Hey y’all. It’s been awhile since I’ve published a new blog post and as soon as I was able to wrap my head around what I wanted to say and carve out the time to do it I started writing this one. Heads up, it’s a long one.
As you may remember I was accepted into Argosy University to start my Clinical Psychology Doctorate (PsyD) degree at the American School of Professional Psychology in Northern Virginia. I have a whole blog post about it that you can find here. My semester started January 22, 2019… this is where I’ll begin.
First Day of School
I woke up early to take the metro to Rosslyn where my campus was located. I quickly changed my routine where I was taking the VRE (Virginia Railway Express…basically a train-of the choo choo variety) to Alexandria and then hopping on the metro to Rosslyn. On this particular day I had Psychopathology and Lifespan Development. I was so excited for all of the things I was going to learn, I’ve been waiting for this since I was 16 years old! Then after my first class all of the students and faculty on campus were summoned into a large room for an announcement.
First a bit of context. Doctorate programs usually only accept students to begin in the fall semester. Some programs have options occasionally for a “non-traditional” start, beginning in the spring. I was a part of the spring start. We would have taken classes in the spring and summer and then we would have blended in with the rest of our cohort (group of students that take a majority of classes together) in the fall. When we heard about the gathering some of my cohort thought maybe there would be a nice welcome for us into the program we worked so hard to get into…what a welcome we received.
During this meeting we were informed that Argosy University’s owner Dream Center Education Holdings had entered into receivership. What was explained to us as “bankruptcy light” later on. We were told not to worry. A federal judge had appointed us a guardian, whom we referred to as “The Receiver”. The Receiver’s job was to go through Dream Center’s finances and pull the company (and with it the multiple schools they owned) out of debt. We were later informed (by the news…how wonderful) that Dream Center was billions….yes you read that correctly, BILLIONS of dollars in debt, some campuses had not paid rent for the school buildings, and it was all a mess. This was troubling news. But, as the ever optimist, I believed we would pull through.
“We are an AMAZING program, our training is superb and we have excellent faculty, they’ll find a way to get us out of this” “Someone will buy us, they have to!” “it’s going to work out” things I constantly told myself, my cohort, and my friends and family who had heard the news. Regardless, I was here for one thing. To learn (yeah you people that think I’m a nerd guess what…YOU’RE RIGHT). So, I did what I knew I could do. I read, I studied, I did my homework, I showed up, I participated. Then more bad news came.
As a Doctoral student we cannot work during our program. Small side hustles are do-able but anything requiring a set schedule is a no-go (at least for first year’s as this is a content heavy core knowledge year). Most -if not all- students live off of their stipends that comes from excess student loans. As students we borrow money, usually from the government, to get an education (especially for higher education, can someone fix that price tag please…just a girl trying to help people…sheesh). We usually borrow more money than what our tuition costs for the semester and the excess is what we use for living expenses (rent, transportation, books, food, utilities, etc). Well, February 1st rolled by and no one had received their stipend money. This is a minor *cough* HUGE *cough* issue, as we cannot afford to be late on rent!!!!
Where’s our Money?
This is where my timeline of when I learned of certain information becomes blurry. Because honestly the past 3-4 months have been a huge blur. Basically we learned that our stipends were “missing”. THAT’S RIGHT Y’ALL! As if it wasn’t bad enough that our school was in “bankruptcy light” but all of a sudden OUR money TO LIVE was MISSING?!?! Now, let’s put this into perspective, 10,000 Argosy students are affected by the story I’m telling you about. It was estimated that the collective amount of how much was owed to us in stipends was 10-13 million dollars. Ha. I would just like to know, how does one misplace 10-13 MILLION dollars?! This was so serious that students were becoming homeless, some living out of their cars, they couldn’t buy food – so we made a food bank at school.
It turns out, that some VERY ILLEGAL stuff was happening. What exactly happened, I honestly have no clue. How this happened -again- no clue. First, there was hope. The Receiver had informed us that he had made a deal with The Department of Education and they were working on a way to get us our stipends. Then that fell through. There was a short period of time where students were sent on a wild goose chase because we were told Department of Ed had our money and when we called them they said it had already been dispersed. Again, HOW DO PEOPLE NOT KNOW WHERE THIS MUCH MONEY GOES?!
Well, it turns out that Argosy was in Heightened Cash Monitoring 1 (HCM1). What does that mean? It means that in order to get our stipends, Dream Center has to write a check to the students from Dream Center’s own funds. They then have to present the receipts to the Department of Education and then the Department of Education basically refunds them for the amount they gave to the students. What ended up happening was individuals from Dream Center and from the higher ups in Argosy cooked the books. That’s right! I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! I’M NOT A GOOD ENOUGH WRITER TO COME UP WITH THIS BS! Someone wrote in the financial books that the students stipends were paid, this was presented to the Department of Ed, Department of Ed “refunded” the amount, then the stipend money was ERASED from the financial records.
Basically a lot of people better end up in jail. But, as my ever positive dad keeps saying- whoever did this is probably on a private island right now with a luggage full of cash. I don’t know what happened with our money, it sounded like it went to paying rent and people’s salaries…which by the way is a violation of how to use funds (DUH). This led to the Department of Ed deciding the school should be put on HCM2 which led to our ultimate death. HCM2, from how I understood it, meant that Argosy students were no longer able to borrow money from Department of Ed (FAFSA) to pay for tuition. If students can’t pay tuition then the school dies. Makes sense. Are y’all still following? I’m almost done I promise.
Death of a Dream
Once the news broke that Argosy was on HCM2 we knew we would close. However, we had no idea when. Let’s put into perspective how extremely stressful a program of this caliber is. Now, lets go ahead and add in some life stressors of potentially being homeless, not knowing when a next meal is coming, and/or not even knowing what’s going to happen the next day! I argue that as clinicians we are very capable at handling crisis. However, crisis for months on end, that begins to wear you down. I often used the meme below to help illustrate what it truly felt like during this time.
From the beginning when we were first notified of the school’s status we had been having discussions with professors, fellow students, Congress, APA, pretty much anyone who would listen, and town hall meetings. On Tuesday, March 5th we had a town hall, where it was confirmed that we were not bought, we will never see our stipends for this semester, and we would be closing. The string we were clinging to was that we weren’t sure when we were going to close and we were going to try to make it to May 1st and finish out the semester. Our shining beacon of light was that discussions were beginning to happen at another wonderful school, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, about potentially taking in our students.
On Wednesday, March 6th we received the news that our school would be closing it’s doors on Friday, March 8th. That was that. The death of Argosy.
The Beginning of a New Era
As much as this situation has made it apparent of how vile humans can be, it has also shown me how compassionate they can be as well. I, as well as many of my fellow classmates, have been welcomed to start in May at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Washington D.C.
I am eternally grateful for the wonderful people who are working so hard to ensure that we are taken care of. To our professors and staff, who are saving documents and going above and beyond for our benefit, thank you. For our new staff, who are working day in and day out to make sure we can start classes again in May, thank you. To our student body, who made a Facebook group that is now at 1.6k members – where notes from town halls were made to distribute to students across the nation, thorough vetting of possible schools for other students NOT EVEN IN OUR PROGRAM let alone our campus, and a fundraising account was made to help the students who were most in financial need, THANK YOU.
I believe everything happens for a reason. I’ll let you know when I figure out why this happened. But for now my takeaway is not so much how greedy people tried to steal my future, but rather how complete strangers banded together to help each other in whatever way possible.
With love always,