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Transcripts of WVa college graduates blocked after shutdown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Holly Martin had just been offered her dream job as a school guidance counselor and was on her way to earning her second master’s degree when she received alarming news: State officials in Washington, where she lives, had not received her undergraduate transcript.

Without it, they said she couldn’t receive her professional license, putting her job at risk.

She learned that Ohio Valley University, where she earned a psychology degree in 2016, had not returned transcript requests. She desperately tried to contact the school. She never heard from her.

Hundreds of graduates from the private Christian University in northwest West Virginia – which abruptly closed in December 2021 and filed for bankruptcy – have found themselves in similar circumstances when applying for jobs or other opportunities.

The announcement of the closure said a group of employees would manage academic records, but that group later said senior officials had not provided any guidance. Then, last week, a post on a Facebook page set up to provide post-school closure updates said it was not possible to provide transcripts because the system had been hacked and its files had been deleted.

It is unknown who posted the message on Facebook, and these claims could not be confirmed. Shortly after, the account was deleted. But in the meantime, the testimonials of six decades of academic achievement seem to be beyond the reach of the students who have gone there.

When colleges close permanently, they often transfer their academic records to state education officials for safekeeping, said Barmak Nassirian, vice president of higher education policy at Veterans Education Success, a group of defense in Washington, DC. He said there should be a duplicate copy. kept somewhere. If that didn’t happen in this case, it’s unclear what recourse the students might have.

The announcement caused panic among former students. Martin still owes about $22,000 in student loans and said it was painful to think that the career she worked so hard to build could be denied because of something beyond her control.

“It feels like a slap in the face – here I’m paying student loans on a degree that I can’t even prove I have,” said Martin, who has already earned his master’s degree in family studies and works full-time while completing his master’s degree. in school council. “I worked very hard to achieve these career goals and dedicated a lot of time and money to my studies. Having it completely discounted is just heartbreaking.

Martin said she was able to get a conditional license from the state to work as a counselor for at least a year while she tried to find her transcript, after the school district where she ran an apprenticeship program precocious vouched for her. “It’s scary to think that in a year I might not have a job.”

Former OVU officials did not comment on the issue of transcripts. Former president Michael Ross and other university officials did not respond to emails and phone messages seeking comment on this story. The university’s telephone line was cut.

“If true, this is a tragic situation for former students and alumni of Ohio Valley University,” Jessica Tice, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, said in a statement. communicated. “OVU was a private institution that operated in the State of West Virginia and was fully and independently responsible for protecting student records.”

The Supervisory Board provides letters that former OVU students can send to schools or employers confirming that the school has closed and cannot provide transcripts, but cannot do anything more than put them up. in touch with former OVU staff, Tice said.

Students are pushing for more action from the state and the Higher Learning Commission — a regional organization that accredits schools so they can access federal funding — which has shared responsibility for overseeing the Ohio Valley for decades, saying there must be something they can do. Accreditors are supposed to ensure that colleges and universities have plans to protect their academic records forever.

Kate Davis, who graduated with honors in 2018, said she needed her transcript to apply to become an officer in the US Army. Not having it has already hampered efforts to apply for graduate school, and she doesn’t feel like she has a clear path forward.

She said problems accessing official signed and sealed academic records predated OVU’s closure. She made dozens of requests and only received one, after her father drove more than an hour to get it in person.

“It stops our lives,” said Davis, a psychology student in Columbus who works two jobs — one as a paramedic and the other at State Farm.

“It prevents us from building a better life for ourselves or our children, if we have any,” she said. “We paid $80,000, $100,000 to go to school, and now we have no proof of that work, that time, and that money.”

The Ohio Valley University opened in 1960, integrating education with Christian teachings. In 2020, with enrollment reduced to 233 students, he was placed on academic probation primarily due to financial issues. In December 2021, after months of failing to pay its staff, the school’s board of trustees voted to close the college and the state revoked its degree-granting authority.

Sydnee Shipley, a 2019 Kansas graduate, said as members of Churches of Christ, she and her husband were drawn to the school’s commitment to faith-based missionary work.

Shipley, who studied business administration, was able to get her transcripts, earn a master’s degree, and now works as a project coordinator for an elevator inspection company. But her husband, Jared, who is studying to become a pastor, still hasn’t received her files. They had to move in with his parents in Houston, and he’s paying off $65,000 in undergraduate loans while working for a restaurant chain.

“I think one of the hardest things about this for so many Christian students is that all of this evil was done by people who are part of our church,” she said. “And that’s the very last thing that’s supposed to happen.”

AP education author Collin Binkley contributed to this report.