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Watchdog warns of corner-cutting as WyoTech shuts down

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More than two years after two of the five WyoTech campuses closed without warning, the non-profit running the remaining three has confirmed it will shutter them as well, in a process that an independent overseer claims may be rife with corner cutting.

In his final report, released last week, attorney Clark Ervin, Zenith Education Group’s independent monitor, described a pattern of evasiveness and misrepresentation at Zenith leading up to and following the non-profit’s November statement that it would close 21 of its 24 remaining college campuses, including the three WyoTech campuses in Laramie, Wyoming; Ormond Beach, Florida; and Blairsville, Pennsylvania.

“These developments are, to say the least, concerning,” Ervin wrote.

Following student loan collector Education Credit Management Corporation’s purchase of more than 50 vocational colleges from the for-profit Corinthian Colleges in 2015 (the two WyoTech campuses that shut down about two months afterward were not part of the purchase), ECMC formed Zenith to oversee the colleges. As part of the purchase, the Department of Education required Zenith to submit to an independent monitor; however, Ervin’s report claims that Zenith did not adequately inform Ervin of multiple changes prior to the closure announcement and that the non-profit deferred on providing him sources to back up its reasoning for shutting the schools down.

Zenith, which described the closures as “a new phase in delivering on its mission of helping students succeed,” said in a statement that many of its campuses were located in geographically distant areas that were difficult for its students to reach and that the campuses were not “built to accommodate the programs that we want and need to offer.” The campuses scheduled to close will not accept new students but will remain open until June to allow existing students to complete their programs. About 5,400 students total will be affected by the closures.

Ervin’s term as monitor ended January 30, the date of his final report. Due to his observations of deceptive recruiting practices, misleading ads, notification failures (Zenith’s confirmation of the school closures was not a press release, rather a statement made after news outlets had independently reported the closures), and a track record of ignoring his recommendations, Ervin suggested in his report that another monitor follow the last few months of current students’ terms.

“Given the inevitable cost pressures and the fact that these schools will be ceasing operations in the not too distant future, there will doubtless be a temptation to cut corners as the closing dates near,” he wrote.

In response, a Zenith spokesman said in a statement that the non-profit “remains fully committed to our mission of student success at our teach-out campuses” and that Ervin’s report contains a number of misunderstandings.

“We are proud of the activities we undertook at the acquired campuses over the past three years, and all students at our teach-out campuses have the opportunity to complete their educational programs,” the statement reads. “The monitor’s report mischaracterizes the nature of a teach out, which allows students to complete their entire educational program, not just specific courses, before a campus is closed.”

WyoTech, which offered a nine-month associates degree focusing on auto repair, started in June 1966 in Laramie as Wyoming Technical Institute and at its peak expanded to seven campuses, according to the Laramie Boomerang. More than 1,000 students attend that campus. The Blairsville campus, with about 900 students, opened in 2002; the Ormond Beach campus, with about 90 students, opened in 2006. Zenith’s spokesman said that the closures will effect about 600 students.

Not long after the November closure confirmation, WyoTech announced an alumni association for the roughly 64,000 graduates of the school, set to begin operations last month.