Reporting Gigi Barnett
COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — Locked out. It’s what happened to hundreds of students at a trade school in Columbia when they showed up for classes this week.
The school was struggling to pay bills and now, as Gigi Barnett explains, students have no way to finish their education.
Amanda Rowan and Maggie Tepe spent the last 10 months working on medical billing and medical assistant diplomas. They were almost finished with their trade programs at the American Career Institute in Columbia, but when they showed up for class this week, no one was there.
“All the lights were off. I found two of my classmates. No one told us that we didn’t have class,” said Tepe.
Not only are classes canceled for this week, they’re gone for good. The trade school shut down without telling students or teachers.
Inside the main office, documents are thrown about as if school workers left in a hurry and the phone keeps ringing.
“Where are the staff people? They’re gone. We can’t get no one to answer our questions. It’s just too much,” said Rowan.
Students said when they arrived, all the found was this letter. It talks about a teach out agreement. ACI said it will find another school where students can complete their program. Some students, who were close to graduating, said that may be an option, but it could also mean they would have to start over from the beginning.
“I only had three days left. I was done on Monday and now I have nothing,” said Tepe.
ACI also has schools in Massachusetts. They’re closed, too.
In the letter to students, the trade school said it couldn’t get funding from creditors to stay open.
Students said they saw red flags early on.
“Soon as I got in the door. Constantly kept changing teachers like every month. I was just, like this was my fourth teacher so far. I’ve only been here for a couple of months,” said one student.
Students said they could have enrolled at other schools, if only ACI had just told them the truth.
“I’ve spent so much time and effort and I’ve paid them and this is crazy,” said Rowan.
“This was just a stepping stone and that one broke,” said Tepe.
Students say they haven’t been able to get their transcripts from the trade school so they can transfer to other schools. That’s where the state’s higher education commission steps in. It will contact students to help finish their education.
ACI has a total of eight trade schools in Maryland and Massachusetts.