One College Closes, and Students Scurry to Find Another That They Can Afford

The email from ASA College arrived last November, with the innocuous subject line, “Notification Regarding the Accreditation Status.”


Siriporn Rosenfeld, 31, a computer-programming student at ASA, opened it and read the introduction: “Dear student: ASA takes its commitments to you very seriously. That’s why I want to share an important update about our college with you.”


The “important update” was an explosive piece of news: ASA lost its accreditation after the accreditation agency found that the college had fallen short on many levels, including being “evasive” in its responses to requested information for a monitoring report and failing to make payroll. The school closed three months after that email went out.


Rosenfeld had been studying at ASA since the fall of 2021, five years after moving to the U.S. from Thailand. She had been working as an au pair, but wanted a better-paying job. “It was an accredited school. So I thought it was a good school,” she said.


Tuition wasn’t cheap. She estimates that she paid around $12,000 in tuition for two years at ASA, even after getting a 50 percent scholarship.


Even before she got the accreditation news, Rosenfeld had become disillusioned with ASA. “Most of the teachers couldn’t answer my questions,” she said. Once, she got stuck on a programming assignment. 


“My professor just told me to delete the old project and start again, or to look it up on Google. He either didn’t care to fix it, or didn’t know how,” Rosenfeld said. 


At the time of closure, more than 3,000 students were enrolled in ASA’s three campuses, one in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan and one in Hialeah, Fla., near Miami, according to the school.


ASA had been in trouble for years. It was sued for deceptive recruitment by multiple  students in 2014, and was forced to halt many of its ads, which misrepresented the college’s post-graduation job placement rates, among other things. In 2019, Alex Shchegol, the school’s founder and president, was ousted after accusations of sexual misconduct, including rape, by at least 10 female students and employees, according to The Daily News. The school eventually paid around $2 million in settlements.


In October 2021, Shchegol put himself back in charge by leveraging his power as ASA’s owner to gain control of the board of directors. After a warning from the accreditor over whether ASA’s governing body had “sufficient independence” and whether ASA was meeting the accreditor’s standards of “ethics and integrity,” the accreditation agency put the school on probation, and Shchegol resigned.


(A Columbia News Service reporter spoke briefly to Shchegol in mid-September. He asked to be emailed a list of questions and agreed to speak the next day. After the questions were sent, he stopped responding to calls and texts.)


Last year, the U.S. Department of Education restricted ASA students’ access to financial aid, which amounted to almost two-thirds of its revenue the year before. ASA was also fined $112,500 by the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for running misleading ads. For example, it promised students they’d receive thousands of dollars in gifts upon graduation, which were actually scholarships with many conditions and restrictions.


The accreditation revocation, by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, became effective March 1. The agency would not provide specific documents as to why, citing confidentiality. However, in a statement, it stated that ASA failed to demonstrate “that it can sustain itself in the short or long term” and “that it can provide a quality student learning experience.”


Now, six months after ASA closed, students are still struggling to adjust.


Faysal Mahamud, 24, who came to the U.S. more than a year ago from Bangladesh, is now pursuing his computer science degree at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).


He transferred in January, several weeks before ASA closed. He wanted to get out as quickly as possible after he read the email warning about accreditation.


But he found that his new college won’t accept all of his old ASA credits. “Half of my credits went to waste,” he explained. “Now I’m spending money and time on an extra year,” which costs him $9,000 at BMCC.


A former international student from Colombia applied to ASA for a clear reason. “I arrived here with a tourist visa and decided I wanted to stay and get a legal status. ASA helped me with the paperwork,” said the student, who requested anonymity over concerns about his immigration status.


People who enter on a student visa must stay enrolled to maintain their full-time student – and legal – status. So when the school closed, international students were worried and hurried to enroll elsewhere.


“The university that ASA advisors suggested I’d go to, had higher tuition fees and didn’t have my degree program,” he explains. “They offered cybersecurity instead of computer science. So I’d have to start all over again, even though I only had one semester left.”


He couldn’t afford that, and decided to not enroll in a new college. By doing so, he lost his student status and couldn’t graduate. In the meantime, he got married and is applying for a green card. 


As for Rosenfeld, the Thai student studying computer programming, she graduated in January, just before ASA closed. She says that she has applied to more than 100 jobs since, but hasn’t had any luck.


She thinks the school’s reputation might be one reason. “I do blame the school a bit. Maybe it is the bad name of the college that is affecting it,” Rosenfeld said. 


She was filling out a job form recently, and got a shock when she came to the “prior education” page. “I typed in ASA college, and it didn’t come up. But even my school from Thailand did. So I had to fill out ‘other.’ It felt embarrassing,” Rosenfeld said. 


If Rosenfeld doesn’t find a job, she is considering starting over again at CUNY, “so I have a good diploma… I spent around $12,000 at ASA already, and this would be two more years of tuition.”


She also feels robbed of a proper graduation. “I came to a different country and got a degree. I would have loved to show my parents what I achieved and how hard I worked.” Instead, Rosenfeld said, “I got a piece of paper in a plastic bag and walked out of the building alone. And my college doesn’t even exist anymore.”

About the author(s)

Carli Kooijman is an investigative journalism fellow at Columbia Journalism School. She currently focuses on job training.