Baltimore students ‘stuck in limbo’ after Stratford University abruptly closes

Published on: September 29, 2022 9:00 AM EDT|Updated on: September 29, 2022 5:56 PM EDT

The Baltimore campus of Stratford University. The for-profit university closed its doors, leaving students uncertain for their academic futures.
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Mara Smelkinson had just three courses left before she could graduate from Stratford University with her associate degree in pastry arts, her life’s passion. “I would be the first one to get a degree out of my immediate family, so it meant a lot to me to finish,” said the 28-year-old Towson resident.

But Smelkinson and other students at Stratford University’s Baltimore campus learned Friday that the school was closing for good. “We’re all devastated, especially people like me that only had a couple classes left,” she said.

In a statement posted to the school’s website, school president Richard Shurtz blamed the closure on a “set of unfortunate circumstances,” including a decision by the U.S. Department of Education.

In August, the department revoked the accreditation authority of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an agency that certified for-profit schools, including Stratford University as well as the now-closed ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges.

The federal government offered an 18-month timeline to Stratford University and other schools certified by the council to allow them to get accreditation elsewhere. In the interim, Shurtz wrote in his statement, the rules barred those schools from accepting new students, which meant the school lacked enough money to stay afloat.

A DOE spokesman did not immediately provide a comment to The Baltimore Banner.

It was not immediately clear how many students were attending Stratford University’s Baltimore campus at the time it shut down. The school also has locations in Virginia and one in India.

The school’s Baltimore campus was located at 210 S. Central Ave., just bordering Little Italy. No one answered the door at the main entrance Wednesday. The property owner is listed as FEG CENTRAL APARTMENTS LLC in online records.

The closure comes on the heels of years of uncertainty for the institution. Stratford University was formerly Baltimore International College, which taught cooking and hospitality management. The two institutions merged in 2011 after BIC nearly lost its accreditation.

Though she was aware that the school was having problems, Smelkinson said she had previously been told she would have until next year to complete her degree.

Like Smilkenson, 38-year-old Sakia Spriggs also would have been the first in her immediate family to get a degree — a lifelong goal for the East Baltimore resident. Spriggs studied advanced baking and pastries, which helped her improve her skills operating a bakery at home, Sweet Treats by Kia.

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She completed all the coursework required to graduate from Stratford University in May, but still hasn’t received her certificate or had a graduation ceremony.

The school’s closure, she said, “takes the joy out” of her achievements. She wants to celebrate with family and friends, but feels like she can’t.

Spriggs has friends who were just one or two credits shy of completing their degree and now feel “stuck in limbo.”

“It’s a very frustrating situation that Stratford University could have handled a lot better,” she said.

Meanwhile, Smelkinson says she is weighing her options. The federal government can discharge the loans of borrowers whose schools shut down while they are enrolled, but not if their credits transfer to a new school.

Whatever it takes, Smelkinson said, “I am going to finish.”

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