WV Business College’s operating permit revoked

The West Virginia Business College is on the road to closure, with only a slim chance of turning around. The coordinating body that oversees all of the state’s two-year colleges voted Thursday to withdraw the school’s permit to operate at the end of June.

Members of the Council for Community and Technical College Education voted unanimously to withdraw it after a 30-minute executive session. Earlier this month, the private, for-profit college lost its accreditation, the most basic requirement colleges must meet to confer degrees in the state.

This is the first time the council has ever made such a decision.

WVBC, which is West Virginia’s smallest two-year college yet offers the most expensive programs, operates campuses in Wheeling and Nutter Fort. School officials have 20 days to appeal the council’s decision. If it loses that appeal, it won’t be allowed to confer any more degrees and must close its doors.

Clarence “Butch” Pennington, the chairman of the council, said it would be “extremely difficult” for the school to fix all its problems in time to win an appeal before the end of June. He suggested the best way for the college to continue to exist would be for it to close for a time, seek accreditation from a new group and try to relaunch the school after all its problems are fixed.

WVBC has had to come up with a teach-out plan — a plan colleges develop to send their students to other schools if they’re about to close. The school’s teach-out plan, which was developed earlier this year, was to send all of its students to Salem International University.

The school doesn’t have to start implementing that plan yet, if it plans to appeal the council’s decision.

“They’re going to have to teach-out their students, because we’re concerned about those students,” Pennington said. “The institution — yeah, I’m concerned about it, but I’m really concerned with the students.”

The college has been ensnared in controversy throughout the past year over the academic credentials of its faculty, repeated misuse of state money and classrooms that reportedly lack equipment needed to teach students.

Staff members for the council recommended it revoke the school’s permit the day of the meeting, but the council decided to revoke it in two months, to give time for an appeal.

“WVBC is actually pleased with the outcome of the hearing today,” said James Weir, the school’s general manager. “We’re happy that the council has given us the opportunity to be heard, and we feel they understand the re-accreditation process much, much better. We’re also pleased that the few remaining items of concern will be resolved within the next two weeks, since the appeal process has already begun.”

Despite Weir’s claim that the appeal process has already begun, Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the Community and Technical College System, said Thursday night that the school had not indicated to her that it would appeal the decision.

Weir said he believes there are only a “few minor things” his school needs to fix, and that it will easily win an appeal. It is not clear if the school plans on telling its students about the council’s actions. When asked if he would share the news, Weir said there is “nothing to do here,” since the school is still permitted to operate through June.

“This has been going on since 2013, and they’ve had every opportunity to fix those problems, and they didn’t. It’s their own fault, and we can’t let the students get hurt,” Pennington said. “If they go belly up, those diplomas might not be worth the paper they’re written on, and that’s the tragedy of this whole thing.”

Pennington said the school has a long history of skirting accreditation criteria.

The school was previously accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a group that has been embroiled in its own quagmire. The U.S. Secretary of Education decided to stop recognizing the ACICS as an accrediting agency last year. The federal government has a list of accrediting agencies it recognizes, and those groups act as the gatekeepers for federal student aid. The groups decide which schools are worthy to receive all federal aid, including federal student loans and the Pell Grant.

The ACICS previously accredited ITT Technical Institute, which abruptly shut down last fall, and Corinthian Colleges, which faced lawsuits from more than a dozen state attorneys general and, ultimately, went bankrupt.

In December, when WVBC’s accreditation was up for a renewal, the ACICS declined to renew it. The accreditor sent a blistering 12-page letter to the school that month citing 29 ways the school had “substantive noncompliance” with the rules.

The school tried to appeal, but it lost that appeal earlier this month. In a letter, the ACICS wrote that the 29 problems with the school are similar to problems cited in 2013. Back then, it took the school 18 months to fix those problems, only to have them come back again in the end of 2016.

The Higher Education Policy Commission, which administers West Virginia’s grants and scholarships, audited the school’s use of the Higher Education Grant Program. This grant helps the neediest students in the state pay to go to college.

The school was ordered to return almost $70,000 to the state after the audit showed the money was misused. The HEPC barred the school in February from receiving any of the grant money in the future.

After the school was barred, state officials visited the campus to check out the alleged problems. Among other concerns, the staff said students aren’t given a proper bill for their classes — they’re given a summarized transcript of the students’ account written in pencil, according to documents provided to council members.

“The institution must cease telling students loans will become due immediately if an exit interview is not completed,” the documents read. “This is not compliant with current law.”

In addition to all of this, two of WVBC’s programs recently failed to meet federal gainful-employment regulations, which attempt to make sure that students don’t graduate from programs with too much debt to pay back.

“Students are really, really injured in these situations,” Tucker said. “Our goal is to try to make sure that students aren’t taken advantage of and that we provide them with options for their future.”

Reach Jake Jarvis at jake.jarvis@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939, Facebook.com/newsroomjake or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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