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Embattled Bridgeport for-profit college defends record amid state lawsuit

The exterior of Paier College in Bridgeport, Connecticut on May 30, 2024. The for-profit school is facing a state lawsuit over its connections to Stone Academy, another for profit school which closed down amid allegations of unfair and deceptive trade practices. The school has pushed back on the claims.
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
The exterior of Paier College in Bridgeport, Connecticut on May 30, 2024. The for-profit school is facing a state lawsuit over its connections to Stone Academy, another for profit school which closed down amid allegations of unfair and deceptive trade practices. The school has pushed back on the claims.

Jennifer Williams, the new president of for-profit Paier College in Bridgeport, says the school isn’t being treated equitably even as it faces a state lawsuit over alleged unfair and deceptive trade practices, previous reports about the lack of instructors, and questions about its accreditation status.

“We are fully staffed for the fall,” Williams said.

Williams began her new role in June, weeks after Hearst Connecticut Media initially reported the school lacked instructors for the fall. Williams said the school has now made efforts to improve its curriculum and pushed back on various recent criticisms of the school .

But while Williams defended the school, one parent’s experiences transferring his son out of Paier, largely line up with criticisms of for-profit schools borne out by academic research into quality of instruction and student outcomes, both of which have previously been scrutinized at Paier College.

Joseph Bierbaum, Paier’s owner, also owned the now defunct Stone Academy, which is currently facing a state lawsuitover defrauding students. State Attorney General William Tong’s office said an investigation into Paier College is ongoing.

Williams explained the lack of instructors was for the summer semester, as the school readied itself for new leadership as a result of an impending sale, which Williams declined to go into further detail.

“The contracts were revamped, and the contracts were being rewritten, and all faculty that we expect to come back were sent new contracts over the last two days,” Williams said. “That was always the plan.”

Williams also defended the school, including against the ongoing lawsuit filed last year by the state. According to Williams, employees at the school were accused of aiding Bierbaum in what the state attorney general’s office called unfair and deceptive trade practices.

The school’s accreditation warning, she said, is being worked out.

Williams said the accreditation warnings are mostly over minor items of concern, such as verifying course catalogs meet accreditation standards, or financial statements.

“These are all just the typical things that go along with verifying and validating information that our accreditor’s requesting, but despite being in warning with the accreditor, we've been approved to be able to sell the school,” Williams said.

But the accreditation warning from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, or the ACCSC, stated in a June 2024 letter to the college, it must prove a commitment to student career outcomes, quality of instruction, financial stability and several other metrics.

Those concerns line up with general criticisms of the for-profit college model over the last decade.

The school has faced scrutiny before. In 2015, the ACCSC issued a warning to Paier, but it was able to get its accreditation renewed. The ACCSC is a national accreditation body focusing on vocational education, such as trade schools. Many if not most reputable colleges and universities are accredited by regional bodies.

For example, The New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) oversees accreditation for colleges from the University of Bridgeport, where Paier College is located, to Yale University.

Paier College is not regionally accredited, which is something Michael Petshaft found out the hard way after his son transferred out of Paier as a result of learning his instructors didn’t get their contracts renewed.

“The University of Hartford would take only so many credits, so that he had to take almost two more years, Petshaft said. “So instead of being a senior next year, he would be a junior.”

Williams said the school is revamping its courses, and listening to student concerns. She blamed media attention for its adverse impact to the school, claiming it impacted student enrollment numbers.

When pressed about student concerns about the quality of education, Williams compared some complaints to restaurant critics.

“If you go and you eat at a restaurant, right, and you rate that restaurant, you say this restaurant's an eight the quality of the food wasn't great,” Williams said. “I may go eat at that same restaurant, and I thought the quality was great, right, that's personal opinion.”

Many for profit schools cater to working class and middle class families. Petshaft attended Emerson College, a well regarded college and he chalked up his trust in Paier partly to his experiences in undergrad, when he assumed his school offered quality education.

Not anymore.

“I thought they were [a] fairly well established school, and I didn't think anything was going to change, and he was having a great time up til this happened, and there's no way to fix it in an emotional way, I mean, except for moving on to another school,” Petshaft said.

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