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3 career college branches in southern Alberta shut down, students now search for answers


Students enrolled at three southern Alberta Academy of Learning branches are no longer able to take classes and say they can’t get their money back.

Tessa Phillips, a single mom of three, was taking medical office assistant classes, specializing in veterinary care.

“It seemed awesome because I could do it on my own terms. I could work part-time I could still be with my girls and do school stuff,” said Phillips.

“It just seemed like it was a really good opportunity.”

She says the program was going to cost her over $18,000, of which she had so far paid $11,200 through student loans and grants.

She began in May and had completed five courses.

In September, Phillips needed confirmation from the branch’s owner and director Jennifer Avery that she was enrolled so she could receive an additional $14,000 in grants.

“I need my next course activated and there was no response from Jennifer or anybody,” said Phillips.

“I found out that the school had closed its doors, in High River and Brooks and Airdrie, which are the three campuses that she owns.”

CTV News went out to the High River branch, which had its doors locked while much of its signage taken down.

Repeated attempts have been made to reach the branch’s owner, but calls have not been returned.

Phillips says she is among 100 students from the three branches searching for answers on how to continue their studies or if she will get her money back.

Another student, Aline Bernardi, moved to Canada from Brazil and started the business administration program in March.

She paid over $17,000 and is halfway through her classes.

“I haven't heard anything, it's going to be like almost two months now since I did my last request for my course activation,” said Bernardi.

“Nothing is happening. (There are) excuses but nobody is giving us support.”

Both Phillips and Bernardi say they have reached out several times to Avery but haven’t heard anything back.

ActionDignity, which advocates for equity among students through policy change, says there are over 200 career colleges with approximately 25,000 students in Alberta.

According to Francis Boakye, the group’s executive director, career colleges play a critical role in filling a niche in the labour market.

He says most students are newcomers or single mothers that are caught in “this cycle of financial abuse.”

Action Dignity wants to see better oversight and framework from the province to protect students.

“Making sure that we have regulations that are adhered to, and that private career colleges have the same regulatory system that other schools have,” Boakye told CTV News.

“We are working on the ground as community partners to ensure that our community members are protected from such practices that do not help them in any way.”

On its website, the Academy of Learning advertises as “Canada’s largest career college network.”

In a statement to CTV News, the company’s managing director Chris Gignac says, “Due to privacy and regulatory requirements, we are unable to comment on these or any specific cases.

“However, we are and have been in continuous contact with the operator of the three schools as well the regulator in Alberta and remain fully committed to supporting all Academy of Learning students in completing their studies.”

Early Friday evening, a spokesperson for Alberta Minister of Advanced Education Rajan Sawhney issued the following statement.

"We plan on engaging in early 2024 with students, community groups, private career colleges, and other stakeholders to help inform further changes to the legislative, regulatory and policy frameworks.

"Staff from Advanced Education plan to meet with Academy of Learning to help resolve the students concerns." Top Stories

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