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'I had one class left': Argosy closure forces students to make tough decisions

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Argosy University, Twin Cities
Students walked through the atrium of Argosy University, Twin Cities earlier this month.
Peter Cox | MPR News

The closure of Argosy University's lone Minnesota campus has forced hundreds of students into making big life decisions they didn't expect to be grappling with mid-semester. 

The for-profit chain shut down its Eagan campus earlier this month, along with more than a dozen campuses nationwide, because of financial problems. Now, state education officials and other schools are scrambling to figure out how transfers might, or might not, work. And those former Argosy students are weighing whether to try and transfer their credits, or to get their federal student loan money back, whether to continue on their intended career path, or pursue something else. 

Maryan Egal is one of those students.

Egal was about a year into her dental hygiene program at Argosy when the school closed.

"At first we were all in denial, we were like this really didn't happen," she said. "But it hit me Monday when I woke up and there was no homework." 

Egal sat in the lobby of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education last week after attending a transfer fair that did not bolster her hopes. Dental hygiene is a very popular program at all schools, and there were already waiting lists to get in before Argosy closed. She felt like she was on track to a job while studying at Argosy; now she's wondering if she'll be waiting a year or more to start at another program.

"It didn't really hit me up until I got to the clinical portion — having my own patients, bringing in family and friends, working on them. Then I was like, 'You can actually do this, you actually can graduate, you can actually become a hygienist.' It feels like that dream is kind of ripped out from right under us and like I can't even dream right now because I don't even know if I'm going to be able to go back to school and finish," she said.

For many Argosy students, that's a familiar feeling. On top of it, there are decisions for students who took out federal loans. They can either discharge all the loans they took out for their Argosy education, but also lose all those credits. Or they can decide to transfer those credits, and continue paying on those loans.

Argosy University, Twin Cities
The Argosy University, Twin Cities campus in Eagan.
Peter Cox | MPR News

And there are many like Egal who are in programs that are full because they're either popular or rare. Betsy Talbot is the manager of institutional licensing and registration at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. 

"So we also have other programs like radiation therapy, where we're having that problem, doctorate of marriage and family therapy and the doctorate of clinical psychology, where there's just not enough places for these students, or there's just so few of those programs in the state, that there are limits on transfer credits and limits on the number of students that these schools can accept," Talbot said.

But while students are struggling to find pathways in some programs, some schools are set up for trouble-free transfers, and others are changing usual policies to help recruit former Argosy students.

Maggie Unger Hess, the director of admissions at Crown College, says they are offering easy transfers to both undergraduates and in some graduate programs.

"What's nice about Crown and some of the other schools is that we are doing what they call a 'teach-out' where we're taking all the credits they've done," Unger Hess said. "We're just teaching out the curriculum at the bachelor's level and at the master's level we're doing a transition where we accept all their credits and then they just have to complete a few more to get their 60 credit masters of counseling."

But not all schools can offer such generous credit transfers. Some have policies that limit transfer credits at 12 or fewer for a 36- to 48-credit degree.

Steven Clark was pursuing his master's degree in marriage and family therapy at Argosy when it closed.

"I had one class left and then an internship or practicum," he said.

Clark says he's come to grips with the likelihood he'll have to start at a much earlier point in another school's program.

"My thought process is that this is something that is far out of my control and so if I want to complete my program, I just have to go with it. Argosy doesn't exist anymore, so I have to get my degree somehow," he said.

The Office of Higher Education is working with a few schools to possibly expand opportunities for dental hygiene students and other programs in the state, but it could take weeks or months for those possibilities to become a reality.