November 7, 2023

Shuttered For-Profit ASA College Aims for Comeback

Shuttered For-Profit ASA College Aims for Comeback

New York City’s ASA College, a for-profit school that lost its accreditation and closed its doors to  students in February — following scandals involving deceptive subway ads and sexual misconduct allegations against its owner — seems to be trying for a comeback.

ASA College’s board chair, Frank Seddio, sent a letter dated November 1 to the New York State Education Department, on behalf of ASA’s board of directors, asking the state agency not to cancel the school’s license to offer degree programs until ASA had pursued all appeals of the decision of the accreditor, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, to terminate approval of the school.

Middle States informed ASA in November 2022 that the school would lose accreditation in March 2023 for failure “to demonstrate that it can provide a quality student learning experience.” After that, the U.S. Department of Education placed ASA on restrictive HCM 2 reimbursement status, reserved for financially troubled schools.

ASA’s erratic conduct following these developments — providing confusing messages about transfer options, refusing to refund tuition, adding new charges to student bills, seeming to recruit and enroll new students, failing to pay faculty and staff, and issuing inconsistent statements about whether the school was closing — placed the school community in turmoil.

Losing accreditation, once finalized, would mean losing eligibility for the federal aid that is the lifeblood of many for-profit colleges, including ASA.

ASA, with campuses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, and Hialeah, Florida, had offered programs in nursing, health care, information technology, business, and criminal justice. It reported revenues in the 2020-21 academic year of $52 million, with $33.6 million of that total coming from federal taxpayers through student grants and loans.

In October 2022, ASA agreed to pay New York City $112,500 in penalties for deceptive ads, many seeming to target immigrants and visitors to the U.S., that were displayed on city subway cars last year. The ads, which began running in January 2022, were exposed in a Republic Report article, thanks to photos sent to us by subway riders, including staff of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a non-profit legal services provider. NYLAG had sued ASA in 2014, alleging that the school systemically defrauded students; the case was settled in 2016, with ASA promising to stop making false statements in recruiting.

The new letter from Seddio to the New York education department lavishly praises ASA owner Alex Shchegol, saying he “provides visionary leadership” and is “a recognized example of the immigrant’s success and achievement of the American dream.”

Shchegol was forced out as ASA’s president by his board in 2019 amid allegations of egregious sexual misconduct. In 2021, Shchegol ousted most of the school’s board members and regained control. But after the New York Daily News exposed the upheaval, and after Middle States in December 2021 placed the school on probation, Shchegol resigned again as president. But he remained ASA owner, and school employees told me that, in fact, he remained in charge of operations.

Seddio’s new letter calls the allegations that Shchegol engaged in sexual misconduct “baseless” and “manipulated by individuals with ulterior motives seeking financial gain.” He adds that the ASA board of directors “is committed to conducting a thorough and impartial investigation” and that it will provide New York authorities “with the results once concluded.” (The letter, in Microsoft Word format, indicates in its “Properties” tab that its drafter is ASA College president Jose Valencia.)

Seddio’s letter also invokes his own credentials as “a former member of the New York Assembly, judge, and a leader of the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” all of which is true.  He doesn’t mention other aspects of his career, including his caught-on-camera threat, last year at Nick’s Lobster House in Brooklyn, to rip the “f—ing heart out” of a foe and wishing him a “terrible death” during a dispute over the selection of state judges. When Seddio left his job as head of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party operation in 2020, he also faced, and indignantly denied, charges of mismanaging the organization’s finances.

A separate email from Shchegol to ASA staff, sent on Saturday, seems to imply that ASA will be re-opening its doors to students soon.  Shchegol’s message cites a refusal by a New York state judge to issue an order in a lawsuit brought by ASA’s Manhattan landlord against Shchegol as a positive development for ASA’s aims to “cover the salaries for our employees over the past eight payrolls and expedite the commencement of the new semester.”

The ASA college website, in its present state, is more evidence of the chaotic nature of Alex Shchegol’s school operations. The homepage, different from how it appeared when the school closed its doors to students in February, still purports to offer school programs, including nursing. There is a box that invites prospective students to enter their contact information.  But the phone number provided, if you call it, leads to a recording declaring that our call cannot be completed as dialed, and the links at the bottom of the page all go nowhere.

The ASA homepage also states, “ASA College is regionally accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education,” without mentioning that Middle States has acted to terminate accreditation.

Shuttered For-Profit ASA College Aims for Comeback

UPDATE 11-08-23:

The New York Legal Assistance Group, having learned of ASA’s letter to the New York State Education Department, today sent its own letter to that agency, arguing that “it would be unconscionable for NYSED to allow the school to re-start operations without hearing from students who were directly affected by ASA’s conduct.”