Doubts cloud WyoTech's future in Indiana County
Uniform-clad students started classes at WyoTech in Indiana County last week, but financial woes and an uncertain future make things at the automotive school anything but business as usual.
A deal between the federal Department of Education and Wyotech's parent company, Corinthian Colleges Inc., has put all of Corinthian's campuses on life support. All of them will be sold or “taught out,” which means students will be able to finish their programs, but no new students will be allowed to enroll.
The Department of Education announced earlier this month that it would delay financial aid payments to Corinthian amid allegations that some of the company's campuses had been fudging grades and job placement data to appear more attractive to prospective students. Without that federal money, the financially strapped company cut a deal with the Department of Education, which agreed to pay $16 million to Corinthian to enable the schools to keep functioning as a shutdown plan is formed.
WyoTech's Blairsville campus in Burrell Township has been feeling the financial pinch for quite some time. Enrollment is down to 614 students from an average of about 1,200 since the campus opened in 2002. The school has laid off 28 employees in the past year, leaving it with a staff of 114.
Nonetheless, college President Art Herman said he believes WyoTech Blairsville —which includes studies in automotive technology, collision refinishing technology and diesel technology — will continue even if Corinthian is no more.
“We just need to keep doing what we're doing,” he said.
The school's economic impact has been valuable to nearby Blairsville, with its population of about 3,400 people, according to Borough Manager Timothy Evans. The school has provided jobs on campus and plenty of students eager to rent from local landlords.
Mike Shapiro said he has been as busy as ever this year. His apartments near the campus depend on students to survive.
“That's it,” he said. “Without them, I'm done.”
He has been considering selling the property, although he is not sure whether it will be a valuable prospect without WyoTech.
“We can see the handwriting on the wall. We've been getting ready to sell, but we might have waited a few days too long,” he said.
The layoffs also have affected the borough.
“It's hard, because I know a couple people that were laid off,” Evans said, although he thinks the school will likely survive in some form. He said he hopes it will somehow be able to operate independently,rather than being part of “some company that's trying to make a buck.”
Corinthian has not released any details on the fate of individual campuses but is expected to reveal a detailed plan on Tuesday.
“It's such a sensitive situation. Things are moving so fast right now. I'm reluctant to say more than what we've already said at this point,” said Corinthian spokesman Kent Jenkins.
Jenkins did say that WyoTech Blairsville's academic record might make it a prospect for purchase, rather than closure.
“Those are strengths that certainly anyone evaluating WyoTech will take into consideration,” he said.
Herman said he is counting on a transition, rather than a closure.
“My goal would be, and I expect it would be, as seamless as possible,” he said.
WyoTech Blairsville, as all Corinthian campuses, is under investigation by the Department of Education to determine whether any records have been falsified. Herman said his campus has never fabricated records, and that he expects no trouble from the department.
“I have no concerns in that regard here. We play things straight up,” he said.
No matter whether the college is sold or closed, current students will be allowed to finish their education. They have been notified of the situation via emails and text messages, Herman said.
With additional reporting by Jeff Himler. Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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