A long-troubled for-profit nursing school in Connecticut that closed last month is now swept up in two state investigations as regulators try to determine whether its sudden closure violated consumer protection law.
Stone Academy — which closed last month its three campuses in East Hartford, Waterbury and West Haven — are facing two state probes. One is initiated by the Connecticut Office of Higher Education, which hires a third-party auditor evaluate the legitimacy of the institution’s academic records and programs. The second comes from the prosecutor, who investigates whether the closing violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The closing also coincides with increased federal oversight of underperforming colleges, particularly for-profit institutions. The Biden administration prioritized loan forgiveness for students whose for-profit colleges defrauded them. And crafting is being considered public list of universities with poor financial returnswhich the for-profit sector fears will target its institutions.
at Stone Academy, local news document how the state’s regulatory clashes hurt its 850 or so students, who were already left on the hook after the unexpected closing but now can’t access their transcripts while the state’s higher-ranking office’s review continues.
The college has arranged transfer options for students, called tuition plans, with several institutions in Connecticut. Connecticut agencies have also promoted that Stone students can seek partial tuition reimbursement through the state program and can also apply to the U.S. Department of Education to have their loans discharged.
Perry Rowthorn, a an attorney representing Stone said in an emailed statement that the school is “concerned with the higher education official’s misleading and chaotic behavior in precipitating and compounding this crisis, misreading the applicable regulations and misrepresenting the facts, denying students access to their transcripts, and threatening to nullify the hard-earned education of approximately 1,200 current and former students. graduates.”
Rowthorn said the higher ed office demanded an immediate shutdown of Stone’s programs, scrambling the teaching plans. He criticized the audit as “unprecedented and unnecessary” and accused state officials of seizing “Stone’s student records in a haphazard manner — deleting records seemingly at random, failing to inventory them, and transporting them in their personal vehicles.”
About Stone Academy
Stone Academy has existed in some form since the 19th century, beginning with the United States College of Business and Finance in 1864, according to the archived version institution website.
It has been sold and converted several times over the years. At one point in the 1980s, it focused on “hands-on business instruction” before switching to an allied healthcare focus in the 1990s.
However, the academy was haunted by scandal. Its former owner Mark Scheinberg last year paid more than $1 million to federal prosecutors to settle allegations that he tried to conceal certain loans from being counted toward his college student loan default rate. He was also accused of failing to report Stone’s higher default rate to the federal Department of Education.
Scheinberg divested himself of the institution as part of the settlement.
This year, all three sides of what’s known as the senior regulatory triangle — state agencies, accreditors and the federal Department of Education — began taking action against Stone.
The Connecticut Higher Education Authority, to which Stone announced its closure on February 6, had has already raised concerns about the academy before its closure.
Colleges that offer practical nursing programs in Connecticut must see at least 80% of their students pass what is called the National Council Licensure Examination each year.
If the program fails to meet this benchmark for three consecutive years, state regulators may receive approval to operate.
None of the programs at Stone Academy’s three campuses achieved an 80 percent pass rate last year, the higher education office said. In fact, one of East Hartford’s programs failed to meet that standard in three years, leading the Connecticut Board of Examiners to vote to end its approval in November. West Haven’s day and evening programs failed to meet the benchmark in 2021. Its day program failed in both 2019 and 2020.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has also determined that Stone offers students a “clinical study campus” to meet the state’s clinical experience requirement. However, state regulation does not allow this work to take place on campus.
The institution’s accreditor, the Accreditation Office of Health Education Schools, sent the institution a letter in February outlining problems with compliance with its standards. He asked the college to show cause why its accreditation should not be withdrawn.
The accreditor has since been removed by Stone its database of active institutions.
And around the same time, the federal Department of Education determined that Stone was in such dire financial straits that the agency cut the school’s participation in the government’s student financial aid program. This forced the institution to fund student financial aid on its own and then demand reimbursement from the department.
Will there be more?
Suspicion from several regulators has already spelled trouble for the college, but students have expressed new concerns about its closure.
They pointed to two colleges that Stone identified as easy transfer opportunities — Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport, both private nonprofit institutions in Connecticut — have ties to Scheinberg, the former owner.
Scheinberg is president of Goodwin, which in 2021 he won University of Bridgeport. He was previously a member of the Bridgeport Board of Trustees. His settlement with prosecutors last year dictates to retire from both institutions within five years.
Stone Academy was run by Scheinberg’s stepson, Joseph Bierbaum, until it closed.
Students also questioned why was the school not financially stable after it acquired a nearly $1.8 million federal government loan as part of the pandemic pay protection program. The initiative was intended to protect small businesses from layoffs or wage cuts during the health crisis.
The federal government forgave the entire loan in 2021 after Stone claimed it covered 239 jobs.
Last month, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong Stone requested a massive tranche of records as part of investigation of his office. Information requested includes how much tuition money the school has received, details of its marketing practices, and materials related to accreditation.
“The school was simply not preparing its students to become successful nurses,” Tong he said in a statement. “We’ll find out exactly what Stone promised these students and how things went so wrong. If we find any violation of the law, we will not hesitate to hold Stone’s leaders accountable.”