Everest College, a private career college with 14 branches across Ontario, was suspended by the Ontario government Thursday due to concerns that it could no longer be "financially responsible," leaving thousands of students scrambling to decide how to complete their degrees.
Approximately 2,400 students and 450 staff in Ontario are affected by the suspension of the college's operations. Everest is a vocational training college offering diplomas for health-care workers, accounting, legal assistants and trades.
It is owned by Corinthian Colleges, a network of private postsecondary institutions across the United States that had been looking to sell its Ontario branches since this past summer. Corinthian has faced investigations south of the border for misrepresenting its graduates' employment rates. Parts of the company were sold off earlier this month.
A spokesperson for Corinthian said the group was nevertheless surprised by the Ontario government's action.
"We were informed this morning, just like students were. We've been working with the ministry for the past few months to try to find a path forward, so this came, in our mind, out of nowhere," said Joe Hixson, a spokesman for Corinthian. "We thought we were in productive discussions," he said.
The higher education ministry will distribute $3-million to students who can apply for refunds of their tuition or toward transfers of their programs to similar colleges. And the ministry has sent its officials to each of Everest's campuses to guide students through their next steps.
"Our first concern is for the students and faculty affected by the suspension of all Everest College campus activities," said Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi in a statement.
Some students are hoping the program will be allowed to continue. Roderick Tan, who was enrolled in a medical lab assistant program at the Scarborough campus said he had three months left before graduating. Everest's lab-technician program was one of the few accredited by the Canadian Medical Association, so transferring to another program may not be seamless.
"It's challenging and fast-paced and there is a lot of reading," said Mr. Tan, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines two years ago. Mr. Tan said he paid more than $10,000 for the one-year course. On social media, former students of Everest said one-year fees in some programs can reach double that amount.
The decision to close the schools was made by the superintendent of private career colleges, who is independent of the education ministry. Everest can ask for a review and a hearing of the decision within 15 days.
More than 50,000 students attend private colleges in Ontario; many programs can be funded through OSAP loans. Default rates on loans, however, are about 21 per cent, 8 per cent more than those for public colleges
An investigation by The Canadian Press last month found that the majority of student complaints to the ministry about private career colleges were about Everest.
Everest has branches across the province, including in Barrie, Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor and Sudbury. In a note to its students in July, the Windsor campus warned them that the investigations of Corinthian in the U.S. could lead to changes or cancellations in the Canadian programs.