EAGAN, Minn. — In less than a week, veterinary technology students Mariah Banks and Bethany Einer went from attending classes and taking tests to not having a school to go back to.

“I was in class in the morning and I got an email that evening saying, ‘Don’t come back,’” Einer said.

Banks found out when someone shared the information on Facebook.

Einer and Banks were two of nearly 1,000 students at Argosy University in Eagan shut out in March when the school closed its doors with almost no warning.

Unlike other for-profit schools that have closed in recent years, Argosy didn’t have a plan to “teach out” its existing programs. Students were left fearing tens of thousands of dollars and years of studies were wasted.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education, several area colleges and the state Legislature moved quickly to lend a hand. Now, many of the Argosy students have plans to finish their degrees somewhere else.

Einer, who lives in Woodbury, and Banks, of Eagan, transferred to a Dakota County Technical College program in Lakeville. Other Minnesota State schools, including Century College in White Bear Lake, are also working with students so they can complete their studies.

“It was something we had to do,” said Angelia Millender, Century College president. “Let’s find a way to help these students.”

Best of a bad situation

One thing was clear to state officials when they learned Argosy University was closing: They had to act fast.

The chain of 22 for-profit career schools, with campuses across the U.S., was shut out of the U.S. Department of Education student aid program after it was revealed $13 million in loans and grants owed to students was instead used by the school to make payroll.

Tuition at for-profit schools is typically two times or more what is charged by public institutions, which receive taxpayer support, so both students and the schools are more reliant on loans and grants.

When a school like Argosy closes, there are opportunities for students to have loans forgiven, but it is no easy task.

Banks is still trying to unwind the different sources of financial aid she received to attend Argosy.

“Honestly, the whole financial aid process was just: here, sign this paper, hurry up, we’ll get you through,” she said.

Most financial aid originates at the federal level and loan-forgiveness claims can drag on for months and years. The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill this spring to expedite the process for state loans and grants.

Under the legislation, money owed to students to cover living and other expenses that Argosy kept was paid out from state coffers. State Attorney General Keith Ellison is working to get reimbursed from the school through its bankruptcy litigation.

Other grants were forgiven by the state and won’t count toward the maximum aid students can receive.

Unique transfer opportunity

In addition to the financial impact, students often have limited options to finish their degrees when their for-profit colleges close. Sometimes they just have to start over — nonprofit schools typically do not accept credits from their for-profit counterparts.

Argosy was an exception.

Minnesota State institutions were able to take students’ credits because Argosy was accredited by a regional organization similar to the ones who evaluate public colleges and universities.

“Argosy was outside the norm,” Century College President Millender said. “Credit transfers better when accreditation lines up.”

That’s a big reason why Century was able to allow 35 Argosy dental hygiene students to finish their degrees and why Dakota County Technical could accept the school’s veterinary students.

Affording their degrees

The veterinary technology program at Dakota County Technical is another example of local college leaders getting creative to meet the area’s workforce demands. The program traces its roots to the closure of another for-profit college chain — Globe University and the Minnesota School of Business.

Nicole Nieman taught in the veterinary technology program at the chain’s Lakeville campus in 2016 when the schools began to close. The state sued the chain over their criminal justice program and a Hennepin County District Court found they committed fraud, which led to the revocation of the schools’ ability to operate in Minnesota.

Nieman began approaching colleges and universities to see if they would be willing to pick up the veterinary technology program and the students displaced by the closures. Knowing the demand for veterinary technology training, Dakota County Technical quickly jumped on board, she said.

Nieman, who also attended and taught at Argosy, knew the key to making a veterinary technology program successful was keeping it affordable. She knew firsthand that students struggled to repay the cost of degrees from for-profit colleges that can run as much as $50,000.

At Dakota County Technical, students will pay less than half that.

Minnesota State officials say they scrambled to meet with Argosy students when they learned the school was closing. The early message was that schools wanted to help the students, but it was going to take some time to figure out the best way forward.

This summer, 62 former Argosy students will attend Dakota County Technical to make sure they are on track by fall.