PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - How much did Brightwood Colleges know about the closure of campuses around the country, impacting some 20,000 students, including nearly 150 in the Coachella Valley?
New claims surfaced Thursday that the for-profit college not only misled students, but also misled its own staff.
In the desert, Brightwood College took over for Kaplan College in the Palm Springs Mall in June 2016. New students were told they'd pay about $16,000 for certification to become pharmacy technicians or medical assistants. On Friday, they'll walk away with a mountain of debt and no degree.
"Based on the call we had yesterday, I feel lied to," said Mark Platt, Dean of Brightwood College's Palm Springs campus.
Platt says he was assured students would get to complete their degrees, even though the facility at the Palm Springs mall would close in June to make way for College of the Desert. He was stunned when he learned all Brightwood schools were closing immediately.
"What happened?" he asked. "What happened to all that revenue? Where did it go? What has Education Corporation of America been doing with the revenue that all the different schools are producing?"
Platt said when Kaplan College was rebranded by ECA in 2016 as Brightwood College, the company was solvent. But in October 2018, Brightwood College's parent companies Virginia College and Education Corporation of America announced they had nearly $50 million in unsecured debt. A letter obtained by KESQ by the college's accreditation organization also cited issues such as "student progress, outcomes and staff turnover" as reasons to "withdraw the current grants of accreditation" as of Dec. 4.
In front of the Brightwood campus on Tahquitz Canyon Way, Hope Flores of La Quinta pulled out a sheaf of documents, pointing to a form signed in September. "They all said that they were staying open until July 2019."
Flores and her friends are concerned about what will happen to their loans, which were taken out to fulfill their goals of becoming medical assistants.
"My payment right now is $363 a month," explained Flores. "And that's not including the loans I have to pay back."
"I know I have to pay $17,00 in loans altogether to FAFSA," said Marlon Johnson, who was also months away from a degree.
Platt and at least 40 other people in Palm Springs are now working without pay and with few answers.
He says the worst case scenario for students is that they don't get to finish. "And they're still on the hook for those federal loans...the best case scenario is that they can transfer to another school. It may slow them down, but that they could still finish."
Platt says accreditation can't be pulled retroactively, and he's hoping nearby colleges like Mayfield, Milan or SBB will allow students to continue without starting over.
"That's something I'm concerned about," said Johnson. "That's why I'm here today."
Representatives from the Dept. of Consumer Affairs will be on campus Friday to help students with their options, which could also mean taking legal recourse.
Brightwood's parent company did not respond to a request for information on how long they've known about plans to shut down, or how much executives will make by closing the company.
More: I-Team investigations
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