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State clamps down on RCC

Oregon education officials have warned Rogue Community College to cease offering two unapproved courses after the owner of Abdill Career College in Medford complained RCC's actions have undermined her business.

"My school is almost like a ghost school now," said Abdill owner Ki (her full legal name). "There are very few students here."

The Oregon Student Assistance Commission in an April 9 letter told RCC that it is not permitted to offer courses in phlebotomy and real estate because these courses don't have the appropriate state approvals. The Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development is also expected to send a "cease and desist" order to RCC in the near future.

RCC President Peter Angstadt said he intends to adhere to the state's warning. "The state told us to stop doing it and we're going to stop," he said.

Alan Contreras, administrator of the Student Assistance Commission, also cautioned RCC in the April 9 letter not to have financial links with private entities such as local hospitals without going through a process to determine whether they will have an adverse impact on any local business.

"I can't tell that they have a relationship with the other private providers," Contreras said. He asked RCC for a list.

Contreras said he isn't aware of any penalty that RCC would receive for its actions, but he did say the school would be responsible for paying the state back for any students enrolled in unapproved classes. RCC also would be responsible for paying the federal government back for any students who received financial assistance while taking the unapproved classes. RCC has not yet determined the financial impact.

RCC's problems could be just the tip of the iceberg in Oregon, said Contreras, who suspects many other schools have unapproved courses. The Central Oregon Community College in Bend also has been found recently to have an unapproved phlebotomy course.

Contreras said most schools likely will transfer student credits in the unapproved classes, and because they don't appear to be a rampant problem, they should not affect RCC's accreditation.

RCC's problems came to light when Ki complained to state officials that the community college offered courses that were in conflict with those offered at Abdill. Ki also said RCC is offering a legal assistant program that competes with a similar program she offers.

Normally, a school has to go through an adverse impact process before offering a course to make sure it doesn't have a detrimental effect on private or public schools in the area.

Contreras said Ki's "concern is that they (RCC) are operating a program that is taking actual students away from her program."

If RCC had gone through the adverse impact process before it offered these courses, Ki would have had the opportunity to voice an objection, Contreras said.

Ki claimed RCC circumvented the adverse impact process in order to undermine her business. Enrollment in Abdill's phlebotomy and real estate classes has dropped 50 to 75 percent because of RCC's actions, she said.

Ki declined to disclose the finances of her school. But she said RCC's activities have resulted in a severe decrease in students and revenues, forcing her to lay off some of her staff.

"It's significant enough that I really worry about whether I can keep my doors open," she said.

Angstadt, who became president three years ago, said he's not sure how the problems came about.

He said that RCC offered a complete degree in real estate in 1978 but had scaled back to test preparation courses. He surmised that since the college had once offered a full degree, that the smaller courses would have been covered by the original state approval.

Angstadt said he just found out three or four weeks ago that Ki had concerns about RCC's programs. "I told her, 'It's not our intent to harm you in any way,'" he said.

Reviewing his records, Angstadt said RCC had six students enrolled in the legal assistant program from 2000 to 2007, and it had eight students in phlebotomy from 1998 to 2007.

"I went over those figures with her (Ki)," he said. "I said, 'We're sorry, we don't mean to cause you any problems.'"

Angstadt said that despite the few students, the college continued to offer the courses because they are mostly self-directed, allowing students to report to a business such as a medical clinic or hospital for on-the-job instruction.

Angstadt told his staff recently that it needs to review all courses to make sure there are no other potential conflicts. He also told them to pay attention to following all the appropriate steps in creating new courses.

Ki said she questions Angstadt's claim that only 14 students have been enrolled in the legal assistant and phlebotomy programs. "He's only providing the most convenient statistics," she said, urging an accounting of the numbers.

Ki said Abdill also has had problems recently sending its students to local hospitals for what it calls "externships." Ki said she has been blocked from sending her students to local hospitals and suspects it has something to do with their relationship with RCC.

She said she talked with Angstadt two weeks ago about where she was sending her students, then three days later she was told by the hospitals that they didn't have the staff to help train students. "It's mighty coincidental," she said.

Ki said she has complained to the state on two other occasions about RCC offering the same courses as she offered, but this was the first time she filed a formal complaint.

Ki said she expected more out of her community college and never thought she would be the one to police it. "RCC is a community college — you expect it to be ethical, to follow the law," she said.

Angstadt said RCC doesn't have any special relationship with local hospitals and hasn't blocked Abdill students from seeking on-the-job training at them.

"Why would we do something like that?" he said. "You'd almost have to think there was some weird conspiracy going on throughout the Rogue Valley."

Angstadt said that RCC wants to cooperate with local businesses and doesn't want to drive anybody out of business.

He said that when RCC offered the courses it didn't do it with any malicious intent.

"We're not trying to cause anybody any problems," he said. "We're not trying to cause any harm."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Carissa Harvey of Medford hones her blood-drawing skills on fellow Abdill Career College student Wendy Cale of Gold Hill Friday afternoon. Abdill officials say Rogue Community College’s phlebotomy and real estate courses have hurt the private college’s enrollment.