Student Ivee Dixon, 27, had put her health and family on the line for a fresh academic start at ITT Technical Institute only for it to be ripped away from her with no warning.
Dixon is a mother of five — she had her fifth child a month ago — who has received financial support from her friends in order to finish her nursing degree at the Lexington campus.
“None of my family have graduated (from college),” Dixon said, crying. “This means so much. I have five children that look up to me. I’ve sacrificed work, paying bills a month behind; so much.”
Dixon was part of a group of nursing students from ITT Tech who met with the NAACP and Urban League to sift for answers following the for-profit college’s implosion Tuesday.
Nursing student Victoria Hampton brokered the meeting Wednesday afternoon with Lexington-Fayette NAACP president William Saunders and Urban League of Lexington president P.G. Peeples to air grievances and explore other academic options.
“This is another example where our education system has failed its students,” Saunders said. “We’re not going to put our heads in the sand. We’re going to fight this out. Somebody is going to have to answer to you and rectify what you’ve gone through; make it right.”
The Indiana-based ITT Tech shuttered all 130 American campuses Tuesday after the U.S. Department of Education labeled the company a liability to its students and taxpayers, The Associated Press reported.
A federal and multi-state investigation determined that ITT had coerced students into taking out risky loans. In a decision made on Aug. 25, the Department of Education required ITT to pay $152 million within 30 days to cover student refunds and other liabilities.
Time Magazine ranked ITT second on a 2014 list called “The 5 Colleges That Leave the Most Students Crippled By Debt.” According to that list, 22 percent of ITT students who left the school in 2011 defaulted on their federal loans.
The school enrolled 45,000 students in 2015 and collected $850 million in revenue, the New York Times reported.
The shutdown came as a complete shock to Hampton and the 10 other nursing students; most of whom work and raise children.
Students like Maleah Peyton, an Army veteran who used the GI Bill to help cover tuition, had 12 weeks left in order to complete ITT’s nursing program. Hampton was expected to finish her degree in September 2017.
“I just feel like they knew all this was about to happen,” Hampton said. “Why would they have people renew their financial aid, have orientation, pass out books that the government had to pay for? People live for this. This is all they have.”
This sort of frustration was voiced by every student gathered at the NAACP office. All of it stemmed from a Lexington campus that did not adequately inform its students on the company’s potential financial ruin. This sentiment was supported by emails ITT administrators had sent students over the past two weeks. These emails were shown to the Herald-Leader on Wednesday.
The emails discussed the Aug. 25 decision by the Department of Education but never explicitly mentioned that the campus would be closed.
On Saturday, Aug. 27, ITT’s Lexington campus director Chad Ogle was questioned by the nursing students about their financial aid and whether the school would continue to exist. The nursing students claim Ogle told them everything was going to be OK and if worst came to worst, ITT would find a place for them.
Attempts to reach Ogle and other teachers from Lexington’s ITT campus were unsuccessful.
The Lexington ITT campus was closed Wednesday but will open Thursday for teachers and administrators to get their things, Hampton said.
The Herald-Leader reached out to ITT’s head of public relations, Nicole Elam, numerous times on what was happening in Lexington. She failed to provide specifics and instead shared the company’s news release from Tuesday and provided the following statement:
“Our focus and priority with remaining staff is helping students with their records and identify future educational options. We communicated with all students yesterday morning via email and an internal portal informing them of key information including how to receive grades and transcripts, articulation agreements, and what other schools are near them that may offer similar programs of study. We encourage all students to utilize the contact information made available to them in our communication for questions and any concerns.”
All 11 nursing students hoped to transfer their ITT credits to a neighboring institution like Bluegrass Community & Technical College. Peeples was hopeful about such moves but instructed the ITT students to follow all the school’s instructions so there’s no reason to prevent them from remedying their situations.
“It’s just not right,” Peeples said. “This thing is not going to beat us. We’re going to make it through this.”
Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso