Mattia College closes, other Florida for-profits may follow

Students in tears over Mattia College closure

Emotional students held a protest discussing the closure of Mattia College on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. The for-profit school enrolled more than 700 students and closed its doors officially over the weekend.
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Emotional students held a protest discussing the closure of Mattia College on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. The for-profit school enrolled more than 700 students and closed its doors officially over the weekend.

Another Miami for-profit college has officially collapsed, as officials at West Kendall’s Mattia College have given up trying to keep the doors open.

The disruptive closure — which puts the lives of more than 700 students in disarray — became official over the weekend, when Mattia posted closure notices on the doors to the main campus, 13926 SW 47th St.

“Due to financial constraints we are unable to continue to operate,” Antonio Mattia, college president, wrote in the closure notice. Also closing is Mattia’s second, smaller campus in Doral.

It isn’t the first South Florida for-profit college to close suddenly — Coral Gables-based Dade Medical College left 2,000 students in limbo when it shut down in October.

“We need to stop this, we need to stop this, because this is unfair to the students, it’s unfair to the teachers,” said Mimi Diaz, a nursing student at Mattia. “It happened with Dade Medical, now it’s happening with Mattia. Who’s next? We need to find a way to protect the students.”

A third South Florida for-profit, Miami Gardens-based Azure College, is phasing out its Miami Gardens campus, according to the state’s oversight agency, the Commission for Independent Education.

We need to find a way to protect the students.

Mimi Diaz, Mattia College nursing student

In an email to the Miami Herald, Azure’s CEO, Jhonson Napoleon, said the disruption to students would be minimal because those who are close to graduating will get to finish at the campus, and the others have found a school that will accept all their credits.

More closures may follow this summer, as the CIE has said it intends to halt enrollments at nursing schools that haven’t taken the necessary steps to get their programs accredited. Those enrollment freezes, if they occur, could put more schools out of business.

It’s the tumultuous downside of a for-profit college boom that was fueled by Florida lawmakers. A recent Miami Herald investigation, Higher-Ed Hustle, highlighted how the Florida Legislature passed at least 15 laws encouraging more for-profit colleges to open. One of these laws, for example, took away the state Board of Nursing’s discretion to reject an application to open a nursing school.

If a school operator submits a complete application, it gets to open a nursing school. The result is Florida has been flooded with for-profit nursing schools — some of questionable quality.

Because credits from for-profit colleges don’t transfer to traditional schools such as Miami Dade College, students from a closed school are limited in their options. Even transferring to another for-profit college can be problematic for students who are close to graduation, as Mattia students complain no school will accept all their credits — forcing them to retake courses, borrow additional student loans, and put off their graduation by a year or more.

Mattia College is a long-established for-profit school that was in business for 22 years. But the U.S Department of Education, after examining the school’s records in June, faulted Mattia for “conflicting information regarding student eligibility and with student attendance.”

The government placed Mattia on a “heightened cash monitoring” list of schools — a penalty that means the school must wait much longer to receive federal Pell grants and loans, which are the lifeblood of for-profit colleges.

When a school loses access to taxpayer money, it can quickly go out of business.

Vanessa Rodriguez, Mattia’s chief operating officer, said the paperwork mistakes that happened before her arrival and after her school was penalized it did its best to follow the stricter guidelines for receiving federal money.

But the school’s funding requests were rejected on Feb. 10.

On Monday, Mattia students held a pair of protests demanding stronger consumer protections. The students carried signs complaining of educational “fraud,” and asking politicians to get involved.

“Marco Rubio Plz Help Us!!” read one sign.

Another student sign said, “Please pass bill protecting the students” — a reference to a bill being debated in Tallahassee that would beef up regulation of for-profits, and expand an emergency fund to help students hurt by abrupt school closures. The bill is unlikely to pass this year because Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen killed the House version in his Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

One Mattia nursing student, Rolaine Janvier, became emotional as she spoke to a former school employee about the closure.

“All of us have family, kids ... it’s not a joke,” Janvier said, before being overcome by tears.

“I’m so sorry,” said ex-employee Toni Mateu, who embraced Janvier in a hug. Mateu, like many of the college’s 100-plus employees, said she’s still owed back pay from the school.