HAMDEN — The for-profit Sawyer School in Hamden was abruptly closed along with the Sawyer School in Hartford and the Butler School of Business in Bridgeport.
Connie Fraser, spokeswoman for the state Department of Higher Education, said the office learned of the closures by email Sunday. Regulations say schools must provide a 60-day notice to the Department of Higher Education for such closures.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who also learned about the closures Sunday, issued a letter to Carol Paradise of Academic Enterprises, owner of the schools, asking for written assurance that the students enrolled would be reimbursed.
It would turn out that Paradise retired in 2011 and is no longer involved with Academic Enterprises. Blumenthal's spokesperson said when they realized the error another letter went out to Paul Kelly, identified as the current president of Sawyer School.
Blumenthal’s statement said the notice issued by the Sawyer School of its closure gave no indication of “whether hundreds of current students would receive a refund for tuition already paid towards certificate programs now terminated without explanation.”
Blumenthal said that, in midst of all the focus on the fiscal cliff, the closures of these schools are very important.
“There are hundreds of students who are going to be out on the street, so to speak, without any assurance of the education that they’ve paid to receive. Many of them have already paid for the cost of their tuition, and quite a few, undoubtedly, with federal loans,” Blumenthal said. “So the federal government has a very real interest here.”
Fraser said the Department of Higher Education has set up a hotline for students to call at 1-800-842-0229. She also encourages students to go to www.ctohe.org. A link on the main page has been set up so students can register for help.
Blumenthal said Monday he had not received a response.
Calls made to the Sawyer School and other properties of Academic Enterprises went unanswered.
“We’re going to be fighting for either reimbursement or an equivalent study program, working with state and other federal officials to do whatever we can,” Blumenthal said. “We can’t promise anything, but we’re going to be fighting.”
Blumenthal served on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which conducted a two year investigation into the for-profit higher education industry.
“My concerns generally are, they have a much higher rate of drop outs, and much higher levels of debt for students who complete their studies, as well as the ones who leave before they graduate,” Blumenthal said. “Overall, my concerns are that their record is far less successful than the non profit schools.”
In a statement the HELP Committee released, Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, described the report the committee published: “In this report, you will find overwhelming documentation of overpriced tuition, predatory recruiting practices, sky-high dropout rates, billions of taxpayer dollars spent on aggressive marketing and advertising, and companies gaming regulations to maximize profits. These practices are not the exception — they are the norm; they are systemic throughout the industry, with very few exceptions.”
Blumenthal said Academic Enterprises owes an explanation. He said the overnight closure of three for-profit schools in Connecticut may be “Exhibit A” to continue investigating such institutions.
“I’m hoping that maybe we can send a message to the for-profit educational community that this kind of abrupt, unexplained, unfair closure simply is unacceptable,” Blumenthal said.
Fraser said Connecticut has strong regulations for for-profit schools. She said the department received no indication the closed schools suffered from any financial issues.
“This is an unusual situation — very unusual situation — that a school would close so suddenly in such a way,” Fraser said.
Due to incorrect information supplied by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office, the Register in an earlier online version of this story incorrectly identified the person who last oversaw Sawyer School in Hamden. The president is Paul Kelly. A letter about the closures was sent to the Register by Blumenthal, who named a past president. A second letter was eventually sent out to Paul Kelly, though the Register did not receive the letter.