Former Corinthian Colleges Continue in Survival Mode

Posted By Eliana Osborn on August 4, 2016 at 9:11 am
Former Corinthian Colleges Continue in Survival Mode

Driven by the near collapse of Corinthian Colleges, 2015 was a dramatic crossroads for for-profit colleges. When Corinthian closed dozens of campuses, students nationwide were left with debt and no usable degrees. Now Zenith Education, which purchased Corinthian’s remaining campuses, and its parent, ECMC Corp., look to find a way forward for the colleges.

Career education forms the focus of Zenith’s programs. The schools currently operating are nonprofits carrying the brands Everest and WyoTech on 24 campuses. The company recently named Peter J. Taylor as president and CEO, noting  “his vision for the future of nonprofit career education are exactly what Zenith needs as we create a new model for nonprofit career school training.”

According to Zenith’s website, four core study areas are available to students: allied health, business, legal, and technical and trades. Fifty programs are offered with those study areas.

Schools work toward keeping students on track

When President Taylor’s appointment was announced, so too was $250 million from the ECMC governing board. These funds will go to the ECMC Foundation, previously run by Taylor, to support Zenith. ECMC Group purchased Corinthian’s online business and still open properties last year. If this all seems a bit confusing, that’s because it is.

Zenith is changing how the schools are accredited, so that all campuses will be handled by the same agency. In many ways, the campuses are more similar to the career and technical aspects of community college. School officials say they’re charting a third pathway for nontraditional students not well served by existing institutions.

Zenith is combating the negativity surrounding Corinthian Colleges with extreme transparency, making documents and procedures easily accessible online. One of the takeaways from the Corinthian collapse is renewed attention to open, honest recruitment of students with data about costs and post-graduation outcomes.

“Zenith’s sale included a deal to forgive $480 million of debt held by former Corinthian students,” writes Paul Feig at Inside Higher Ed. “The nonprofit also has cut its tuition, bulked up curricula and focused on helping students land well-paying jobs.” That debt, and more like it, sparked Department of Education policy changes about how students can discharge loans when their schools shut down.

If WyoTech and Everest campuses can meet student needs—including post-college employment—there may yet be hope for Zenith. ECMC took a huge gamble diving into these challenging waters. Taylor’s optimism as he takes the helm at Zenith belies the serious obstacles still in their way. Smart, nimble, workforce-oriented education is a niche where solid schools have a chance of success as they move past the for-profit college crossroads.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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