RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
Around the United States, students are back in school. But this week, some 45,000 students enrolled in ITT Technical Institute are scrambling to find other options. That's because the 50-year-old for-profit technical college closed its doors last week with no warning. ITT’s closure follows years of federal investigations into its student loan practices, which led the U.S. Department of Education to ban the school from enrolling new students who get federal loans. That ban may have played a role in ITT’s decision to close. One of those thousands of students caught up in the mess is Joshua Battistin. He's 30, from Orlando, Fla., and was studying to be a registered nurse at ITT Tech’s Tampa campus. And he's out $18,000 in federal student loans.
JOSHUA BATTISTIN: I was studying to be a registered nurse, getting my associate’s in nursing. And I was going for about a year and a half and everything was going fairly smooth. And two weeks ago, we were taking our finals. And then a week later, it got shut down and it just completely locked the doors - couldn't get any information or what to do next.
SUAREZ: And how far had you gotten toward a credential?
BATTISTIN: I was six months away from graduating and starting a career.
SUAREZ: Do you know if you've earned credits that you can now walk into another school in central Florida and say, look, I'm three-quarters of the way toward my associate's degree, can I continue here?
BATTISTIN: I've called a few. They've said that they'll accept some, but then it's - the remainder will be 16 months. There are some that would say that they're accepting the majority, but they don't know yet. At the time, when I signed up for ITT, I knew that it would be difficult to go to another school. But I figured it's ITT. They've been around. They have commercials. They should be well established. Only to realize that six months away from my graduation they're going to be completely shut down.
SUAREZ: Did you have any other options besides a for-profit college when you were first figuring out how to proceed and where to go for more training?
BATTISTIN: There is a local community college I was thinking about going to, but I wanted the accelerated program to finish as soon as I can, even though it would’ve been difficult. With the community colleges, the degree I was going for, it's a minimum of four years. And that's if you're not put on a waiting list because the classes are generally at capacity.
SUAREZ: Once you're out of school, your loans start coming due. Are you in the position of having to pay for an education that you didn't even get to complete yet?
BATTISTIN: As far as I've heard, there will be a loan forgiveness if we do just completely quit. But I'm hoping that I could just continue my education somewhere and not get hit with having to pay anything yet. I'm not in the position at the moment because I've been working nights at the Wal-Mart distribution center, loading trucks all night to go to school in the morning. I'm working on trying to get my career going so I can make a decent paycheck and pay off student loans and possibly get a car that's dependable and be able to support myself well.
SUAREZ: What did the school have to say? How did they explain their predicament to you, their customers, their students?
BATTISTIN: We didn't really get much information. We got a few emails saying the Department of Education wanted them to back up more money, and then the next email we got was we're closed. Thanks for the 50 years and good luck.
SUAREZ: Have you heard some of the criticism of schools like ITT, that they're really almost like machines for processing federal student loans? The students take the loans. They collect them from the students. They give some service, but really they exist to use the student as a middleman for picking up federal checks.
BATTISTIN: I don't know exactly what they were taking out of student loans. I knew what my student loan balance is. I knew that the schools weren't the best schools, that you had to do the majority of learning on your own. It's not a job. But all of the private schools were like that where you had to do most of the teaching on your own. You had to do about 12 hours’ worth of school work at your house, if not more, throughout the week. So I knew that it was going to be a lot of on-my-own teaching and the school was nothing more than a place to go to to put in my time and have them collect my work and have them test me.
SUAREZ: Joshua Battistin was a nursing student at ITT Tech. Good to talk to you.
BATTISTIN: Thank you much.
SUAREZ: NPR reached out to ITT Technical Institute. The school did not return requests for comment. The U.S. Department of Education has said on its website that ITT students may be able to have their federal student loan debt discharged.
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