PAYSON — Shelly Christensen figures she was about 30 internship hours at Payson High School shy of graduating from Argosy University when she got an email from the school Friday informing her that all its locations, including one in Utah, were closed effective immediately.
All her work and money toward gaining a higher education degree vanished in a flash. The Payson mother of four and dozens of other Utah students are now trapped trying to figure out what to do next.
Christensen fears she and 10 others in the same counseling master's program, who were so close to graduating, won’t get their degrees, won’t get their money back and won't land jobs in fields they were training to be in. In short, it’s the worst-case scenario for any student.
She hopes her credits can be transferred to another Utah school, but it seems highly unlikely at the moment. A Utah State Higher Education spokesperson told KSL.com Argosy University is accredited from a different government body than Utah’s schools, so credits don’t transfer over.
How did this nightmare happen?
Christensen and her classmates’ plight comes just days after the university shuttered each of its 22 locations amid a student loan scandal. The closure was expected after the U.S. Department of Education stated Argosy's owner, Dream Center Education Holdings, filed to close its Argosy locations after a failed attempt to turn the university into a nonprofit institution in February.
Argosy’s website now redirects to a message about its closure, but archived pages state the university was founded in 2001 when three different universities — the American Schools of Professional Psychology, the University of Sarasota and the Medical Institute of Minnesota — merged into one. It boasted that it “supports one of the largest graduate student communities in the nation. It had undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs covering psychology, arts, education, business and law.
The archived pages didn’t have an exact count for how many students were enrolled at the Argosy location in Draper at the time of its closure. The Princeton Review stated there were nearly 200 students enrolled in its latest undated count.
There were troubles before Friday’s closure. The school’s Salt Lake City website flashed a message saying wasn’t accepting new students as of Dec. 29, 2018, according to archives of the site.
Then, on Feb. 27, the Department of Education wrote in a letter that it had denied the request for Argosy to become a nonprofit university because it didn’t “meet the fiduciary standard of conduct,” didn’t meet “the standards of financial responsibility” and “failed to meet the stands of administrative capability.”
Among the findings in the letter, the department blasted Argosy University for failing to “properly administer” federal Title IV and Higher Education Academy funds, which they wrote was a “grievous breach” as a trustee of the Department of Education. The letter stated the university had used those funds for its staff, its vendors and other expenses instead of going to students or parents.
Instead of fighting claims, Dream Center Education Holdings told the department it planned to close on March 8.
Christensen was aware Argosy had struggles but hoped to graduate before any sort of shutdown. She and others had invested too much to just stop by that point. Christensen estimates she had spent close to $30,000 toward a degree in her pursuit to be a school counselor.
The university had offered students options to transfer to certain schools that would take Argosy credits, but they are out of state. That makes it complicated for anyone with families, jobs or those looking to get licensed in Utah to finish their degree.
“All of us are in different circumstances,” said Christensen, who works full time in addition to raising four children with her husband. “Some of us have little kids, some of us are working full time, trying to get this taken care of.”
She’s still on the hook for any student loans, as well. Christensen said Argosy students have been offered a form of loan forgiveness regarding any current outstanding debt, but even that has a caveat.
“If we go that route, then all of our credits would no longer be warranted,” she said. “If I were to transfer to another university and try to finish out, I would have to start anew. I’d have to keep my loan to keep my credits.”
Stuck in an impossible position, Christensen hopes she could still get her licensure to be a school counselor and then maybe receive her master’s degree through some other route. She said she needs that to land a job as a counselor.
There really isn’t a blueprint of what to do next, which also makes her situation perplexing. Christensen said the State Board of Education had reached out about her problem, but nothing is set in stone. A spokesperson for the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, which oversees postsecondary proprietary education in the state, declined to comment on the case. Instead, the agency is letting the U.S. Department of Education handle the matter.
For students like Christensen, the idea of starting from the beginning again — adding in the money lost — is just too much.
“This has been a rough couple of years. This isn’t something you do easily by any means,” she said. “It’s been a battle that’s affected me, my kids and my husband. Just the thought of having to start all over, it’s not something I can ask of my family.”