Judge suspends HCI ban
The Harrison Career Institute headquarters on Evesham Road in Voorhees has been put up for sale since the trouble began.
WHERE TO CALL
Students with questions about Harrison Career Institute may call the New Jersey Department of Education at (609) 984-5262.
Thursday, October 6, 2005
By LEDYARD KING
A vocational-technical school with campuses in New Jersey and Delaware can once again accept students on federal financial aid while it tries to clear itself of fraud allegations, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
An official with Voorhees-based Harrison Career Institute Inc. said the post-secondary school operated by Harrison Commisso would begin actively enrolling students now that it has won a temporary reprieve.
Formed in 1979, HCI operates 14 campuses in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland. About 1,800 students are enrolled in the private technical school, which offers programs for health and business careers. The New Jersey campuses are in Delran, Deptford, Oakhurst, Vineland, South Orange, Clifton, Ewing and Jersey City.
Fred Fitchett, the school's director of compliance, said the U.S. Department of Education's action last month to bar HCI from participating in federal aid programs has been a significant blow because about 80 percent of the 4,000 students who attend every year receive some federal aid.
Judge Ernest C. Canellos, who presides over government cases involving higher education institutions, ruled the school could start enrolling federal aid students after it agreed to hire an independent firm to process and manage applications from students on the Internet.
Canellos said he was satisfied the company -- Weber & Associates of Greenville, S.C -- would ensure against the falsification of student records. Education Department investigators allege the school has intentionally understated students' income or overstated their number of dependents to inflate the amount of federal aid flowing to the school -- charges school officials vigorously reject.
"The agreement (between HCI and the government) appears to soothe all my concerns," the judge said.
The agency charges that HCI officials:
Improperly enrolled students by having school employees or their relatives administer academic entrance exams that are supposed to be given by an independent tester.
Failed to refund the federal government money by fabricating student attendance records to show they were still attending even though they had left. School officials Wednesday said they would hire a certified public accountant to check attendance and enrollment records.
Violated contracts with students by failing to provide professional externships to students, as promised in their enrollment agreements.
A full trial on the case has yet to be scheduled.
Fitchett called the government's charges "a lot of supposition that is not supported by the facts," and said the judge's ruling Wednesday is evidence that the case against HCI is weak.
But Renee Reeves, 41, of Port Norris in Cumberland County, thinks the school cheated her out of an education.
It was bad enough that she felt she didn't get much computer technology instruction during her eight months at the Vineland campus because the school was disorganized and the teacher was lackadaisical and sometimes absent. But she's especially upset that she got stuck with $7,800 in loans after she said she was told half of it would be covered through grants.
"To find out I'm paying nearly $8,000 on this," she said. "That really sucker punched me."
Franklinville, New Jersey
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