Dream Center schools are set to close after student loan funding is cut off and nonprofit can no longer continue with its ambitious venture.
Just over a year after the Education Department approved a proposal by the Christian nonprofit Dream Center, its campuses were practically bankrupt and are set to close. More than a dozen of them have been sold to other owners who may be able to salvage them. The Dream Center had no prior experience in higher education, but a long list of troubled for-profit colleges in its portfolio.
Argosy University, South University, and the Art Institutes have about 26,000 students enrolled in various programs, set to receive all levels of degrees, including associate degrees as dental hygienists up to doctoral programs in law and psychology. Fourteen campuses, mostly Art Institutes, have a new private equity owner and more than forty others are under the control of a court-appointed receiver who has accused school officials of “trying to keep the doors open by taking millions of dollars earmarked for students.”
The problems began almost immediately after Dream Center acquired the schools two years ago, in 2017. The charity, which was founded 25 years ago and has been affiliated with a Los Angeles, California-based Pentecostal megachurch, has a nationwide network of outreach programs for homelessness and domestic violence, among others. It said it planned to “use the schools to fund its expansion,” but had no prior experience in this sector.
Buying a chain of schools “aligns perfectly with our mission, which views education as a primary means of life transformation,” Randall Barton, the foundation’s managing director, said when Dream Center announced its plan, but it’s lack of experience ultimately caused the plan to ultimately come crumbling down.
The students are left in limbo with not easily transferrable credits once their school does close. This month, the faculty at Argosy’s Chicago and Northern Virginia campuses told students their positions had been terminated and they had been instructed to remove their belongings. In Phoenix, Arizona, an unpaid landlord actually went so far as to lock students out of their classrooms. In California, a dean advised students who were only two months away from graduation not to invite family to attend from out of town. The Education Department recently cut off federal student loans to Argosy after the court-appointed receiver said school officials were using this money to fund payroll.
“In less than a month, everything I have worked for the past three years has been taken from me,” said Jayne Kenney, pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology at Argosy’s Chicago campus. “I am also conscious of the fact that what seems like the swift fall of an ax in less than one month has in reality been festering for years.”
Lauren Jackson, a single mother seeking a doctorate at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, an Argosy school in Chicago, did not receive her loan of $10,000 due in January of this year. She has been paying expenses for herself and her 6-year-old daughter with GoFundMe donations. She has now received an eviction notice. “I didn’t want to go home and tell my baby that Mommy may not be a doctor,” said Jackson after she heard her school was set to close. “Now I don’t want to go home and tell her that we don’t have a home.”