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Trade school with Fort Smith location abruptly closes

by NWA Democrat-Gazette | October 14, 2021 at 7:34 a.m.
Vista College, a chain of trade schools that operated a campus in Fort Smith, closed its doors abruptly Friday, according to an official at the Arkansas Division of Higher Education. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

FORT SMITH -- Vista College, a chain of trade schools with a campus in Fort Smith, closed its doors abruptly Friday, according to Arkansas Division of Higher Education officials.

Alana Boles, the division's program director for private career and out of state education, said she was surprised by the news. The college notified her Monday.

"They didn't really give me an explanation," Boles said.

The Fort Smith campus at 1200 S. Waldron Road had 354 students enrolled at the time of its closing, with another 69 Arkansas students enrolled in the college's online programs, according to Maria Markham, division director.

Boles said the division has the students' transcripts and is sending them to the students so they may continue their education at other institutions.

Education Futures Group LLC, which owns Vista College, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Monday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware. Education Futures Group is based in Richardson, Texas.

Vista College is a for-profit organization with its main campus in El Paso, Texas. It also has campuses in the Texas cities of Beaumont, College Station, Killeen and Longview and in Las Cruces, N.M. Each of those campuses also closed within the past week, according to multiple media reports.

Vista offered programs in health care; business; information technology; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and industrial maintenance.

A call to the Fort Smith location produced a recorded message that said, "This call may be recorded for quality purposes," before the call was disconnected. The school's website remained active Wednesday, without any reference to the school being closed.

The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved Vista College to open its Fort Smith campus Jan. 31, 2014, and certified the college's first programs a few months later. Vista was accredited through the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, Markham said.

The school opened its Fort Smith campus in January 2016. The facility occupies 25,800 square feet of space and consists of multiple lecture rooms, medical and dental laboratories, computer labs, media center/library, administrative offices and a conference room, according to a description in Vista's 2021-22 course catalog.

The catalog lists 14 full-time staff members and nine full-time faculty members at the campus.

Jim Tolbert, Vista's chief executive officer, signed a welcome letter contained in the catalog that states, in part, "Our philosophy is that each student is an integral part in the success of our school. Every student has individual needs and wants. We will treat you with the respect and dignity you deserve."

Total tuition for Vista's programs -- some of which awarded an associate degree -- ranged from $18,600 to $39,692, according to the catalog.

The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith is working to assist students displaced by Vista's closure. The university plans to host an information session from 3-4 p.m. Wednesday in the Latture conference room at its College of Business and Industry, according to a university news release.

Representatives from university offices will attend to answer questions and help displaced students through the admissions and enrollment process.

"The first step to transitioning schools will be to apply for admission," said Andy Johnson, the university's director of admissions. "We know these students will have unique needs and educational situations, so our staff is personally reaching out to each applicant who lists Vista College as their previous institution, and discussing their situation one on one."

It's not clear how many Vista students have contacted the university this week, but the switchboard received eight such calls on Wednesday morning alone, said Lee Krehbiel, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment.

Vista College is not regionally accredited, so its students' credits will not transfer directly to the university. But university staff are seeking alternatives to help students earn prior learning credit through course equivalency tests like College Level Examination Program tests, according to the release.

Displaced students may have some recourse financially as well if they have specific federal benefits or loans, the release stated, citing financial aid service websites and . The university does not make those decisions, Krehbiel said.


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