By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer
(Updated, 4:44 p.m.)
PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Office of Higher Education said the Sawyer School that abruptly closed Wednesday left displaced students out of $3 million in unaccounted tuition and lied about a so-called established agreement with Lincoln Technical Institute to take students on in such a case.
“Our primary focus right now is to help students,” said Mike Trainor, spokesperson for the OHE. “Our concern is the tuition and financial aid money that has been paid for the now canceled [spring semester].”
Trainor said 302 students were left without answers when the Sawyer School on Hartford Avenue in Providence closed without warning Wednesday.
He said tuition is $10,000 per student per semester. The board has not been able to get in touch with Sawyer School executive director Paul Kelly.
“It’s a little more than $3 million in money that we consider unaccounted for,” Trainor said. “We’ve been inundated with calls as you might imagine. Because of our inability to get a call back from him and the anxiety the students have about the money they’ve invested and consulting with the governor’s office, we did initiate contact with the state police and attorney general’s office.”
In a statement, the OHE said that Sawyer closed without the proper notification to the office as required by state regulations. In addition, the OHE said that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools was revoking the Sawyer School’s accreditation since it did not follow ACICS’s criteria for closing a campus.
Trainor said the board also received a federal document stating that the Sawyer School owes $800,000 in federal taxes.
The U.S. Department of Education did not immediately return a call for comment.
Trainor also said that the Sawyer School previously represented to the board that the school had a signed agreement with Lincoln Technical Institute, a national school with a Lincoln campus, to accept Sawyer students in the case of closure.
“We found that was indeed a misrepresentation,” Trainor said. “But we are gratified that the corporate office of Lincoln Technical Institute has indicated they will live up to the spirit and intention of that. Beginning [Friday] their admissions office will be available to receive applications from the displaced students.”
Lincoln Technical told the state office that beginning Friday, Jan. 4, at 9 a.m., Sawyer School students should contact Amy Watson at (401) 334-2430 to discuss admission to the medical assistant certificate program.
The Office of Higher Education added that it was still reviewing which programs at other schools might satisfy the needs of Sawyer School students involved in other programs, including those pursuing GEDs.
New England Technical Institute in Warwick said it will accept applications that it will review on a case-by-case basis from displaced students.
The Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick has offered the same.
“We will do everything we can to help students displaced by the Sawyer School’s unexpected closure. Class selection at CCRI is somewhat limited as we approach the start of our spring semester, but our staff in the Office of Enrollment Services will work with any Sawyer School students interested in attending the college to help them enroll and apply for financial aid,” said Ray Di Pasquale, president of CCRI. “Our staff is also working to determine whether any of the classes in the Sawyer School’s program would transfer to the college.”
Sawyer School offered programs in office information systems and medical assistant/secretary.
The board of governors invites all displaced Sawyer students to call an established hotline at (401) 277-5018. The board also is developing a page on its website that Trainor said hopefully will be established by the end of the day on Thursday and will provide answers to students most asked questions.