The sudden shuttering of ITT Technical Institutes around the country earlier this month left thousands of students educationally stranded, but some are getting back on track thanks to state and local initiatives.
The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) in Boston has reached out to former ITT Tech students and extended its fall registration deadline until Sept. 16 to give them the opportunity to continue their education.
When ITT Educational Services closed down its flagship institute, some 40,000 students nationwide were displaced.
“We’ve been getting calls [from former ITT students] and have had people just walking in saying ‘I need help,” said BFIT President Anthony Benoit. “We’re also doing some outreach ourselves to let local people know that we’re here and we can help.”
BFIT is a nonprofit college that offers Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in technical fields and focuses on placing students in jobs after they graduate. The institute has about 500 current students, which is equivalent to the enrollment in ITT’s Massachusetts campuses, Benoit said.
“Anytime you see a disaster happen, you say, ‘What can I do to help?’ We definitely felt a certain responsibility,” he said.
Katy Abel, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s associate commissioner for external affairs, said that there is precedent for the higher education system coming together in times of crisis to get information and resources out to students quickly.
When computer learning centers closed in 2001, she said, there was a similar response where community colleges, state universities and public institutions got together to decide how they could help.
“We received no advance notice of ITT’s closure plans, as required by the Board of Higher Education, to ensure timely and appropriate transfer opportunities and preservation of student records,” said Carlos E. Santiago, commissioner of higher education, in a statement. “We are working with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to assist students who have been displaced. I am also consulting the leadership of our public colleges and universities to see if we can offer information and referrals for ITT students who wish to continue their education.”
Gov. Charlie Baker recently announced the creation of a Massachusetts Department of Higher Education website aimed at former ITT students.
The site, www.mass.edu/ITT, lets former students know how to apply for a closed school loan discharge, transfer credits to another institution, request their transcripts and even attend ITT Student Assistance Workshops. At those workshops, hosted by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office and the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, students can talk to representatives from state, community and nonprofit colleges.
Benoit explained that the school loan discharge is a way for students who do not apply their credits to another school to “go back to zero.”
“In some cases, that’s a very good choice for a student,” he said, adding that he’s personally excited to see, however, that some students are set on finishing their education.
“They’re upset that they’ve been derailed, but to their credit they’re very much focused on moving forward,” Benoit said of the students who have enrolled in or inquired about BFIT since the ITT closure. “They’re looking for that good job that’s at end of the road.”
And that’s the bigger point here, according to Benoit: there are plenty of jobs for these students. So many, in fact, that the state struggles to fill these positions because there aren’t enough educational opportunities to get residents into those technical roles.
“I hope that one of the things that comes out of this is that we recognize the need for more legitimate pathways of this sort,” Benoit said. “I certainly want more and more people to know that the opportunity exists here [at BFIT]. We’re doing the thing that these students are looking for, which is we get them educated, trained in technical fields and place them in a good job.”
Massachusetts has over 100,000 jobs it currently cannot fill and about half of those are in STEM fields, according to Benoit. Recruiters call BFIT all the time looking for people to fill jobs in areas like health information technology, which he described as experiencing a “real shortage of people” who are trained for that field.
Benoit urges former ITT students to avoid becoming discouraged by the ITT shut-down.
“It’s a great chance to take a look around and see who can help you,” he said. “And it’s worth the journey to get where you’re going.”