Over the past several days, students at the three local campuses of Stratford University have demanded answers while scrambling for last-minute credit transfers in the aftermath of an announcement that their school would be shutting down at the end of the fall semester.
In August, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) decertified Stratford’s accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), which precluded Stratford from taking on new students. By that time, 2,000 students had been enrolled in-person and online programs at the for-profit four-year college.
While DOE gave Stratford 18 months to find a new accreditor, the lack of cash flow placed the school in financial straits.
Stratford University President Dr. Richard R. Shurtz II announced the school’s closure on September 23 to the dismay of several students in Alexandria and Woodbridge, Virginia and Baltimore who have spent thousands of dollars and accumulated several credit hours in their respective academic programs.
Some of what’s estimated to be 800 nursing students also had their sights set on December graduation and full-time jobs they already secured.
As one student said, some of those nursing students are considering filing a lawsuit against Stratford. Meanwhile, the culinary arts major who identified as MJ still finds himself in shock about the closure, especially since he and other international students pulled several strings to attend Stratford.
“There are not a lot of good schools close by that offer what Stratford promised in the beginning,” MJ said. “I’ve seen reports that say they [are closing] because they couldn’t accept new students for this semester. I don’t understand that at all because why would they accept me in the first place as well as other students I was taking class with.”
Stratford’s impending closure comes months after the Biden administration canceled student loan debt for those who attended the umbrella institutions of the now-defunct for-profit Corinthian Colleges, including Everest University and Heald College.
Years earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris (D), then California attorney general, successfully sued Corinthian on behalf of those defrauded.
Stratford, in existence since the late 1970s, offers online courses and has another campus in India as part of a partnership with the Modi Group. The majority of the student body either works full-time or has been designated as military veterans. Other academic programs offered by the university include baking and pastry arts, restaurant and food services management, cybersecurity and business administration.
One-out-of-four students at Stratford University identify as Black or African American while 5% are Hispanic and less than 16% are white. Female students outnumber their male counterparts two to one.
DOE’s College Scorecard had Stratford’s graduation rate at less than 40%. More than 71% of graduates also reported either making no progress on loan repayments, defaulting on loans, or having them in forbearance. In 2019, Stratford closed three of its Virginia campuses, including those in Newport News and Virginia Beach.
By the next year, ACICS investigated the school for allegedly running an unapproved program in Iraq.
As of Sept. 27, the University of the Potomac, a District-based for-profit college, and Chamberlain University, a for-profit healthcare college located in Vienna, Virginia, count among the institutions that reportedly have made arrangements with Stratford University to transfer credits.
Chamberlain didn’t return The Informer’s request for comment. Efforts to contact Shurtz were unsuccessful.
UOTP Provost Dr. Lee Smith said UOTP’s admission team and other staff members conducted one-on-one meetings with Stratford students to facilitate the credit-transfer process. The steady stream of students transferring from Stratford have been working toward bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the following fields: business administration, information technology, accounting, computer science, cybersecurity, hospitality and health information management, among other disciplines.
In a statement, Lee said staff members have proactively phoned students in an attempt to quell concerns about their future.
“University of the Potomac will continue to work with Stratford University and, most importantly, with their students so they can continue and finish what they have started,” Lee said. “Degree seeking students can also go to the Potomac.edu website for a full list of academic degree programs to see what is the right fit for them. For these students, the final objective does not have to change even though the path to get there may have shifted.”
In an official letter that circulated throughout Stratford’s campuses, Shurtz explained the series of events leading to Stratford’s closure. He also assured students that university officials would try to rectify the situation, despite several unanswered questions about next steps.
“We worked hard to save the school, leaving no stone unturned. We almost had an investor from Silicon Valley but the actions of the Department [of Education] made the deal impossible,” Shurtz said in the letter.
“During the past week, we have worked diligently to identify accredited schools that can meet your continuing education needs,” he added. “While no guarantees can be made, these schools indicated they would accept your Stratford credits on a case-by-case basis. We will do everything we can to facilitate the transfer process.”