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Dad was thrilled to get into college, then he learned it was a mistake

Getting accepted to the University of Kentucky this spring was a transformative moment for Myron Guthrie, 45, an entrepreneur and father of three.

Having grown up outside Washington, D.C., Guthrie credited school with keeping him out of trouble as a teen and propelling him forward professionally.

“To be accepted to UK and it not be an online school, I got people back home jumping for joy,” Guthrie said. “I had people in Tennessee at my church rooting for me.”

That elated feeling was dashed in late August after Guthrie had spent about $2,000 to uproot his life and video production business in Tennessee and move to Lexington.

In a series of meetings starting on Aug. 26, two days after the start of the fall semester, Guthrie was told that his admission into UK’s post-baccalaureate program was an error. The program, which doesn’t award a degree itself, is intended to help a student with an undergraduate degree from a fully accredited institution transition to a graduate or professional school.

Guthrie was told that the course credits he spent about $100,000 earning from Sanford-Brown, a for-profit college system that has been gradually closing its 23 campuses since 2012, would not be accepted at UK because Sanford-Brown didn’t meet UK’s accreditation standards.

It was the first error of this magnitude at UK’s graduate school, senior assistant dean Patricia Bond said.

“In short, a mistake happened. I would be remiss if I didn’t express it in just that fashion,” Bond said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen here. In my career of 20 years, it’s never happened. … This is a very regrettable situation. We don’t take it lightly that it occurred.”

Guthrie’s admission to UK was human error, Bond said. The mistake was caught at the beginning of the fall semester, after Guthrie’s post-baccalaureate start date was moved back from the summer. Bond wouldn’t name the graduate admissions officer responsible for reviewing Guthrie’s application in April.

Even though Guthrie’s experience at UK is unprecedented, the jarring revelations he has since had about his for-profit school is collectively shared by thousands of students, particularly those from the now defunct and disgraced ITT Technical Institute in Lexington.

Learning the importance of education

Guthrie and his four siblings were raised by their father, a Vietnam veteran, in the Del Ray neighborhood outside Alexandria, Va. The importance of education was always emphasized with a military touch, Guthrie said. He was a member of the Young Astronauts Club at George Washington Junior High School in Alexandria.

“Being in that school system, our teachers were in the community; we had the type of teachers who would go to football games if … parents couldn’t make it,” Guthrie said. “I wanted to return to education because of the teachers I had; who supported me not just as a student but as a person.”

Guthrie dropped out of high school his junior year after his course load was too much to juggle with work. He said he thinks about that decision often but doesn’t regret it.

Guthrie had his first child, Mia, when he was 22. She is now 23, has an associate’s degree and lives in California. He spent most of his 20s and 30s in various jobs. He installed fiber optics for a communications company and worked for his brother’s residential landscaping business in Virginia. He also started a podcast called quedUp Radio in 2007 to discuss current events and unsigned music artists.

One of the most notable jobs Guthrie had was as the production assistant for former Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell.

In 2010, Guthrie applied for a $76,000-a-year production assistant position at the newly opened Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md. He made it to the end of the interview process and was told he wouldn’t get the gig; he needed at least an associate’s degree.

“It made me mad, man,” Guthrie said. “After a couple days of cooling down, I went online and researched colleges based on my industry. I called and explained to them my schedule and that I was a single parent.”

Enrolling in online program

The school that best accommodated Guthrie’s life — his two other children are Gabrielle, 18, who is in community college in California, and Mikaylah, 12, who lives with her mother in Connecticut — was Sanford-Brown. He enrolled in its digital media production program.

Sanford-Brown is a division of Career Education Corp., a publicly traded company headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill. Since the early 2000s, the company has been mired in controversies stemming from its “business practices relating to recruitment of students, graduate placement statistics, graduate certification, and licensing results and student lending activities,” according to a U.S. Senate committee report in 2012.

Students should explore the reputation of the college and its accreditor before they choose a college.

Sue Patrick, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

CEC settled with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in 2013 for $10.25 million. The settlement followed an investigation revealing “that CEC inflated its job placement rates from at least 2009 through spring 2011 and used the inflated placement data to lure prospective students to attend their schools,” the attorney general’s office said in a news release.

CEC announced that it would close 14 Sanford-Brown schools this past summer, wrote Jon Marcus of the Hechinger Report in June. CEC still has 38,200 students enrolled in its colleges, according to a report from the Securities and Exchange Commission in August 2016. Those colleges include American InterContinental University and Colorado Technical University.

Guthrie wasn’t aware of the legal issues CEC faced while he was a student at Sanford-Brown until he graduated in 2015. Guthrie also did not realize — and Sanford-Brown never mentioned to him — the dubious nature of its accreditation.

Sanford-Brown’s online program, in which Guthrie was enrolled, was accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools which also is under heavy federal scrutiny and is at risk of being terminated, Inside Higher Ed reported on June 24.

“ACICS is an accrediting association for technical and occupational schools and therefore is not recognized as fully accredited by the University of Kentucky Graduate School,” said Bond, the senior assistant dean.

Every college decides where to seek accreditation based on factors including the nature of its program offerings, its institutional mission and what options it expects students to have after completing its programs, said Sue Patrick, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. The council coordinates changes and improvements in the state’s postsecondary education system.

“Students should explore the reputation of the college and its accreditor before they choose a college, and they should do as much research as possible,” Patrick said. “While there is no absolute rule, some accreditors are more geared toward potential transition to graduate studies and some are more focused on work-force transition. Institutions should be up front with students about the nature of their accreditation and the potential limitations there may be for students upon graduation.”

After UK’s decision to deny Guthrie admission, other university undergraduate colleges have explored options for him. UK’s College of Education would possibly accept some his Sanford-Brown credits, but he would have to make up the difference with more classes from the school, Guthrie said. Guthrie is unsure what he will do academically and is waiting to hear back from Kentucky’s attorney general regarding a complaint he filed about UK in late September.

Bond has since spoken with all of her admission officers to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again.

The graduate school admits about 300 post-baccalaureate students a year, said Brian Jackson, interim dean of UK’s graduate school.

Guthrie has made the most of his situation, having started a job Monday as a substitute teacher for Fayette County Schools. He also is volunteering with UK’s student-run radio station, WRFL. He also is producing a video for a local client who hired his business, Truth Serum Entertainment.

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