Students displaced after the abrupt closure of a national cosmetology school have a new home, and for some life is returning to normal.
Following Regency Beauty Institute’s sudden closure in September, the Minnesota School of Cosmetology has been busy taking in former students and allowing them to pick up close to where they left off.
Regency, which was headquartered in St. Louis Park, shut down all 79 of its schools across the country, including five in Minnesota on Sept. 28, leaving students in shock and disbelief with little guidance on what to do next.
The national chain enrolled 430 students last year between its Maplewood, Burnsville, St. Cloud, Duluth and Blaine locations.
Ebony Barnett was close to finishing her program at Regency before the shutdown. Like many of her classmates, she said the news was unexpected.
“I didn’t believe it,” she said. “I thought it was a joke.”
When Barnett found out she would be allowed to complete her studies at MSC, she said she nearly cried.
"I was bummed at first, but then I thought, you know what, it’s a sign,” she said.
Barnett expects to finish in January.
So far, MSC has taken in about 60 former Regency students, and the school is letting them transfer their credits and the time they put toward the 1,550-hour license certification that's required by state law to practice cosmetology.
Former Regency student Kali Erickson didn’t want to waste any time. After a tear-filled morning collecting her belongings with her peers at the Maplewood location, she immediately went and enrolled at MSC in Woodbury with six of her classmates that same day.
Like many who return to school later in life, Erickson left a job she wasn’t passionate and moved back in with family in order to focus and afford to pay for her education.
She toured several schools and decided to start at Regency because of its small campus size.LIKE 'A BREAKUP YOU DIDN'T SEE COMING'
Regency announced to students through automated voicemails the day it closed and told students they had two days to collect their belongings but otherwise offered little more explanation.
Students and former Regency employees said the school’s phone line was disconnected shortly after the announcement. School leaders told staff their company health insurance would end in 36 hours and no severance would be given.
“All I heard was no severance and health insurance ends in 36 hours, so if you need to go see a doctor, you’d better go tomorrow,” said Tarah Wrolson-Hardgrove, a former instructor who now teaches at MSC’s Woodbury campus.
She likened the closure to “a breakup you don’t see coming.”
A message on Regency’s website said the school chain didn't have money to continue and cited declining enrollment as well as a “negative characterization of for-profit education by regulators and politicians,” as factors.
Wrolson-Hardgrove said moments before the school closed it continued enrolling students and hired a new instructor two days prior. She still hasn’t received her final paycheck.
Despite the ugly fallout, Wrolson-Hardgrove said she was more concerned about her students. "For some of these students, it's their safe zone. It's where they get away from their kids, and they're paying a lot of money to go there," she said.
Wrolson-Hardgrove agreed that her being at MSC with other former Regency students has been helpful in getting through the transition.
“We’re all kind of in this together,” she said.
Regency offered loan forgiveness options for students who didn’t continue their education.
Marisa Paige, who was months away from graduating, had made what she thought was her last tuition in full because she anticipated graduating this year. The school has still yet to refund her.
She said she wished the school offered a plan to let students who were already enrolled finish their degrees.
“They could have at least had a teach-out plan lined up so we didn't have to scramble to figure out what we were going to do and crossing our fingers that someone would take our hours," Paige said.
A call to Regency’s corporate office in St. Louis Park directed inquiries to the school’s website.FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS' FUTURE STILL MURKY
For some for-profit colleges, 2016 has not been kind.
Earlier this fall, ITT Technical Institute, a national for-profit school, shuttered all 137 of its locations after the federal government cut off student financial aid when the school's accreditor found the school lied about graduation and job placement information about its students.
ITT Tech enrolled 263 students on two Minnesota campuses in 2015.
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) also revoked Globe University and the Minnesota School of Business’ operating authorization following a district court ruling that found the school had committed fraud. The court ruled that Globe misled students about its criminal justice program, advertising that it would make them eligible for careers in law enforcement.
Globe University operates a few other Minnesota schools including MSC.
The chain is appealing OHE’s order, but the school system’s future is still in flux because the decision could spell an end for federal student financial aid eligibility.
“We’re appealing the decision and still plan to fight for our schools,” spokeswoman Cassandra Hartman said.
But for now, students said they’re more concerned with completing their education.
“The ultimate goal we want is for students is to graduate and get their license," Wrolson-Hardgrove said. "To have MSC open their arms and be so accepting was just what these girls needed after such a traumatizing, unexpected event."