The legislation, which passed the House Friday and the Senate in May, is a response to the abrupt closure of the Sawyer School in December, which left close to 300 students without access to their prepaid tuition money or academic records. The private, for-profit postsecondary school had two locations in Rhode Island, in Pawtucket and Providence, both of which are now shuttered.
Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) and Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence) sponsored the legislation.
People cannot afford to make this type of significant investment of their money, time and hard work, and then lose it all when a school goes out of business. Its unacceptable for any school to leave them high and dry. At a minimum they are obligated to give people their money back for any classes they wont be taking, and to give them the records they need to finish their education at another school, said Senator Crowley.
Under the bill (2013-S0062A, 2013-H 6289A) private academies, colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education will be required to notify students, anyone who has paid tuition, and the Board of Education of their closure 30 days in advance. This closure plan must include a procedure for students to be duly refunded any prepaid tuition and deposits, as well as given access to their academic records.
Said Representative Williams, Many students, probably the majority, struggle to scrape together the funding they need to get a higher education. Its unconscionable that a for-profit school would close up shop with their money and leave them with nothing to show for the work they put in. For a lot of students, that could be enough to sink their education, because starting over is just too expensive. We simply cannot allow a private company to do this to students.
In Connecticut, where the Sawyer School also closed multiple locations, a similar law was invoked to protect the students that were affected. The sponsors believe their bill will provide the same protections for Rhode Island students, and empowers the Board of Education to stand up for students in any future case of a sudden closure.
The legislation will be forwarded to the governor.