ITT Tech Isn’t Just a College Scandal. It Also Ran Charter Schools — and Left Teens Scrambling
Trevor Eppich faced difficulties passing his classes until he joined Early Career Academy, a charter school affiliated with ITT Tech, a for-profit college. At the school, he benefited from small classes, interactive teaching, and the opportunity to graduate high school with an associate’s degree in network administration. Everything seemed promising for the 18-year-old, who was close to graduating and had plans to join the Air Force, where having a college degree would have secured him a higher rank. However, on Tuesday, Eppich received an email from the school’s executive director, Debra Bender, informing him that the school was shutting down.
In the email sent to students and parents, Bender expressed her shock at the immediate termination of ITT Tech staff and acknowledged the devastating impact on everyone at the school. Now, Eppich’s future is uncertain and he regrets that many teachers had anticipated ITT’s closure but were unaware that Early Career Academy would be affected as well.
At the Troy, Michigan branch of Early Career Academy, school officials are actively assisting their 61 former students in transitioning to other local schools. On the other hand, in Arizona, Bender’s email indicates that school officials are preparing to challenge the closure. She emphasizes that the Early Career Academy in Arizona, as a separate entity funded by the state, has no connection to ITT Tech’s funding issues in higher education. Bender pledges to work tirelessly to find a solution and resume schooling.
ITT Tech, with a 50-year history as one of America’s largest for-profit college chains, encompassing approximately 140 campuses and 40,000 students, closed down on Tuesday. This followed the U.S. Department of Education’s decision in August to ban the company from enrolling new students who relied on federal financial aid. Throughout the years, the chain faced numerous allegations, ranging from financial aid misconduct to deceptive marketing practices.
In 2014, when ITT Tech attempted to open a chain of charter schools, it encountered significant controversy. ITT initially announced plans to establish charter schools in Indianapolis, Troy, Jacksonville, Tampa, and Houston. To facilitate this venture, a nonprofit educational provider called Early Career Academy was created and tasked with managing the schools independently of ITT Tech. The schools aimed to serve high school juniors and seniors, enabling them to earn both a diploma and an associate’s degree from ITT Tech in just two years, although most colleges did not recognize ITT credits for transfer.
Unfortunately, the Florida and Houston campuses never materialized. The Indianapolis campus experienced a one-year delay and finally opened in August 2015. However, just weeks before ITT’s announcement of school closures, the Indiana Charter School Board revoked Early Career Academy’s charter due to multiple charter agreement, state, and federal law violations. The board’s executive director, James Betley, believes that the revocation was justified, given ITT Tech’s subsequent closure. He also noted enrollment issues, a diminishing board of directors, and tax problems, leading to the loss of the school’s tax-exempt status.
The Indianapolis students were successfully placed in new schools within a week, but the closure left them and their parents feeling helpless and uncertain about the future.
Despite his anticipation of a larger student body, Wood expressed satisfaction with the academic integrity of the school program. He lamented the unfortunate closure of the system, as it provided students with the opportunity to obtain a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, equipping them with the necessary skills for the job market. Wood emphasized that the program catered to a demographic of high school students who are often overlooked – those who do not plan to attend college.
ITT Tech’s Early Career Academy charters were not the sole institutions offering this type of education. In fact, career and technical programs have long been a focal point of President Obama’s educational initiatives, exemplified by their endorsement of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in New York City. Similarly, this school provides students with an associate’s degree, although the program spans six years instead of two.
Although no statements were given by Early Career Academy or ITT Tech officials, Whitney Chapa, the executive director of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, mentioned in an email that the staff at Early Career Academy is collaborating with Arizona education officials to secure an alternative school building and ultimately resume operations.
Bender, in her email to students and parents, contended that ITT Tech breached its contractual obligations with Early Career Academy by terminating the charter and dismissing its staff.
Chris Eppich, Trevor’s father, expressed concern and confusion about the situation, questioning the next steps for their child. He noted that they will wait out the week to assess the developments but will also explore options to determine Trevor’s academic standing and progression towards high school graduation.
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