Dade Medical College students demand answers

Protesters gather near the corporate office of Dade Medical College on Monday. The school, which had six campuses around the state, closed on Friday.
Protesters gather near the corporate office of Dade Medical College on Monday. The school, which had six campuses around the state, closed on Friday. Facebook

The anger of Dade Medical College students boiled over on Monday, leading dozens of students to protest in the streets outside the school’s now-abandoned Coral Gables headquarters. Hundreds joined a new Dade Medical College Facebook group that seeks “justice for students.”

But while anger came easily, answers did not. What to do now? Where to turn?

Florida’s Commission for Independent Education, the state’s for-profit college watchdog, monitored the chaotic situation from 488 miles away at its Tallahassee headquarters. In an e-mail, the CIE informed students it was working “to arrange for the train-out of all students at their current locations.” It’s not clear who would teach those classes now that Dade Medical is out of business, but Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said the goal is “to arrange classes at the DMC campuses.”

Whatever school or schools step in could make millions of dollars from the displaced Dade Medical students. Those negotiations appeared to be moving quickly, and behind closed doors, on Monday — three days after the for-profit college unexpectedly closed.

In a separate e-mail to students, Lissette Paradela, Dade Medical-Homestead director of nursing, announced that “Management Resource College (MRC) has been approved for a teach-out program of DMC students and faculty.” Paradela instructed students to attend one of four meetings at their new school on Tuesday.

If that e-mail proves correct, Dade Medical students will end up going from one poorly performing nursing school to another. Dade Medical graduates for years struggled with low scores on the nursing license exam and Management Resource College also has low passage rates — in 2014, under the name Management Resources Institute, it had a passage rate of 51 percent.

The national average in 2014 was 82 percent.

The CIE, which is dominated by executives from the for-profit college industry, has been criticized in the past for helping schools more than students.

In the CIE’s e-mail, it made no mention of Dade Medical students having a second option. Instead of the teach-out, students can ask the U.S. Department of Education for full forgiveness of their federal loans, something known as a “closed school discharge.” While it’s not automatic, it is usually granted.

Consumer advocates say that, in many cases, a loan discharge is the better option. The student can then start over — debt free but without the credits they had earned — at a traditional school such as a community college, where nursing passage rates are much higher and the tuition is much lower.

There are risks for students who find themselves steered into a “teach-out” at another for-profit school. By accepting the teach-out, they forfeit the loan forgiveness option and could find themselves taking out even more loans.

Asked why students weren’t being told about the loan-forgiveness option, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said Monday’s e-mail was simply to let them know the state is working to find a teach-out location, should they want one.

“The students will be notified of all their options as we work through this,” Etters wrote. The Miami Herald posted an online link to the loan forgiveness option on Friday.

Nearly 20 states have a recovery fund for students if their school abruptly closes. It works like a self-insurance program. Students pay a small fee with their tuition, and then get reimbursed for their “economic losses” if things go wrong.

Florida has a “Student Protection Fund” but it pays schools, not students. The CIE uses that money to compensate a second school for stepping in when the first school closes.

So far, the CIE has not tapped the Student Protection Fund for Dade Medical students, Etters said.

Before it imploded, Dade Medical College was Miami’s most politically powerful for-profit college. It had six campuses, stretching from Homestead to Jacksonville. Some of the college’s roughly 2,000 students visited its Coral Gables headquarters Monday, hoping that school administrators would help them sort through the confusion, and provide copies of their transcripts.

When Silvia Mendoza showed up at Dade Medical’s headquarters at 8 a.m. Monday, she found an unlit room that looked abandoned. Papers were strewn about and desk drawers were half open.

Mendoza said she came to the headquarters after being told that staff would be available to help students find another school. Instead, there was only a security guard, who ordered Mendoza to leave.

“I feel that this is really irresponsible,” Mendoza, 23. said. “I am $60,000 in debt ...They don’t have nobody to take care of us, they just got up and left.”

Dade Medical employees were urged to stay away from the corporate headquarters because of the tense atmosphere. Friday night, students protested outside the home of Dade Medical majority owner Ernesto Perez. Perez called police to keep the students off his property, the Coral Gables Police Department said.

In a Monday e-mail to employees, Jorge Alvarez, a dean at Dade Medical’s smaller affiliate school, the University of Southernmost Florida, wrote “Because of a planned demonstration by students it may not be safe for anyone to visit the campus today. Please understand these decisions are being made way above my pay grade.”

At Monday’s protest outside the corporate headquarters, dozens of Dade Medical students and some ex-employees gathered to make their unhappiness known. Many wore blue and white scrubs and their school IDs. Nursing student Bella Batlle carried one of her nursing textbooks in her black purse.

Across the street, a police car was parked outside the office building, lights flashing. A passing motorist honked in support of students.

Student Lilianny Miguelez carried a sign that read: “We want what we worked hard for and sacrificed ourselves for: the opportunity to GRADUATE.”

Ex-employees, too, said the school’s sudden closure was a cruel blow.

“They left everyone in limbo,” said Dade microbiology professor Ramon Gonzalez, 48. Gonzalez, a six-year employee of Dade Medical, received his last paycheck Sept. 27. “I have lost one month of my life without payment, but what about the students?”

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