By: Emily Bunn × Heather Reibsamen
In the wake of the weekend, Independence University is suddenly closing, causing panic and confusion for its student body and the federal government. Still, as of Wednesday morning, the University’s website hasn’t been updated to publicly broadcast the closing. Independence University’s website’s owner, The Center for Excellence in Higher Education, has not been updated either. The Center for Excellence in Higher Education owns three other colleges that are also in the process of closing. Now, the university looks to push its students to new colleges, raising suspicion about the reason for the closure.
Independence University is chiefly focusing on relocating its student body to Miami International University of Art & Design or Georgia’s South University. Students additionally have the option of stopping their schooling and requesting a return of their federal student loans. However, upon looking into the transfer plans, the Education Department said that Independence University’s “students are being pressured to transfer,” and that the arrangement is “unusual.” Students are worried about credit transfer, falling behind in classes, and the impact of relocation.
One Independence University student – who had been working to get her Bachelor of Science in the college’s Web Design and Development program, Dianne Eveler, expressed frustration about the scandal:
“The most I can say about these tragic findings is this. Finding only a few days before you are expected to graduate was disheartening. Also, the terrifying item was to see the hard work you put into place disappear in a moment with no warning, no idea this was happening.
For the most part, the College lacks empathy because many of the faculty were given very little notice or lost their job that day. We have no support in who to contact, or in my case, am I getting my degree.
The truth be told, I went into my Student Portal before I lost access and saw my credits of 180 go to zero, and a new graduation date appear. I’m so scared I lost my degree. I was working so hard to get a perfect 4.0 to have that work lost. I have learned a valuable lesson, do more research in a college, and never ever do an online learning program again.”
Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that Independence University has been federally scrutinized. The Federal Student Aid chief operation officer, Richard Cordray, commented that the university chose to shut down to avoid the findings of the earlier examination. In 2020, the Center for Excellence in Higher Education has been discovered to be in connection to fraud by the Colorado Government. Independence University had then been placed on a monitoring list and had government restrictions placed on the college’s receival of taxpayer money. Due to the impending pressure on students to transfer, federal employees warranted that a more in-depth investigating is required regarding the university’s reason for shutting down.
The accreditor for Independence University reports that it’s approval of the college had ended in April, as the school failed to maintain acceptable graduation and employment rates among students. This end of accreditation also resulted in the loss of federal money to the University.
In a statement to USA Today, Cordray explained, “We have already emailed students to help them understand they do not have to be rushed into accepting a transfer to another school of CEHE’s choosing.” In spite of the college’s sudden closure, the Federal Student Aid chief operation officer cautions students to not make any hasty decisions. Under President Biden’s administration, the Education Department is “more willing to exercise its regulatory oversight” reports USA Today.
As uprooted students scrabble to find answers, they’ve had to resort to asking their fellow peers, college administration, and the U.S. Department of Education. Heather Reibsamen, who had been working to get her Bachelor of Science in the college’s Graphic Design program, explained how the tragic situation unfolded for her:
“The last week has been a whirlwind of emotions. Since the announcement that the school was closing, students have scrambled to figure out what their options were. We were sent a form with a few choices: transfer to a “teach-out” school or lose everything we have worked for, to put it bluntly. Initially, I thought everything would work out since I only had a few credits left until I graduate. However, I was met with disappointment and more unknowns. The “approved” teach-out school is Miami International University of Art & Design. I attended the meetings I was told to attend and was unfortunately met with the news that this school does not teach in my state. I was told I needed to find my own college to transfer to and would potentially have to pay out of pocket due to my student loans being tied up with Independence University. Many students were faced with this. Many students are not able to graduate on time because of this.
No one was prepared. No one was warned. We scrambled to get our last assignments in hoping they would count towards the credits we had been working on. There are students that were supposed to graduate last Sunday, however, they have been met with uncertainty. No one knows if the credits we have worked so hard to complete will transfer over. There are employees that have been employed through IU for years that were let go at just a moment’s notice.
I immediately began the search for a school that was accredited and not-for-profit. I reached out to Southern New Hampshire University to see what options I would have if I transferred to their school. I was greeted with understanding and encouragement. Many colleges are learning about the dilemma with Independence University and are seeing the wrongdoings towards the students and staff. SNHU has been every bit of encouraging and supportive during this transition. I consider myself one of the lucky ones so far. I found a school that is regionally accredited and is geared towards the success of the students. I am hopeful for a smooth transition.
Independence University has left the students and staff in complete confusion, and we are all struggling to make sense of it all. We have hope that everything will work out and fear of what still may come.”
Finally, on Wednesday, the college’s closure was announced to students via email. This delayed response highlights how a University can operate in complete disarray, with its students completely unaware of the behind-the-scenes scandal.