Futures in Limbo: The Closure of ITT Technical Institute

Above: ITT Technical Institute Canton, Michigan campus. Photo by Dwight Burdette.

By Jullian Aiden Bravo

The lives and education of ITT Technical Institute’s 35,000 students were put on hold after the for-profit school shut its doors for good on Sep. 6, leaving many students in debt with no degree.

The closure of ITT comes shortly after it announced it would no longer enroll new students. Following that announcement, ITT filed for bankruptcy on Sep. 16, which led the Department of Education to halt ITT’s federal student aid funds.

All 137 campuses are now closed, but online students in the July 2016 academic term were able to finish their programs, which ended Oct. 16.

“After more than 50 years of educating students, ITT Technical Institute has discontinued operations at our resident campuses,” ITT said on its website’s homepage. “We want to thank all our students and staff who were with us over those years and wish all of you the best in your future.”

The Department of Education is working with thousands of former ITT students, many of whom are looking for opportunities to continue their career and/or manage their debt.

According to Student Federal Aid, students have two primary choices: Apply for a closed school loan discharge or continue education by transferring credits to another institution.

A closed school loan discharge will relieve a student from the obligation to repay a loan. Eligibility requirements state that students will be approved for a discharge only if they attended an ITT school that closed and were unable to finish their program of study.

But not everyone could be granted a loan discharge. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who sued Corinthian Colleges—a now inoperative for-profit school—for false advertising, says many former ITT students could still be forced to pay back their student loan debts.

While the Department of Education is in fact providing loan discharges for former ITT students, the money funding the closed loan discharge might not be enough to match the insurmountable debt these students have.

Harris has fought against for-profit schools in the past. Her most notable fight against for-profits is her lawsuit against Corinthian Colleges in 2013. She says these students are “victims” who were “scammed” by for-profit colleges.

The Department of Education is encouraging former ITT students to continue to seek an education, as there are students who have become dispirited by the school’s closure.

“A college education is still the best investment a person can make in oneself and the surest path to the middle class,” said Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary of Education. “While ITT’s closure may be a disruption, we cannot allow it to be the end of the road for these students.”

A third option would be to enroll at a community college (CC). But credits earned at a for-profit school are ineligible for transfer at a CC, thus giving students no other choice but to start over. There already are several ITT students who have applied to Chaffey College, according to Eric Bishop, Vice President of Student Services.

The best a CC can do is reach out and provide options. Chaffey offers students information sessions. Some students are not aware of the advantages community colleges have over for-profit schools. A couple advantages are financial and academic security. This is the purpose of information sessions—helping students understand what a CC can offer. The primary goal of a CC is to provide students with an education, as opposed to for-profit schools, which focus on making a profit off students.

Students also have the option to test for credit, which gives students the opportunity to test their knowledge and score out of an area of study such as math or English. However, credits by examination are limited to certain programs.

“Their worlds have been put to the side,” Bishop said. “When I talk to these students they don’t realize how cheap it is to go to college. We want them to understand that they have options.”

Bishop, who has been on conference calls with the Department of Education, said there has been no discussion regarding an articulation agreement, which would grant students the option of transferring credits from a non-profit to a CC. Approval of such an agreement would be up to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

For the 35,000 ITT students who had their education put on hold, the closure of ITT was most certainly frightening and infuriating. They are the latest casualties of the for-profit school industry. And the speedy degree and high-paying job they were guaranteed proved to be nothing more than empty promises.