AURORA, Colo. — A major for-profit chain of colleges has collapsed, shutting down schools across the country – including Ecotech Institute in Aurora. Ecotech offered classes and two-year degrees focused on renewable energy.
About 250 students at Ecotech are now scrambling to figure out what’s next.
"A lot of students were just like, 'Hey, did you get the email?' I actually didn't get the email, but my friends did," said Andrew Lundquist.
"I’m like, ‘What email?’” said Mike McGregor. “And then I opened my phone, and it’s like, ‘Oh s---! The school is closing.’"
Ecotech was in its eighth year in Aurora, and it was cranking out graduates quickly.
"I couldn't graduate students fast enough,” said Brian Dyk, dean of Ecotech. “Students who graduated from here were more often than not – they had a job before they even graduated. They had offers."
But Dyk says the parent company, ECA, had been hemorrhaging money for months.
"They made some financial choices that weren't smart," Dyk said.
ECA was struggling financially. In that email to students, it states, ‘It is with extreme regret that this… has forced us to discontinue the operations of our schools.”
Observers say ECA fell victim to its own misguidance and malfeasance, failing to adequately prepare students for the jobs it promised and therefore, making it difficult for students to repay their student loans.
“Their programs have shown themselves to be of little value,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.
Dyk says for-profits are a failing model way too beholden to shareholders.
"You've got people who want steady revenues,” Dyk said. “Steady profits. Schools don't work that way."
The collapse has left students like McGregor scrambling.
"I started contacting other schools before I even got out of the parking lot,” McGregor said. “I was saying, ‘Hey, this is my situation.’"
"It sucks because this is a renewable energy school and that is such big business right now," Lundquist said.
While these doors might be closing, Dyk isn't turning his back on his students.
"We were really a family here,” Dyk said. “I'm going to work with local community colleges, local schools, to do whatever I can to find places that will accept their credits."
ECA isn’t the first for-profit to crash. ITT Tech, Anthem and Westwood all recently suffered the same fate.
But, for students, the way these schools close always seems to mirror the same pattern – causing confusion, panic, and a sense of dread that a lot of hard work just went down the drain.
“Students here spend an average of $17,000 a year to attend this school,” Dyk said.
“And a lot of us are going, ‘Where to now?’” said McGregor.