The school is closed, and students want their money back.
AUBURN – Stephanie Stetson picked her classes last week. Her student loan agency had already paid her tuition.
One year to go and the 22-year-old would have her associate degree in early childhood education.
Or so she thought.
Tuesday morning, Stetson’s mother stopped by the Lisbon day care where Stetson works part time to give her the news: Mid-State College had shut down. All classes were canceled. The entire staff had been laid off.
Stetson called the college’s Auburn campus immediately to find out what would happen to her tuition payment, her year of credits. All she got was an automated message, advising her to call a Portland attorney for more information.
Stetson was not alone.
By Tuesday at noon, attorney Andrew Cadot had received more than 100 calls from Mid-State College students who had heard about the college’s sudden decision to close its Auburn and Augusta campuses after more than 130 years in business.
College officials announced Monday that they had no choice but to immediately shut down the small, private school after finding out Friday that it lost its accreditation for federal funds.
Stories published Tuesday in local newspapers – exactly one week before classes were scheduled to begin – reported that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges denied the college’s request for a new grant of accreditation after conducting its regular on-site review.
As a result of losing accreditation, the college is no longer eligible to participate in the Title IV federal funding program.
The calls started coming early Tuesday morning, Cadot said.
“Most people want to know how they can get a copy of their transcripts,” the Portland attorney said.
Since the woman who works at the registrar was laid off Friday, college officials are now scrambling to find a way to get copies of transcripts printed and mailed to students.
Cadot has been telling students that the problem should be resolved by next week. His response to questions about tuition reimbursements is more vague.
The college plans to file for bankruptcy within two weeks, Cadot said. But, he added, any money received from that process will first be used to pay the college’s 10-person administration staff for last week.
Along with many others, Stetson wondered whether she would still have to pay her student loans, whether she would be able to get into another college by September and whether her credits would be transferred.
Vice president of the college’s student government, Stetson was annoyed that college administrators didn’t warn her about what might happen when she registered last week for her business administration and accounting classes.
“I don’t think it is fair that we had to read about it in the newspaper,” she said.
The president of the college, Stacey Robertson Wise, could not be reached Tuesday. A sign on her office door informed students that the college was permanently closed and gave them Cadot’s phone number.
According to Cadot, college officials knew that the school wouldn’t get a glowing review from the accrediting team. He said that they expected to be put on probation and given time to make improvements.
The college could appeal the denial for a $7,000 fee.
“But that isn’t going to happen,” Cadot said.
He did not know the specific problems cited by reviewers, but he claimed that the college had already been addressing many of the issues.
More than 300 students were registered to begin classes in September.
Mid-State College first opened in August 1867 as Dirigo Business College. The Auburn campus on East Hardscrabble Road was built in 1916 as the Auburn Maine School of Commerce.
Over the past several years, the college has been popular among former shoe factory and mill workers affected by the area’s many plant closings. It offered courses in accounting, business management, early childhood education, medical assistance and other business and computer classes.
In a message posted on the college’s Web site, President Wise describes the college as having a solid history of providing students with one-on-one attention and giving them a place where they can avoid the bureaucratic shuffle.
The small class sizes and the convenient location is what attracted Jonica Poole to Mid-State College when she graduated from high school in 1982.
Now an accounting and payable associate for Maine Public Broadcasting, the Lisbon mom was surprised and saddened to hear about the closing.
“I would have never made it through the University of Maine at Orono. I needed a little more help,” Poole said. “It was a small, wonderful community college.”