The sudden closure of the Sawyer School has left 302 Rhode Island students in academic and financial limbo. With education officials last week still unsure even of who was in charge of the shuttered school, the shutdown has also raised questions regarding oversight of for-profit education in the Ocean State.
“In light of what’s transpired with Sawyer, it seems there’s not enough oversight,” said Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Little Compton, who has served on Senate committees on education, finance and government oversight. “I feel horrible for those people in the program, not just about the amount of time and money they put into it, but they were working to raise themselves to the next level of education so they could support themselves and their families.
“If it makes sense that legislation needs to introduced, I’d be happy to introduce it,” DiPalma said. “But I’m an engineer – first I want facts and data.”
Such information, however, has been hard to come by for state education officials since the Sawyer School abruptly closed campuses in Rhode Island and Connecticut late last month. Sawyer first opened in Providence in 1964.
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools accredited five campuses owned by Academic Enterprises Inc., including the Sawyer School in Pawtucket and Providence, and in Hartford and Hamden, Conn., as well as Butler Business School in Bridgeport, Conn., according to the ACICS website
“All five campuses closed suddenly and without prior notice on Dec. 30, 2012,” according to the website. Sawyer School’s accreditation was revoked Jan. 3. The Connecticut closures left 1,200 students in limbo, according to a Jan. 2 report in the Hartford Courant.
Sawyer students were charged about $20,000 a year in tuition and a majority received financial aid, according to state education officials.
The Sawyer School in Rhode Island and Connecticut received $2.3 million in federal student aid for the 2012-2013 school year, well below the $7.4 million received for the 2011-2012 year, said Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education.
State education officials and investigators last week were still sifting through student records seized after the shutdown as part of a broader effort to determine whether financial issues led to the closure.