What was almost a final bow now appears to have simply been a break before the encore for the Boulder College of Massage Therapy.
The school, which followed a directive from state higher education officials to shut down last month, will reopen on July 18 in the Gunbarrel building it has long called home.
The board of the financially beleaguered nonprofit school last week voted unanimously to reopen after receiving a commitment for a private donation of more than $1.3 million, according to school president Dirk McCuistion.
The funding, pledged by Tulsa oilman David Chernicky, will help get the school back on sound financial footing with the U.S. Department of Education, restore its $400,000 real estate bond reserves and inject an additional $250,000 into its operations, McCuistion said.
“We're so excited to be back, and be back in the Boulder community,” said McCuistion, a Boulder College of Massager Therapy graduate. “I hope the Boulder community will support the school because it has been a great nonprofit for 38 years.”
The school last held classes on June 14, after the school's board voted to close in anticipation of state higher education regulators sending a notice of noncompliance because of the institution's financial woes.
McCuistion last month attributed the school's problems to poor management and declining enrollment, which led to declining revenues in recent years. Specifically, he pointed to the previous administration's decision in 2009 to shorten the school's 1,000-hour degree program to 760 hours, a move that cut annual tuition revenue by 24 percent.
Colorado BondShares, in 2006, loaned the school $4.65 million to purchase its building — located at 6255 Longbow Drive — and pay for other expenses, McCuistion said. When he took over as president in January 2012, the school still owed $4.35 million on that loan.
McCuistion and other administrators reinstated the 1,000-hour program and raised enrollment over the past 18 months, but attempts to renegotiate the terms of its bond fell short — prompting the board of the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools last month to recommend that the school shut down, officials say.
The division's director, Lorna Candler, last week indicated that, once the school reopens, it will be served with a notice of noncompliance and required to appear before the board to answer to the issues raised in that notice.
“BCMT has offered a great program over the years, but we need to follow the statute — both the division and the board— and we are duty-bound as a division and as a board to protect the interests of the students,” Candler said of taking action against the school. “If the school revokes or rescinds their voluntarily closure, the division was directed by the board in the meeting on June 25 to file a written notice of noncompliance and BCMT will have an opportunity to respond.”
After receiving a student petition and numerous emails from students supporting the school's continued operations — and some correspondence from people supporting its closure — Candler issued a letter on June 19 responding to questions and clarifying options for enrolled students.
The letter outlined how the U.S. Department of Education, on Jan. 4, had informed the school that it had failed to meet the financial responsibility standards required of institutions that access federal student loan funding -- and would be placed on heightened financial monitoring.
In June, the Department of Education notified the school that it could no longer access federal student loan funding.
The letter was posted on June 20 to the Division of Private Occupational Schools' website, along with a listed of frequently asked questions about the school's closure.
When McCuistion was forwarded the letter via email, he responded that it included “patently false statements,” and was “not only inaccurate, but unfair and untruthful.”
He said that Candler told him that the school would need to close three days before the U.S. Department of Education informed him of an emergency action on the loan program.
While Candler and other state officials noted the decision to close the school was a voluntary one made by the college's own board, McCuistion said it was made under the belief that the state would soon close the school anyway, which would hurt its chances to reopen in the future.
He said even with the cash infusion from the recent donation — $635,000 of which will be issued as a line of credit to the U.S. Department of Education — the actions by the Division of Private Occupational Schools and the temporary closure hurt.
“The action by the state actually damaged the school so significantly we're worried we may lose money for few quarters before we regain our footing,” he said. “And the school does need to raise more money. Mr. Chernicky wanted to put his money forward to show other donors that it was, in his words, ‘a cause worth fighting for.'”
Many of the school's students enrolled in a teach-out program at a Lakewood-based school following the closure, while others transferred elsewhere, McCuistion said. He said he does not expect all 110 students to return. The school will not begin enrolling new students until it's fall quarter begins in October, he said.
Colorado Department of Higher Education spokeswoman Nancy Mitchell said that, once the Division of Private Occupational Schools files its notice of noncompliance, the school will have 10 days to respond. A
After hearing the response, if the division's board still finds the school does not comply with regulations, it can move to revoke the school's license, she said. At that point, the school could appeal to a state administrative judge.