Another for-profit school to close

Officials at Sanford-Brown College have notified state officials they will be closing their school in Farmington, the second for-profit school to inform state officials in recent weeks that it will close.

Sawyer School, which had programs in Bridgeport, Hamden and Hartford, closed with little notice last week, days before classes for the new term were to begin. While Sawyer students were left scrambling to figure out what to do next, Sanford-Brown students will have the opportunity to finish their programs before the school closes for good. No new students will be accepted, according to their approved closure plan.

“This is the way an institution should close,” said Patricia Santoro, director of academic affairs with the Connecticut Office for Higher Education. “This is an orderly closing.”

For-profit higher education programs have come under fire in recent months nationwide for their weak graduation rates and their students’ high default rates on loans.

A new federal regulation aimed at improving student success rates requires that programs whose students receive federal student aid require their students to have at least a high school diploma or GED.

That requirement, officials say, could be contributing to drastic declines in enrollment in for-profit programs. Last year, before the regulation went into effect, about 28,000 students enrolled in alternative education programs to train for positions like dental or nurse assistants.

Sawyer — which had 1,200 students enrolled during the 2010-11 school year — is believed to have had a drastic decrease in enrollment when the new rule went into effect in July.

An unofficial enrollment count obtained by the Office of Higher Education last week had their fall 2012 enrollment at 257 students.

“There’s some indication that those school relied on these students [who lacked diplomas or GEDs] for their enrollment,” said Connie Fraser, a spokeswoman for the office. “It may be having an impact on other schools, too.”

Sanford-Brown had 276 students enrolled this fall, down 13 percent since last year, the higher education office reports.

Officials said there is no way to know if a wave of additional closures of for-profits is coming as a result of the enrollment declines, but OHE is collecting annual enrollment totals from the programs, and reports on each school’s finances were due last week.

In the meantime, higher education officials are asking anyone from a closed program to contact them at 1-800-842-0229 to help with their transition into another program and possibly to have their loans forgiven.

Follow Jacqueline Rabe Thomas on Twitter at @jacquelinerabe