Vista College recently became the subject of critical news reports by KCBD TV, the NBC affiliate in Lubbock, Texas. A small group of Vista College students and one former Vista College instructor, took complaints to KCBD, which resulted in the coverage.
The Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects student records and, as a result, prevents Vista College from publicly responding directly to the students’ specific circumstances. That said, the institution strongly maintains the integrity of its education programs and its commitment to putting its students first. Law and regulation surrounding the administration of federal student aid and related issues is complex and, as a result, poses the possibility of misunderstanding by those not well versed in programmatic details.
This Q&A addresses a series of general issues raised by the KCBD report, putting them into the context of what the law requires, accrediting agency rules mandate, and the standards that Vista College imposes on itself.
When does Vista College collect tuition? Do tuition amounts change during the year?
As is common with other institutions of higher learning, course tuition payment is due at the time the student begins class. If a student withdraws prior to beginning class, the charge is reversed. In addition, Cosmetology students that retake a failed class have not been charged to make up the hours associated with that class.
Vista College does not change tuition amounts for programs or classes during the school year. In fact, Vista College has not had a tuition increase since January 2011. Students who enroll with Vista College and graduate within the expected timeframe of the program do not incur charges in excess of the published amount.
To minimize the potential for misunderstandings related to financial aid matters, students should only discuss their account balances with financial aid officers.
Does Vista College Set Financial Aid Amounts Provided to Students or Charge Hidden Fees?
The amount of federal loans and grants each student receives is determined by the Department of Education, not Vista College.
Every student signs a statement that reads, “Eligibility for Financial Aid is determined for each individual student by his or her application for federal student aid and federal regulation. I have not been guaranteed any award or any particular amount of award of Financial Aid by the College.”
Each student’s Financial Aid Package is based upon the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is calculated when the student completes the FAFSA application. Award letters to students clearly state the aid funds expected are “estimated” as the package may change upon further information provided to the Department of Education. As a result, the amount of aid indicated in an award letter may differ from the amount of aid to which the student is ultimately eligible.
Vista College does not have hidden, unnecessary or unwarranted fees in its pricing to students. While the DoE includes items such as “Room and Board” in their calculation of the EFC and these items are listed on the award letter, Vista College does not charge its students for services not provided.
Is Vista College accredited?
Vista College is accredited by the Council on Occupational Education (COE). Accreditation involves a rigorous process of internal and external review, including accrediting team visits to each of Vista’s seven ground campuses. Accreditation assures that postsecondary institutions adhere to their educational mission and achieve a standard of quality across all major facets of school operations.
Can course credits earned at Vista College be transfer to other institutions?
Unfortunately, credit transfer recognition is a challenge for every student, regardless of the college involved. Vista College is a nationally accredited institution. Some regionally accredited institutions will reject the credits of nationally accredited institutions (regionally accredited institutions also will frequently reject the credits of other regionally accredited schools—even those from the same state public university systems).
Even though postsecondary institutions have been advised by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) not to base recognition of credit transfer decisions solely on the source of accreditation of the sending program or school, the practice continues. Career college programs such as those offered by Vista College must be considered in this light. For many career college students, the certificate or degree they earn is a “terminal” credential, preparing them for work in a given career field but not used to pursue more advanced degrees at regionally accredited schools. Many nationally accredited institutions do offer higher level degree programs and articulation agreements facilitating credit transfer have been established between these schools.
Because the issue is difficult and potentially confusing, Vista College requires students to sign a form acknowledging that credits may not transfer. The form states: “Policies and decisions concerning the acceptance of transfer credits by other institutions are varied and are at the sole discretion of the receiving institution. I assume the credit(s) I earn at the College will not be transferable to any other college or university. I acknowledge that no one at the college has represented that credits earned at Vista College or Computer Career Center a Division of Vista College will be transferable.”
While colleges and universities should carefully consider credit transfer requests following a review of programs and courses rather than engage in blanket rejections, students should weigh their college plans, determine the importance of follow on education to a total career plan, and understand alternatives for subsequent postsecondary education should it be part of the plan.
Does every student receive a catalog and course syllabus?
Yes. Students receive a catalog and sign a statement stating they received a catalog on the day they sign up for class, which is placed in their student file.
Are Vista College grades fairly reported?
Vista College grades are fairly reported and recorded. Even students dropping out will receive grades on assignments and tests completed prior to withdrawal. Students requesting official transcripts, however, must be current in payment of tuition and fees, a standard practice at many colleges and universities.
Does Vista College intentionally misreport or misrepresent student hours in class or ignore students not making satisfactory academic performance?
Just the opposite is true. Some students, such as those in cosmetology, are enrolled in “clock-hour programs.” Clock hour programs require students to obtain a certain number of hours to complete the program. Although working adults with many other obligations enroll in these programs, Vista College expects clock hour students to attend classes regularly and takes proactive steps to encourage attendance. Like any other academic situation, when students fail to attend or prepare for classes, they may fall behind and experience trouble in completing and passing courses. Students not achieving satisfactory academic performance or failing to meet time in class requirements are extensively counseled, corrective actions identified and remedial education is offered.
State law governs the reporting of student hours. Per Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) requirements, every hour the student punches is reported to the state through its own electronic tracking system. Hours are posted to the state on a monthly basis, after they have been achieved. Hours are not posted as they are earned during the month. The discrepancy between when hours are earned during the month and the actual posting of hours at the end of the month may cause some students unfamiliar with the process to believe their hours have been under reported. This is not the case.
In terms of communicating academic progress to students, classes at Vista College end on a Thursday, and the next class begins the following Monday. Grades are posted the Friday after the class is completed and report cards are distributed on the first and second day of the next class cycle. Students who fail a class are communicated with the Friday after the class is completed. In addition, midterm advising occurs for all students to review their academic status and they are advised on how to successfully complete the course.
If a student did not receive a passing grade for a class, the class and the hours associated with that class must be repeated. Vista College does not charge students additional tuition to repeat classes.
Did TDLR Find Reporting Hour Violations at Vista College?
Yes. While any violation of state regulations is taken with utmost seriousness, the infractions were limited in their scope and impact. In no way did the violations harm students or their interests or prospects. TDLR inspections are not pass or fail and they occur twice a year, regardless of the institution. Vista College took corrective action to eliminate the concern, which sprung from a clerical error. No postsecondary institution, regardless of type, is perfect or operates in a flawless manner and expecting perfection sets an unrealistic standard.
Has Vista College unlawfully dropped students from its programs?
No. On the contrary, Vista College has gone above and beyond to prevent students from dropping out and to encourage them to attend their classes. Vista College does this because it is committed to its students and their success. Vista College also does this because the success of the institution is tied to the success of its students. As a practical matter, Vista College spends money to recruit students and loses money when students fail to complete their programs. Vista College, like every postsecondary institution, benefits from word of mouth referrals and the reputation it builds in the communities in which it operates. Dropouts do nothing to improve reputation or word of mouth student referrals. Finally, Vista College must meet a high standard for student graduation in order to retain its accreditation status. Dropouts detract from the institution’s graduation rate and, as a result, undermine its status as an accredited institution.
Does Vista College disburse student aid funds in a timely manner?
Yes. Vista College fully complies with Department of Education regulations for the disbursement of aid. Those regulations state that aid should be disbursed at set milestones as the student progresses through an academic program. Because clock hour student hours are credited by state law at the end of each month, financial aid disbursement does not take place until the end of the month. Financial aid awards often exceed the cost of tuition and academic program fees, providing funds to cover living expenses. Unfortunately, for some students, financial aid amounts in excess of tuition become an important source of money to fund non-school related purchases, particularly before the holiday season, setting the stage for problems. Like many institutions, Vista College believes that the Department of Education should help students avoid over borrowing and student loan default by tying student lending more closely to school related expenses.
Are students who switch from on-ground to online classes at Vista College forced to repeat courses or charged additional tuition?
No, Vista College students taking online programs are not forced to repeat courses or to pay additional tuition.
Although Vista College owns and operates several campuses throughout Texas, New Mexico and Online, each location is licensed as its own entity. Therefore transfer from one campus to another is not permissible. Students must withdraw from one campus to enroll in another.
The on-ground schools do have an approved consortium agreement with our online school that allows students to take certain classes online if the student has dropped and wants to return to class before the next scheduled on ground class. In this case, the online program allows students to resume their academic programs in a convenient and flexible manner. This option is limited to Business Administration, Medical Information Systems and Networking Administration programs.
Are Vista College Cosmetology Instructors Qualified to Teach?
Absolutely. All Vista College cosmetology instructors are licensed by TDLR. The State determines qualifications, which include a written and practical examination. By awarding them licensure, the state has determined they are qualified to instruct. Unfortunately, not every employment situation constitutes a good fit between employer and employee. The views of a single disgruntled employee, while regrettable, do not represent the views of Vista College employees overall nor should such views be accepted as representing an accurate or objective view of the education provided by the institution.
Does Vista College have high staff turnover?
While Vista College does not have high staff turnover across its eight campus system, there has been a level of turnover at the Lubbock campus that senior management considers too high. Vista College has installed new leadership at the school in Lubbock and is monitoring performance there carefully. Students and staff not receiving satisfaction in attempts to communicate at the campus level are encouraged to contact Vista College Chief Operating Officer Alan Clay at the corporate office in Richardson, Texas.
Does Vista College allow applicants to repeat entrance exams or admit students it suspects will dropout?
Vista College is an open enrollment institution. Students must pass an entrance examination to demonstrate an ability to perform college work, but acceptance to an open enrollment program is intended to allow most individuals with basic skills and strong motivation to achieve a postsecondary education. Most of Vista College students are non-traditional students. This means that they do not attend Vista College immediately after graduating from high school. Many non-traditional students simply do not have the high school records or test scores that would gain them admission to academically selective colleges and universities. Open admissions schools like Vista College are, therefore, an important portal to education for those in need of additional options. That said, students who have been away from an academic setting—possibly for many years–may need more than one opportunity to pass the Vista College admissions examination. Vista College encourages those unable to pass on the initial attempt not to lose motivation but rather to study, return and repeat the test at a future date.
As far as admitting unprepared or ill-equipped students, such a practice would damage Vista College reputation, create an unsatisfactory learning environment for other students, diminish word of mouth referrals to the school, and lower its graduation rate, thereby placing its status as an accredited institution at risk. While Vista College cannot guarantee the success of every student, it works hard to assure that every student it admits is given the combination of services and supports he or she needs to be successful.
Do Vista College Cosmetology program completers pass their licensing exams at acceptable rates?
Yes. For the 2012, Vista College Cosmetology graduates achieved a 100% pass rate on the TDLR licensure practical exams, a 72.2% pass rate on the written exam and an overall pass rate of 81.1%. Licensure pass rates are the ultimate indicator of educational quality, and Vista College students perform well.
Do Vista College Cosmetology program students know how to cut hair?
A small number of students electing not to attend class on a regular basis will not gain the skills they need to be successful cosmetologists. Fortunately, most students are committed to their education and career choice, do attend class regularly, and do gain the skills they need to be successful. Vista College student pass rates on the TDLR licensure exams speak for themselves.
MEDIA RELATED QUESTION
Contact Vista College Media Relations at 972-733-3431
About Vista College
Vista College is owned by Education Futures Group, Richardson, Texas. Education Futures Group operates campuses in Amarillo, Beaumont, El Paso, Killeen, Lubbock, and Longview, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico as well as Online. The schools operate programs in allied health, dental assisting, business administration, business management, information technology, executive assisting, cosmetology, veterinary technology, paralegal, criminal justice, HVAC, and electrical with degree and certificate programs.