced us to discontinue the operations of our schools. Unfortunately, this means that your enrollment will be cancelled and there will not be future classes at the campus in which you enrolled or any Education Corporation of America campuses.

We encourage you to pursue your career training with another school in your area that offers the same or similar program.

This is clearly not the outcome we envisioned for you or our schools, and it with the utmost regret that I inform you of this direction.

Stu Reed,

President & CEO

If a school closes, students with loans can ask the U.S. Department of Education to cancel those loans, according to Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending.

ECA did not immediately return a USA TODAY request for comment.

Contributing: Christopher Salvemini, Knoxville News Sentinel; Julie Garcia, Corpus Christi Caller Times; The Associated Press.

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