Bay State College loses accreditation after failing appeal

Supervisors said Monday they had denied an appeal by Bay State College to retain its accreditation, a setback that could force the ailing Back Bay school to close.

The New England Commission of Higher Education’s decision means that after August 31, students at the for-profit college will not be able to access federal financial aid and loans cannot be transferred to other institutions. While the decision does not automatically close the school, it is unlikely to continue operating without accreditation or access to financial aid.

In recent months, current and former faculty and students have raised concerns about billing issues, classes with only a handful of students, and last-minute course cancellations. They said the college is also understaffed, making it difficult to reach administrators who could help resolve concerns and issues.

In December, the Department of Education put Bay State on a list of colleges subject to more rigorous testing. The college is also facing evictions of its Back Bay landlord, OMV Park Square, which said Bay State owed about $725,000 in rent payments. Bay State disputes the amount owed.

The commission spent several days on the Bay State campus in the fall before concluding that the college lacked the resources needed to provide a quality education program “now and for the foreseeable future,” according to a commission statement in January .

Bay State, which owns Ambow Education Services, said Monday it was “deeply disappointed” by the decision to deny his appeal. It said the commission’s investigation was “flawed” and lacked evidence that the college’s situation had deteriorated since it was first placed on probation last spring.

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The college said Monday that Ambow, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange for 25 cents a share, sold foreign assets in December to prop up the Bay State’s finances. Ambow also owns another ailing college in San Diego, the NewSchool of Architecture & Design.

“The commission’s decision and the denial of the appeal have disrupted the lives of hundreds of students who have thrived at Bay State College because of the supportive environment that the college provides,” Bay State said in a statement.

Bay State interim president Jeff Mason said in an email to students Monday the college will continue to help them earn their degrees, either at Bay State before August or at other colleges it has worked with to arrange transfer routes, including Suffolk University. Fisher College, Bunker Hill Community College, Regis College and a handful of others.

Communication challenges persist for some. A former Bay State student who is a military veteran told The Boston Globe on Monday that he was notified by his Veterans Affairs representative in late February that his GI Bill benefits were no longer available in Bay State due to regulatory and financial concerns could be claimed.

At this point, the student called the school’s newly established transfer office and left several voicemails that were never answered. He then retired from Bay State and enrolled in online courses at the State College of Florida after finding that it was the only school that accepted some — but not all — of his credits.

“I was supposed to be finished by the end of the year, so that basically set me back to sophomore year,” said the student, who spoke on condition that his name not be used for fear of retaliation.

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A Bay State spokesman declined to say how many students are currently enrolled in the college and how many employees are currently employed.

Last month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, urging him to hold Bay State leaders accountable for taxpayer losses and to protect abandoned students. Lawmakers want to ensure students are eligible for a “loan repayment borrower’s defense,” which forgives the federal student loan debt for students misled by colleges.

The commission has also been closely monitoring Goddard College in Vermont and Albertus Magnus College in New Haven for enrollments and financial challenges in recent months, a sign that the schools’ accreditation status could be at risk unless tangible improvements are made.

Hilary Burns can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Hilarysburns.