Virginia College campuses in Alabama to close

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Wednesday was upsetting news for college students in Huntsville as they found out Virginia College is closing sooner than expected.

Virginia College is one of four schools in Alabama that are shutting down this month.

The Huntsville campus stopped enrolling students in September and was originally slated to close in June 2019.

On Wednesday, Education Corporation of America, which owns the Virginia College campuses in Alabama, said they would all close this month. The company also owns dozens of other Virginia College, Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute and Golf Academy of America campuses nationwide that will close.

That group is overseen by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools or ACICS. The ACICS told the ECA they're withdrawing the grants of accreditation for all institutions owned by Virginia College.

For students in Huntsville, it means they have less than two weeks to finish all of their hours. Some of them say flat-out, that's impossible.

A Virginia College student breaks down as she finds out the school in Huntsville is shutting down before Christmas.

Wednesday was an emotional afternoon for students in Huntsville as they got some shocking news less than three weeks before Christmas.

"We're about finished and being told we may not be able to graduate," Virginia College student Emmie Reynolds said.

Near the end of the business day, a handful of aspiring medical workers at Virginia College were making frantic phone calls for information.

"My finish date would've been the first part of January," Reynolds said.

The trade school announced earlier this year it wasn't taking any new students. But school leaders found out this week they'd lost their accreditation, which means by this time next month, the school won't exist.

"I've got a job, it's just what I missed," Reynolds said. "I've put in the hours, I've put in the effort, and now there's not going to be an end result."

Some Virginia College students who were hurrying inside on Wednesday say, fortunately, they will be able to finish on time. But many others aren't so lucky. They found out this week, if they don't finish their credit hours and assignments by December 18th, they may be out of luck.

"There's not enough hours in the day at the office I work for to be open for me to get those hours," Reynolds said.

The ECA is required to report to the ACICS executive committee in person on December 19th, showing how many students graduated and what the school is doing to find a similar school where students can transfer and finish their degrees.

There are 27 Virginia College campuses in the US with an estimated 15,000 students enrolled. What's unknown is how many of them are being left out in the cold by the latest news.

The company has listed a page on its website where it says it plans to add information on requesting transcripts, contact lists and answers to students' questions.

Virginia College officials released a statement concerning the closure:

"After many years of training students for new careers, it is with a heavy heart that today we announce that Education Corporation of America (ECA) is closing all its career colleges effective with the completion of the current module or term for most students.  We will work with students to ensure access to their transcripts so they can complete their studies at another school.   We are proud of our thousands of graduates who have entered the workforce with skills they acquired at our schools along with our faculty and staff who have shown unwavering support for our students.  This is not the outcome that we envisioned and is one that we recognize will have a dramatic effect on our students, employees, and many partners."

The ACICS provided documents to WHNT News 19 on Wednesday explaining their reason for pulling the accreditation.

"On December 4, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) notified the Education Corporation of America, which operates Virginia College LLC, of its decision to withdraw, by suspension, the current grants of accreditation of all the institutions owned by Virginia College.

The December 4 action follows a show–cause directive issued by the Council on September 5, 2018, regarding concerns in the areas of institutional management, communications, curriculum review and revision, construction oversight, and employer satisfaction.  While the institution took steps to address these areas of concern, the Council has since found additional areas of concern across various campuses, including student progress, outcomes, student satisfaction, certification and licensure, and staff turnover.

Additionally, the Council determined that Virginia College is unlikely to be able to continue operations and meet its financial obligations based on its current financial status.  These concerns were initially outlined on October 30 and updated on November 12.

In the latest action, the Council also raised serious concerns about the educational outcomes for the approximately 15,000 enrolled students across all campuses of Virginia College, which include students who are set to complete their studies at the end of the December 2018 term. As such, the Council requires Virginia College to submit evidence of the successful completion of programs for students scheduled to graduate in December.  Additionally, the Council will require evidence of executed transfer agreements to other institutions for students still enrolled after December in order to facilitate the completion of their program of instruction. This information must be submitted to the Council no later than December 19."

A copy of the Council’s letter to Education Corporation of America is available here.