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Bay State College students demand answers from struggling for-profit school

The logo of the school name on a wall corridor inside the building the college rents in Back Bay.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Some students worry that Bay State College will close abruptly and hamper their career progress. Others paint a picture of a short-staffed college with disorganized leadership that passes students from one employee to the next when problems arise.

The students want answers amid evidence the for-profit Back Bay school is facing financial and regulatory problems. Academic programs have been slashed, staff reduced, and the school’s accreditation hangs in limbo.

In interviews, 10 current and former students from different programs expressed frustration and anguish over their experiences at Bay State.

After being impressed by information about clinical job placements on the college’s website, Nicholas Manthorne enrolled in Bay State’s physical therapist assistant program for the most recent fall semester. But he said the experience was a “nightmare.“

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First, Manthorne said, he was told the college was no longer offering the PTA program in the fall, days before classes were set to begin and after Manthorne had paid his tuition. An administrator told Manthorne the classes would be held in the spring and offered him free classes, he said.

“I said, ‘I gave my notice to my job and sold my car to pay for school. You need to let me take classes so my life isn’t completely put on pause,’” said Manthorne, 27. “I actually drove to school and walked in there and demanded [a class schedule]. This past semester felt like it was war.”

Manthorne took five classes this fall, including one in-person class at the Boston campus, and at the end of the semester, he said, he was told the program was canceled. He immediately drove to North Shore Community College upon receiving Bay State’s news to discuss his situation and apply for their program, he said.

“I then drove to Bay State and demanded all of my money back and three official transcripts free of cost,” Manthorne said.

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After threatening to involve a lawyer and e-mailing with several Bay State administrators, he said he was reimbursed. He plans to enroll in North Shore Community College’s physician assistant program.

Another student, a military veteran who lives in East Boston, told The Boston Globe he is concerned Bay State will close. He said he was attending ITT Tech in Norwood when it abruptly shut down in 2016, and his credits wouldn’t transfer to other colleges.

The student said he was nervous about attending another for-profit college after that experience, but Bay State’s campus was the most convenient program for his schedule.

“I had no sense they were going through financial or regulatory problems,” said the student, who like some others interviewed for this story asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

Administrators have sought to reassure the students.

College president Jeff Mason said in recent e-mails to students Bay State has “no intention of closing and is not at risk of closure.” He added the college’s owner, Ambow Education Services, has guaranteed to keep funding “the operating budget for the next two years,” according to internal e-mails obtained by the Globe.

“I want you to be confident in your future here,” Mason wrote. “We have worked closely with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education to demonstrate our stability and strong path forward.”

But signs of the school’s challenges have been surfacing. Last month, the US Department of Education placed Bay State on a list of colleges facing heightened scrutiny, which means the college will have to make financial aid payments to students from its own institutional funds and then request reimbursement from the department.

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This week, college officials are expected to appear before its accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education, after being placed on probation last spring. US Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to the commission ahead of the meeting urging its members to “carefully scrutinize” Bay State’s accreditation. US Representative Ayanna Pressley also signed the letter.

“The disturbing reports of fraud and degradation of the learning environment at Bay State College require NECHE to carefully scrutinize Bay State’s accreditation and ensure that students and taxpayers are protected from continued harm,” Warren wrote.

A Bay State spokesman said the college “works well and collaboratively with our regulators,” and welcomes “additional discussion and review.”

Several students have raised concerns on a variety of issues. One Bay State student from the South Shore said he recently tried to transfer to another school but learned not all of his credits would transfer.

“I’m kind of stuck,” the student said. “I’m 44 years old — I would hate to take classes over again . . . I’m definitely not getting what I paid for.”

A female student from Brookline said it has been hard to get information when her tuition bills are incorrect. “This is not a one-time thing. It’s something you are trying to sweep under the rug,” she said, referring to the college.

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The Bay State spokesman said the school is “aware of students describing billing issues . . . and is working to address them.”

Another female student studying to be a nurse said she recently discovered an errant $2,000 charge on a payment plan she signed. She is currently trying to withdraw from the college and said an administrator called her offering a scholarship to entice her to stay.

She said she plans to enroll at another nursing school once she withdraws from Bay State, which has an average annual cost of $28,983, according to the Department of Education.

“I’ve done so well in this program,” she said. “I have the grades, but I cannot in good faith put more money in the college.”

This story has been updated to reflect that Bay State offered free classes last fall to a student in the physical therapist assistant program.


Hilary Burns can be reached at hilary.burns@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hilarysburns.