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Local ITT students worry about future

Posted at 7:36 PM, Sep 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-07 14:09:12-04

What was once a clear path to a better life is now uncertain for ITT Technical Institute student Damon Gonzalez, “I have a job waiting for me, depending on whether or not I got my bachelor’s degree.”

Gonzalez, 42, enrolled at the for-profit school after serving 21 years in the Air Force, relying on V.A. Benefits to pay his tuition. A prospective employer offered him a job, contingent on whether or not he earns his degree.

ITT and other for-profit schools have heavily recruited and enrolled adult students, and veterans, who rely on federal loans to pay for their education.

In the last few years the federal government has increased oversight and placed restrictions on the school's ability receive federal loan money, citing concerns the school was being mismanaged.

ITT’s parent company said today the federal actions are “inappropriate” and “unconstitutional”. It notified students of its decision to close in an email Tuesday morning. 

“We had no intention prior to the receipt of the most recent sanctions of closing down despite the challenging regulatory environment that now threatens all proprietary higher education.” The company posted on its website Tuesday. “We have also always worked tirelessly to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations, and to uphold our ethic of continuous improvement.”

“Ultimately, we made a difficult choice to pursue additional oversight in order to protect you, other students, and taxpayers from potentially worse educational and financial damage in the future if ITT was allowed to continue operating without increased oversight and assurances to better serve students,” John B. King Jr., U.S. Secretary of Education, wrote Tuesday in a blog post addressed to ITT students.

Southern Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva applauded the federal regulations that prompted the school’s closing.

“As long as the only, singular motive is: ‘How much profit can I make off the federal government at the expense of these students?’ then I yes, I think that it is a detriment,” said Grijalva, who added he’s hopeful the Department of Education can work to forgive some loans for certain ITT students.

“The actions of and sanctions from the U.S. Department of Education have forced us to cease operations of the ITT Technical Institutes, and we will not be offering our September quarter. We reached this decision only after having exhausted the exploration of alternatives, including transfer of the schools to a non-profit or public institution,” the company wrote Tuesday.

There are four ITT campuses in Arizona, one in Tucson, where students arrived worried the money and time they've invested is now a waste.

“Now I don't know what to do honestly,” said Chris Gonzales, a working father of two. Gonzalez says he completed an Associate’s Degree program last month and was set to start work on a bachelor's degree at ITT September 12, when the next quarter was scheduled to begin.

He says he's already taken out about $30,000 in loans after enrolling in a program in which counselors said he would earn a Bachelor’s degree and two Associate’s degrees, “I am worried about that. Because I do plan to further my education.”

Gonzalez is confident he can get a good job with the degree he earned this summer.

But Gonzales is fearful he won’t be able to transfer his ITT credits to another school in time to graduate in December, “Well I talked with my boss today he pretty much said: ‘No Bachelor's degree, no job.’”