When Bobbie Logan walked into Argosy University’s downtown campus, she saw the hallways strewn with textbooks and offices in disarray.
Logan, a 56-year-old doctoral student, said it looked like a tornado had gone through the building when she went there Friday. Professors were quickly packing their belongings after the school announced it was closing that very day.
The students had little notice. Kevin Beaver, Argosy’s president, earlier last week sent an email saying the U.S. Department of Education had ended the school’s participation in the federal government’s student financial assistance program. That likely meant Argosy would close by week’s end, Beaver wrote — and it did.
The feds’ ultimatum came after several months of financial challenges for Argosy. The school, which offered professional degree programs in 13 states, operated as a for-profit college for years before it became a not-for-profit private college in 2017.
When Argosy’s parent company, Dream Center Education Holdings, couldn’t pay its creditors, a federal court in Ohio appointed a receiver. In February, The Arizona Republic revealed that thousands of Argosy students across the country had not been paid nearly $13 million in financial aid funds they were owed. Dream Center also owned several art institutes, including the Illinois Institute of Art, which closed its Schaumburg, Tinley Park and Chicago locations last year.
A class-action suit filed by several institute of art students is pending in federal court.
Argosy students received a letter last week outlining some options: transfer to a partner institutions not associated with Dream Center Education Holdings or apply for a “closed school” loan discharge.
But neither are good options for Logan, who is nine months shy of graduating with a doctoral degree in community counseling. She worked as an assistant clinical director for the Chicago Torture Justice Center while conducting research for her dissertation.
She’s in limbo with about 475 other students from Argosy’s Chicago location.
“They were asking me to forget that I’ve already sacrificed three years of my life, and walk away from a life goal,” Logan said.
The Illinois Board of Higher Education was helping students transfer to local schools. But the schools would require her to retake classes, and she doesn’t want to take on additional debt.
“We are in a tidal wave with no lifeboat,” Logan said. “And these other schools want to give us a lifeboat, but there are holes in them, so we’re sinking.”
Logan said Argosy should have provided a way for students nearing graduation to finish their degree at another school without having to take additional classes. In a statement Friday, the Illinois Board of Higher Education said it was working on making such arrangements.
Logan was notified Sunday by her lender she will have to start repaying her student $50,00 in loans unless she enrolls again.
“I don’t feel like [Argosy University] had the students’ mental health at the forefront when they made the decision to close the doors without having a concrete plan so that students can progress to the next level,” Logan said.
“My goal, as a doctor in my field, it feels almost like it was stolen from me. Not because I chose to not be successful in the program, [but because] someone else made that choice for me.”
It’s not clear when or how Argosy’s students will be reimbursed for spring semester funds. The little information Argosy has provided students focused on loan forgiveness, but the situation is complicated for students like Meher Sharma, 26, an international student paying tuition out-of-pocket.
Sharma enrolled in September in Argosy’s five-year clinical psychology doctoral program. She’s now worried about her student visa.
Sharma protested outside the school’s Michigan Avenue location March 5 with other international students. Two days later, school officials told international students that if Argosy closed, they’d have 60 days to transfer or they’d have to leave the country.
“Our trust was broken in such a terrible way,” said Sharma, who wants to finish her doctorate in Chicago. “With this abrupt closure, if they tell us to go a university across the state, that would not be fair. We have lease agreements here, and students have families who they can’t abandon for their higher education. I would hope that something in this area works for us.”
While waiting for other options, Logan said she’ll continue to work on her dissertation at her neighborhood Starbucks in Gage Park — for two to three hours a day.
“I’m not going to stop my research,” she said. “I need to stay focused to get this done. I’m determined.”