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School's closing shocks students


Lisa Adams has worked at a number of jobs, from fast-food restaurant cashier to department store clerk. But the 19-year-old wanted more. She wanted a career.

The Fort Meade resident thought she would get that as an executive secretary. A Baltimore law firm had all but assured her of an entry-level position as an executive secretary, she said, with the stipulation that she complete training at a business school.

Yesterday, she saw her chance at the promised job slip away when the Yorktowne Business Institute in Glen Burnie closed its doors with no warning to its 150 students.

"I feel like I'm back where I started," Adams said. "I have the skills, but no certificate. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Elizabeth Wellman, vice president for Fisher Educational System, the Nashville, Tenn., company which owns Yorktowne, said the company decided to close the school Wednesday night. Students will be given refunds, she said, or allowed to transfer to a school run by the company in Prince George's County.

"It was a business decision," Wellman said. "I can't really go into specifics, but the company had to decide whether or not to continue or cease operations. They decided to cease operations."

Shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday, when Adams arrived at the school on Aquahart Road, she and fellow students and teachers learned that the school was closing immediately.

"I was shocked," Adams said, who often attended class with her 5-month-old son, Kevin, in tow. "I wanted to punch a wall. I went into another classroom with Kevin and just cried. I just held him and cried.

"It was all I had. I loved going to that school. It was a way for me to learn, but it was also a chance for me to get away from all my daily problems," she added.

Adams and her son live in transitional housing at Sarah's House, a women's shelter on the grounds of Fort Meade in western Anne Arundel County. Housing is available for up to 18 months with periodic six-month reviews. Adams' review is coming up this month.

"I don't know what's going to happen," she said. "Part of the requirements is that I do something, that I work. I refuse to go back to fast food, but I have to do something."

Students were not the only ones caught off guard.

Michelle Brown, who taught software-application courses, found out about the school's closing yesterday, too. Brown said she is not bitter, but wishes teachers and students had received more notice.

"A lot of these students were set to graduate in February," Brown said. "They've been told they can attend the Landover school, but who has the transportation?"

Wellman said the school is setting up appointments with the students next week to offer them an opportunity to attend Yorktowne's school in Landover.

But Adams said transferring to the Landover school, 30 miles away, is not a viable option for her or many other students.

Brown, who also taught at the PSI Institute of Baltimore, a computer trade school, said she will not go back into teaching at business schools. "It's too unstable," she said.

Jeff Welsh, a spokesman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, which regulates the state's private career schools, said about 30 private career schools, from auto mechanics to real estate, closed in Maryland during 1990.

"There are 175 to 180 of these schools in Maryland," Welsh said. "It's not unusual for two dozen of them to close in a year."

Welsh said many of the schools disappear, leaving the students without their training or a refund. The commission is trying to rectify that problem by introducing legislation before the General Assembly this week that would allow greater scrutiny of the finances of the private career schools, Welsh said.

Wellman said the company is not bankrupt, and all students will be eligible for full refunds.

"They told us we'd get a full refund, but that's not going to do anything for me," Adams said. "That money will go to the bank where I got my student loan. There's no compensation for me.

"I feel like I just wasted the last four months. I couldn't get any better job now than I could four months ago," she said.

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