U.S. Senators Intervene After NJ Trade School Unexpectedly Closes
There's more confusion for Star Career Academy students who are getting their transcripts from the now-closed school. But some help is coming on two fronts after the closure grabbed the attention of U.S. senators from three states.
Former students of the trade school that suddenly closed its doors on Nov. 14 are getting transcripts back stating that they withdrew from school. Or, like surgical tech student Lydia Stanislawski, of Brick, are being told they "graduated" even though they never finished their program.
"I received my diploma with a grad date and I received my transcript with a grad date and was graduated out of the program, but I was doing my extern and I wasn't even finished. I didn't get into a real operating room," the 26-year-old mother of four told Townsquare Media.
In addition, Stanislawski said the NCCT told her she will have to pay $155 to take her certification test. It was originally part of the $20,000 tuition she said she paid to Star.
Star closed its locations in Brick, Clifton, Egg Harbor Township, and Newark as well as the affiliated ServFast Computers campus in Toms River after 37 years. Students were notified by text and email while staffers were told the news at a scheduled in-service day.
Taylor Olson, of Manahawkin, had "withdraw" on the transcript she received in the mail on Tuesday.
"For me it doesn't matter if I have my transcripts or not. I talked to another school and either way I'm going to have to start over. Nothing will transfer over," the 21-year-old said.
Star Academy spokesman Scott Wilson explained in an email that transcripts from career schools "will show one of essentially four standard options for a student’s status: (1) active, (2) leave of absence, (3) graduate or (4) withdraw."
"Importantly, for those students who plan to apply for closed-school student loan discharge, their Star transcripts should show 'withdraw' for their status," he said.
He explained that former students such as Stanislowski "at the time of its closing had completed sufficient hours and coursework to complete their programs and will be graduated, as reflected on their individual transcripts."
While Star may be trying to help, there are still questions and concerns.
Ocean County Vocational Technical School Assistant Superintendent Nancy Weber-Loeffert said that she doesn't think what Star is providing as transcripts is accurate or fair to students.
"If they close their doors, no one graduated. What are they getting with that graduation? Are they getting a certificate? Are they getting a diploma? How do you get a certificate or diploma from an organization that no longer exists? Either way you look at it, the students are getting a bad deal. There's no question about that."
She said that the "students did not withdraw. The organization closed."
Former surgical technology instructor Tom Kostka, who created the "Students Upset by STAR" Facebook page, is concerned that schools may assume a student withdrew from class.
Kostka, who had returned to the school this fall to teach where his daughter is also a student, is concerned about "what is Star doing to reimburse the students for out-of-pocket monies paid directly to Star for tuition? I bet nothing will be paid to those students.
Most of the students I've talked to, especially in the Surgical Technology program, which I taught, say no school is accepting any credit hours."
He also questioned the students who are considered to have graduated.
"What about those students who are on externship and couldn't complete the REQUIREMENTS of hours?"
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who called Star's closure an "outrage," continues to work at getting students some answers and was joined by fellow New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, U.S. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in a Wednesday letter to Education Secretary John King.
“We urge the Department to expeditiously notify all Star Career Academy students of their federal loan discharge options, as well as any other resources available to them. Students should not have to suffer for the mistakes made by their school, and the Department must work to ensure impacted students have access to high quality and affordable options to continue their education,” the senators wrote.
"No student should have to pay for their school’s mistakes, and every student should be able to complete the studies they started. Our office has reached out to both federal and state oversight agencies in order to get answers and bring clarity to students who have been unfairly put in such a difficult position through no fault of their own," said Menendez spokesman Steven Sandberg.
They also asked King to work with the Department of Veteran Affairs to further assist veterans who were enrolled at Star Career Academy, and ensure they are properly notified of all information and resources available to them, so they can decide how best to use their remaining G.I. Bill benefits.
Ocean County Vo-Tech is planning an information session 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 7 at the OCVTS Toms River Center located at 1299 Old Freehold Road to discuss assessment testing, admissions and financial aid assistance. Weber-Loeffert said the school offers post-high school programs and is well positioned to help displaced Star students.
She cited the student operated Cusine on the Green pub and restaurant at the Atlantis Golf Club in Little Egg Harbor as an example of where culinary students could continue their studies. There's also a home construction program that builds a house with Southern Ocean County Habitat for Humanity, an automotive repair program and a practical nursing and medical programs that are all part of their adult programs.
"We want to get a sharing of ideas of what their needs are and what we can provide," Weber-Loeffert said.