Dozens of former Dade Medical College students went to a Miami middle school Thursday night hoping to get answers after the for-profit college abruptly shut its doors at the end of last month.
But many say they left the forum held by state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, feeling more hopeless.
“I came thinking they would give us another option,” said Maylin Gonzalez, who was a signature away from getting her physical therapy assistant degree and now is contemplating losing her two years of credits. “I’m where I started.”
Gonzalez was not alone. Heather Gagliardi and Irene Pantoja, both close to completing their nursing degree, said the closing of the school has left them with thousands of dollars in debt and no degree.
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“It feels like my life was ripped from under me,” said Gagliardi, a single mother of two, who went to school and worked part time to make ends meet.
Rodriguez called the meeting at Shenandoah Middle School to help students who had questions about student loans, transferring to other colleges and earning professional licenses.
Florida’s Commission for Independent Education, the state’s for-profit college watchdog, has emailed the students information on their options, including applying for federal loan forgiveness or trying to transfer their credits to another college. Transferring credits, however, is a challenge because Dade Medical College lacked the academic accreditation needed for most universities and colleges to accept the credits.
Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters told the Miami Herald earlier in the week that “the students will be notified of all their options as we work through this.”
But Rodriguez said he called the forum so students could ask questions of Florida Department of Education officials. Department of Education representatives declined to come, he said.
“It is unfortunate that the Department of Education did not make an effort to be here,” he said. “A lot of these students’ lives were turned upside down.”
Approximately 2,000 students around Florida were affected after Dade Medical closed its six campuses, without warning, at the end of October.
The closings came after a Miami Herald investigation revealed how for-profit colleges in Florida have used political connections to fuel their growth. Dade Medical College owner Ernesto Perez, who dropped out of high school, pleaded guilty Monday to illegally bundling $159,000 in campaign contributions.
Students said the state has to do more.
Pantoja said transferring to another for-profit college is not an option, but essentially giving up nearly two years of her life isn’t something she wants to do.
“We are being punished for trying to make something of ourselves,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”