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The Journal Gazette

  • Ron Shawgo | The Journal Gazette Nursing students, from left, Tammy Hamilton, Eunice Hahn and Malorie Thompson practice on a patient simulator at Huntington University.

Sunday, December 03, 2017 1:00 am

Nursing students handed lifeline

Private colleges help people abandoned by closed institutions

RON SHAWGO | The Journal Gazette

Eunice Hahn, 39, was looking for solid financial footing for her two daughters and an ill husband as she pursued a nursing degree at ITT Technical Institute in Fort Wayne.

Tammy Hamilton, 51, had two kids in college and one in high school while attending ITT with the same idea.

Malorie Thompson, 26, a single mother with a new house and three months from graduating from ITT, had a similar future in mind.

Each deep in student debt, their plans were put in limbo when ITT abruptly closed last year, with the nursing credits they earned seemingly worthless.

Hahn, who was a year from graduating, said the news was devastating.

“The kids were just excited – momma is going to be done in a year, and then we wouldn't have to struggle too much – only to find out that we can no longer go on after you've given it all you can,” said Hahn, of Fort Wayne.

But four months after the September 2016 closure, the three found themselves accepted at Huntington University, where they praise the nursing program and are looking toward graduation in 2019.

While it meant another two years of school and long commutes, each will end up with a bachelor's degree, which Hahn said hospitals prefer over an associate degree.

“After being offered a chance to come to school here we ended up finding out we'll graduate with an even better degree than we had started with,” she said.

ITT, with a focus on nursing, drafting, electronics, business administration and other courses, wasn't the only for-profit school last year to announce it would close.

MedTech, offering a path to mostly health care fields, closed Sept. 16, 2016. Brown Mackie College, with concentrations in business, health care and legal studies, is set to close in July 2018. ITT and MedTech closed following federal scrutiny. Brown Mackie said declining enrollment prompted its decision.

The closures left students in turmoil. Hahn, Hamilton and Thompson said ITT officials assured them they would graduate. After the closure they learned their government loans would not be forgiven and their credits would not transfer to public schools such as IPFW and Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.

Several private schools, including Harrison College, Trine University, Vincennes University, Indiana Wesleyan University and Huntington University stepped in. Many ITT students transferred to Indiana Tech.

Huntington University currently has 10 former ITT students who transferred to its nursing program. Another is finishing prerequisites and will start the nursing program in fall 2018, said Del Roth, director of marketing and university relations.

Thompson, who lives in Avilla, said she attended ITT for three years, had three months left and was $30,000 in debt when administrators announced the school would close. She searched for another school that would accept her ITT credits, even in neighboring states, when she heard that Huntington would honor them.

“It was just awesome,” she said.

Hamilton, who lives in Angola, had about nine months left to graduate from ITT when it closed. She didn't get out of bed for three days, she said.

“The whole goal was that mom was going to get her degree to be able to get a better job to help everybody else,” Hamilton said.

With $21,000 in ITT debt, Hamilton figures she'll owe between $42,000 and $46,000 when she graduates from Huntington. She calls the school's curriculum “by far more superior” to ITT's, a description others echoed. But she holds nothing against ITT's faculty.

“All of them were affected as well. They lost their jobs. They all had families,” Hamilton said. “And there were two specific ones that went above and beyond trying to get us in somewhere.”

Huntington University had heard rumors about ITT possibly closing and began comparing the nursing curricula, said Nancy Richison, nursing instructor.

As a liberal arts school, Huntington required some prerequisite classes students had to take, she added. But school officials found scholarships and other financial aid for them.

Hahn said she and the others at first questioned the university's sincerity, having “already been burned.” But the school has delivered everything it promised, she added.

“You feel at home here,” Hahn said. “The moment we actually came to register you felt like you were meant to be here.”

Added Thompson: “We don't even have instructors here. We have extended family. I mean, there's no doubt if we're in a bind they're always here for us. They're pushing us to succeed. The support we have here we couldn't even imagine ever having at ITT.”