Governor Signs Bill to Protect Students from Predatory Private Colleges

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) stopped by Northern Virginia Community College in Loudoun on Tuesday morning to sign a bill into law that will require for-profit colleges operating in Virginia to be more transparent with students.

The legislation, HB 2040, was introduced in the General Assembly earlier this spring by Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34), who represents part of Loudoun County. It will require post-secondary schools that still must undergo an annual review by State Council of Higher Education for Virginia—generally colleges that are private, for-profit and based out of state—to enter into an enrollment agreement with each student.

The enrollment agreement is required to be signed by the student and an authorized representative of the school and disclose the transferability of their credits, their accreditation, their eligibility for student loans and other pertinent information.

Murphy, who joined the governor for the bill-signing ceremony, called the legislation “a transparency bill.” She said she kept hearing from students, especially military veterans, who had attended for-profit colleges, left with no transferable credits or any certification that could land them a job. One student she met had accumulated $18,000 in debt for earning a “homeland security credential,” that does nothing to secure him a job in the field.

“I thought, something has to change,” Murphy said.

“This is a very common sense bill,” McAuliffe added. “You’re going to know ahead of time how much it’s going to cost you, what kind of financial aid you’re going to get, what kind of credits you’ll get, and what those credits are worth… so you can make an informed decision.”

Kristen Park, a former Virginia Beach resident, flew in from Texas to speak at the bill-signing ceremony. The U.S. Navy veteran attended Medical Career Institute, a branch of for-profit ECPI University. She said she and 38 of her classmates learned two days before graduation that the graduation requirement had changed so they were left without a degree. “This is important,” she said. “People are no longer going to find out two days before graduation that none of their credits are going to transfer.”

Mark Dreyfus, the president of ECPI, said Park’s testimony is “blatantly false.” He said she and her classmates were told about eight months ahead of graduation that some additional class work was required, such as taking practice tests to prepare them for the National Council Licensure Examination. He said that the school did its part to inform and prepare students and, ultimately, Park passed the exam and graduated with a degree.

“The board of nursing found that nothing that we did was erroneous,” Dreyfus said.

He also noted that the new law does not apply to ECPI because the university has operated in Virginia long enough that it no longer is subject to annual reviews by SCHEV. He favors legislation that would require all post-secondary schools to have transparent contracts with students. “The law is probably a consumer disclosure law, which we support. The example used is what is so inaccurate,” Dreyfus said.

There are about 200 private and out-of-state postsecondary schools that enroll Virginia students, according to Joseph Crook, SCHEV’s certification coordinator. The legislation does not apply to Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

Editor’s note: ECPI University President Mark Dreyfus’ comments have been added to this story.

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