NORFOLK -- Virginia Beach resident Tia Dunlap was attracted to what Centura College in Norfolk had to offer when she enrolled in the dental assisting program in 2010.
In just two years, she would have an associates’ degree, then hopefully a job and career. But after Dunlap broke her hand, she had to withdraw from the program, although she was only a couple months away from graduating.
After trying to re-enroll, Dunlap found out the degree program didn't exist anymore, she could only earn a certificate.
The school told Dunlap the classes she'd already taken didn't qualify her for a certificate and she would need to pay at least $2,000 for additional courses. Dunlap already owes $19,000 in student loans for classes she has already completed. The entire certificate program costs $15,600.
"It just didn't make any sense to me because I was in school longer than the people who got the certificate. I passed that stage and you still can't give me a certificate as long for as I was there," Dunlap said.
Schools like Virginia Beach-based Centura, which are for-profit colleges, have recently come under fire by the Obama administration. The president is pressuring these schools to improve graduation rates and job placement numbers, plus lower loan default rates.
According to the Department of Education, in 2010, the loan default rate at Centura was 32 percent. By comparison, the rates at public institutions like Old Dominion University was 6.5 percent and Norfolk State was 18.1 percent.
Centura's regional director, Dr. Joel English, described Centura as a career school that focuses on skills, training and employment in a six-page email to 13News Now.
"Rather than focusing on a traditional four year college experience - the experience of being a college student - we focus on what happens after college - the job that a student will be able to pursue after graduation," English wrote.
As for default rates, English said, "It is common for career schools to feature higher cohort default rates than traditional universities because of the populations we serve. In a career school, when it is common for single parents and working adults to be putting themselves through school, it is more common for those students to unfortunately not be able to single-handedly keep current on their student loan payments."
English said the school provides financial counseling.
The dental assisting associates degree program was dropped in the fall of 2012 because the college wanted a cheaper and shorter curriculum that focused on teaching the skills needed to find employment.
English said 78 percent of their graduates find work.
The degree program required 25 percent of the program to include courses not related to dentistry.
A close look at Dunlap's transcript shows classes including dental materials and lab techniques, and dental pharmacology- not math, English or psychology.
Dunlap said she can't afford to take thousands of dollars in new courses or retake others now that the credit hours have changed.
"I was only a couple months from finishing," Dunlap said.
English does not feel Dunlap's case is a good example of why President Obama has criticism for "for-profit" colleges. He sees her situation as an unfortunate set of circumstances in which a student simply did not complete a program.
"I am proud of how we have handled this student, and we have gone beyond the call of duty to help her re-enter the program," English said.
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