Dear OCAC Students,
Several of your peers have asked me what students can do regarding the closure of your school. After a lot of thought and an attempt to get basic information from the group of potential saviors operating within the college, my best advice is to protect yourself. More specifically:
1) Get a lawyer .
2) Run, NOW, and get that lawyer with experience in “mass torts,” which will allow numerous students to have their concerns addressed together.
3) Seriously, if you don’t get a lawyer now, you might lose money that you’ll be paying back, with interest, for literal decades to come. If you came to OCAC right out of high school, you might be paying back wasted money for longer than you’ve been alive. You need somebody whose sole purpose is to advocate for you, and no matter how much you love your school and your faculty, they cannot advocate exclusively for your cause and at the same time advocate for their own.
There is a group of faculty within OCAC that claims to be working with a former president of the college to save the school. I was contacted by one of OCAC’s department heads, purporting to be part of this group. They have been monitoring Instagram trying, sometimes successfully, to get individuals to remove content that they feel might offend people, such as postings that call out members of the current OCAC board of directors that collectively voted to shut down the school. I asked this person a couple of very basic questions, including how much money is needed to save the school. They refused to comment.
To be clear, the group that might seem best positioned for the sort of rapid fundraising that’s required right now is spending its time trying to police the internet, but will not provide a fund raising goal. If you are counting on these people, you should be absolutely terrified!
Announcing a goal is the most basic information of a capital campaign, it’s what the whole campaign is generally built around. Announcing a goal should be the focus of their communications, not private information. A goal—even if it’s a range—is something to rally around, to let people feel like a massive task is achievable, rather than some amorphous, scary figure that cannot be named.
I think you might really want to examine your faith in a potential savior who wastes time trying to silence the internet, yet doesn’t have a clearly stated monetary goal. Without a fundraising goal, it’s hard to see this as a serious endeavor. A cynical person might feel it is an attempt to use the specter of hope to get a group of students to shut up and move quietly into the night. A more charitable person might consider it a death rattle, a last expression of grief before passing.
There are definitely efforts to save the school, though within the school they won’t say who, if anyone, they are coordinating with. Before you abandon your self interests, you need to ask yourself: What if you lose $10,000 by not speaking up, and then OCAC closes? What if you lose $15,000 and OCAC continues to operate, but not as a degree granting institution? What if you lose $20,000 and OCAC continues, but only after a hiatus during which you’ve already graduated from another program? What is you lose $25,000? I think students are under the impression that if they don’t make waves, the school might reopen, as usual, for the fall semester. That seems really, really, really, really unlikely. The only fundraising I can currently verify sits just a few dollars above $3,000, while estimates for saving the school—whatever form that might take—range from $3,000,000-$14,000,000—and the people running the show won’t say what their actual goal might be. Even with that money, the school still isn’t meeting expenses, so it’ll be donor dependent for any foreseeable future. They’ve already been losing top candidates in job searches because their teacher pay is so low, and they offer no job security. There isn’t a lot of cost cutting to be done there. Any major donors who sign on will have to be in for a pound, which makes the effort that much harder. They pretty much need a whole raft of unicorns. Maybe it can be done, but if you don’t protect yourself, you’re betting a hell of a lot of money on an absolute long shot.
After the school closes, its assets will be liquidated creating a pool of money with which to pay off debts. As I understand it, there is a legally specified order in which people will be paid, and once the money runs out, it’s over. With proper advocacy, students might be able to mitigate their financial losses. (Faculty will probably want severance pay that they may or may not be contractually entitled to, so there is every likelihood that the financial interests of faculty and students will conflict.) It is vitally important for you to have an advocate working for you to preserve your rights as soon as possible.
Once the school closes, there will likely be what’s referred to as a “teach out.” Another school or schools will take on OCAC students. You can choose whether or not to attend. The new schools will look at your transcripts and decide which of your completed units fit their program. If you are 30 units from graduation right now, you will probably not remain 30 units from graduation at your new school. At possibly more than $1,500 a unit, this is where your losses will begin adding up. If you decide to move to PNCA, their tuition is $6,000 a year more, so for an OCAC freshman that alone is an $18,000 loss. If your major is wood or ceramics, you might get recommended to a sculpture program that deals more with found objects, and if you decide to leave the area to get a truly comparable education, that’s more money you’ve lost. If your plan was to live with your parents to save money, but you now need to move away to meet your educational goals, your losses just get bigger and bigger.
The guidelines from the accreditation agency regarding a “teach out” are not especially helpful. For instance, they say that there wont be any charges greater than previously agreed upon…unless you are notified first. The main promise is that students will be treated equitably, but what seems fair to a college administration might not look anything like fairness to you.
Something that a lawyer probably wont be able to help you with, but which offers a glimmer of financial hope is that the Department of Education will cancel certain types of federal loans if your school closes. But only if your application is approved, and only if you do not transfer your OCAC units elsewhere. For some of you, there is a possibility of a clean slate. If you’ve changed majors or transferred colleges, it’s more complicated. If you have private loans, you might be stuck with them. You likely have several different types of loans, and if you don’t know, you are going to need to investigate that. Right now, you should be trying to strategize what is going to be best for you, both financially and educationally. Below is a link to the DOE, call them as much as you feel you need to. Ask questions. Find out what the process is for loan cancellation, and if that’s the most attractive route find out how to preserve your rights BEFORE you make ANY decisions. (It’s shocking that this information wasn’t provided by OCAC.)
Anybody who tries to make you feel bad about looking out for yourself, and there will be plenty who do, neither understand nor care what an enormous shit storm got dumped on you, and they’ve most certainly never looked at your situation through the lens of student debt. If OCAC can be saved as a degree granting institution, thats great, but as of this moment, it’s closing and anything said to the contrary is just wishful thinking. You need to prepare accordingly. If you don’t look out for yourself you’ll be paying for it, with monthly checks, for decades to come.
About student loan cancellation:
What a teach out means to the accreditation agency: