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Stone Academy made 'very bad business decisions,' CT education official says

FILE: The Office of Higher Education Executive Director, Tim Larson
CT Senate Democrats
FILE: Tim Larson is the executive director of the Connecticut Office of Higher Education.

Imagine paying money and spending time studying to become a nurse — only to find out that your school is closing before you get the degree and that a lot of your class credits won’t count.

That’s the situation nearly 900 students at the for-profit Stone Academy find themselves in.

The abrupt closure on Feb. 15 of three Stone Academy campuses in Connecticut has prompted Attorney General William Tong to launch an investigation into the nursing school.

The state Office of Higher Education (OHE) is taking control of student records at Stone Academy. The office has been evaluating the transcripts of all students affected by Stone Academy’s closure to help those students move forward, said Timothy Larson, executive director of the Office of Higher Education.

“When we did our evaluation, it was determined that about 20% of the faculty was not trained appropriately to teach these courses,” Larson said. “And several of the students were involved in what we would refer to as an invalid clinical experience, which was done on campus, not at a medical facility.”

Larson said the OHE is working with an auditor to get verified transcripts to Stone Academy students “so that they will know what coursework has been bona fide and they’ll know what clinical hours were actual.” He said students could then take that transcript and move to another school or decide that they want a tuition refund.

Connecticut Public has reached out to Stone Academy, but officials haven’t responded to requests for comment. In a statement on its website, Stone Academy said that it had to “make the incredibly difficult decision” to close campus operations in East Hartford, Waterbury and West Haven and that it has connected with academic institutions to “provide opportunities for students looking to continue their studies."

Tong said in late February that his investigation will focus on whether Stone Academy’s practices may have potentially violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. He said Stone’s pass rate was “unacceptably low,” while some faculty members were not qualified to teach and students wasted hours in invalid clinical training."

Larson said Stone Academy made bad business decisions in the face of COVID-related pressures on all training schools for licensed practical nurses.

“COVID hit. Schools were undone, and the clinical sites that LPNs needed to go to were closed,” Larson said. “Nursing type homes or thereabouts were not available, and some of these schools took it upon themselves to keep on enrolling even though clinical sites were not available. And then staffing levels at these schools became a problem.”

As to whether state officials — including the OHE — could have done more to keep students from enrolling in Stone Academy once they were suspected of violations, Larson said he didn’t think so.

“We did everything by the book according to our regulations,” he said.

To keep future students from being affected in the way Stone Academy students have, Larson had some suggestions.

“I think that what needs to happen is more regulation on these clinical sites and maybe more reporting and clarification on what is an actual clinical site,” Larson said. “And having the appropriate staff be badged so that when a student walks into a classroom, he recognizes a badge of a fully licensed instructor.”

Resources for Stone students

Stone Academy students can access information here.

Connecticut Public's Emily Caminiti contributed to this report.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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