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'People over profit' | Class action lawsuit filed against Vista College after closure

A lawyer representing the case said nearly 50 former students have joined the lawsuit and there could be more pending.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The fall out continues to grow after Vista College shut its doors without warning to students or staff Monday morning in College Station. But it wasn't just the campus in Brazos County. All locations across the Lone Star State shut its doors.

"Here we go again," said Timothy Ferguson, who is a lawyer with the Ferguson Law Firm in Beaumont. "This is another for-profit school closing its doors with no warning."

The Ferguson Law Firm is representing students in a class action lawsuit filed against several defendants in this case, including Education Futures Group LLC. Other defendants include Education Futures Management Company, Computer Career Center, CEO Jim Tolbert and others.

The College Station location was locked up tight, pieces of paper taped in the windows of the doors simply said "CLOSED."

Kolin Wilkins was five weeks away from graduating from his two year program. He showed up for class, only to find out it was no longer happening, leaving him confused.

Early on in the semester, Wilkins learned the campus was no longer taking on new students to its ground campuses. "They told us from the beginning that if you're already enrolled, if you're already set and everything, you'll be able to graduate no problem," Wilkins said.

Wilkins said he used his GI benefits to pay for his college education. He claimed Vista College got anywhere between $20,000 and $40,000 plus money he spent on materials for classes.

Ferguson said it's not only sad and disheartening for the students, it's frustrating because these things seem to continue to happen.

"It's not just happening in College Station, it's not just happening in Beaumont. It's happening across the country," Ferguson said. "These for-profit schools, that are ran in this manner, time and time again, they put profits over people."

Ferguson said the private equity group who ran Education Futures LLC and did business as Vista College put money over the interests of its students. 

"These students who took out loans, who worked second and third jobs to be able to afford it, all of them had a goal in mind to receive an education - to better themselves," Ferguson said. "In all of these instances, all of them, they got the door slammed in their faces and locked."

Wilkins said he's considering joining the Ferguson Law Firm's class action suit. He said he got a text message from the school telling him it was closed and a phone call from one of his professors, who informed him there were no more classes. "That's the sad part," Wilkins said. "The professors have been phenomenal. They are hard working people, doing their jobs, educating students and just got thrown out."

Wilkins said he wants the CEO to come forward and answer those questions students and staff are asking and for Vista College to come through on the promises it made. Wilkins said he isn't sure what comes next. He said he has a family to support and getting a higher education was an important piece of the puzzle.  

"Think about that," Ferguson said. "Here you are, busting your tail to be able to afford something to better your life, to hopefully get a job or a better job and they shut the doors in your face because they allegedly can't handle their finances."

Ferguson said for-profit schools must meet some federal regulations and accrediting agencies. However, one way to get through the legal system is by filing for bankruptcy. "My understanding is they filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy today (Wednesday) in Delaware." Ferguson said filing for bankruptcy is a legal loophole that for-profit businesses sometimes use to shrug off the responsibility they have to employees and people they serve.

When asked what Ferguson hopes to accomplish for his clients in the lawsuit, he said it's about the business holding itself accountable. "One, take responsibility for what you've done, two, give these students what they paid for as Jim Tolbert promised in August of 2021 and at the very least, refund the students what they're owed."

Back at the College Station campus, a knock at the doors did bring a person to the front. They declined to go on camera and said there was no one in the building who could speak about the campus closure or answer any questions. Messages to the main office have gone unanswered.

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