Nursing student Ashley Puente never expected to go to class and hear that her college was shutting down. 

Puente, 25, was one of the estimated 200 Brightwood College students who on Dec. 5 suddenly learned they were at risk of losing all their credits. 

The for-profit institution permanently shut down operations at its Greenwood location, leaving students and teachers stunned and wanting answers. According to the college, it had been stripped of its accreditation by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges. 

“Everything was good, I had nothing bad to say about the school,” Puente said. “Then they just shut it down.”

Immediately after the closure, Del Mar College officials met with more than 200 students, the majority of whom had been in Brightwood’s vocational nursing program, in a series of advising sessions to try to find a solution for the displaced students. 

Students were able to receive guidance for financial aid, program advising, admission requirements and community resources. Del Mar has continued to provide support since. 

“We have to look at each situation on a case-by-case basis as our students come from different backgrounds and have differing needs,” said Shannon Ydoyaga, dean of Health Sciences and Professional Education. “Upon learning of the school closure, we immediately contacted the Board of Nursing to discuss how we can support the students and follow our accreditation guidelines.”

Credits from schools that are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges are not accepted by most public institutions. However, Del Mar is accessing each student individually to see what they can do to aid their situation and ensure that they don’t have to start from square one.

Puente, who was working toward her LVN degree, is a previous Del Mar College student who attended Brightwood because she was looking to complete her degree at a faster pace. She enrolled in its one-year program in the hopes that it would work better with her daily schedule. 

Students stood in front of Brightwood’s building in complete disbelief, some in tears, unsure what the closure meant for their finances and their futures.

“I felt like I had wasted all my time,” Puente said. “ Everybody was crying and nobody had answers. That was the worst part.”

Unlike public colleges, Brightwood does not derive its operating funds from tax dollars. Instead, its revenue is solely based on student tuition and fees. For-profit colleges, like businesses, are designed to generate revenue for their owners and shareholders. 

Alabama-based company Education Corporation of America, which owns Brightwood, runs 75 campuses across the country under a variety of names. ECA is one of the largest for-profit colleges in the nation and serves over 20,000 students. 

Three months before the closing, ECA announced it would be closing 26 of its campuses. At the time, Corpus Christi’s Brightwood location was not slated for closure. It wasn’t until the school lost its accreditation on Dec. 4 that it was forced to shut down. 

“It is with extreme regret that this series of recent circumstances has forced us to discontinue the operations of our schools,” ECA president and CEO Stu Reed said in a letter to students. “Unfortunately, this means that your enrollment will be cancelled and there will not be future classes at the campus in which you are enrolled or any Education Corporation of America campuses.”

In October the company reported that it owned nearly $50 million to unsecured creditors. 

Puente re-enrolled at Del Mar this semester and is working on completing her core curriculum. She said does not regret going to Brightwood and is even enjoying her time back at Del Mar. 

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