June 21, 2024

Troubled For-Profit Paier College Keeps Recruiting Students

Troubled For-Profit Paier College Keeps Recruiting Students

Paier College, a for-profit arts, design, coding, and business school in Bridgeport, CT, continues to recruit students, even though it apparently now has no faculty, is on sharp warning status from its accreditor, has lost access to federal student aid, and has been sued for deceptive practices by the state’s attorney general. Recent students tell local media that they worry about their futures, having committed their financial aid, personal money, and time to attending the school.

“PAIER” sounds like a decent opening guess for Wordle, but unlike with some fake name for-profit colleges, it’s apparently the last name of the people who founded the school, in 1946 in West Haven, Connecticut.

Paier College’s current owner is one Joseph Bierbaum, who also was the owner of now-shuttered Stone Academy, which had three Connecticut campuses that offered nursing and other health care programs until it closed in February 2023. Last July, Connecticut attorney general William Tong sued Bierbaum, Stone Academy, and Paier College, alleging that Stone engaged in blatant deceptions in its advertising and recruiting, that the school offered substandard instruction and decaying facilities, that resources and revenues from Stone were improperly diverted to Paier, and that Bierbaum and a previous Stone co-owner, Mark Scheinberg, made millions off these improper practices.

In March, Attorney General Tong’s office secured a $5 million prejudgment award against the defendants from a Connecticut Superior Court judge hearing the case. Judge Barbara Bellis concluded that the AG’s office had established probable cause that it would win the lawsuit, holding that Stone “failed to provide the instruction and clinical training that it promised their students” and that Stone Academy and Bierbaum violated the law “knowingly.” 

Bierbaum, according to Fox 61 TV in Hartford, says he has just named a new CEO for Paier, one Dr. Daren Hancott, a one-time Canadian president of operations for giant for-profit University of Phoenix, which itself has faced multiple law enforcement probes for decades over deceptive and unlawful practices. Bierbaum also says he has hired a new provost for Paier, Dr. Avis Chapman. 

Bierbaum now claims to be trying to sell Paier, according to the Hartford station.

Fox 61 interviewed students who reported the school’s Bridgeport campus buildings lacked air conditioning or heating. The station also obtained photos showing “mold and water damage, bathroom stalls separated by shower curtains, and restrooms without toilet paper.”

In a 20-page letter sent earlier this month, the school’s accreditor, ACCSC, notified Bierbaum that it has decided to continue Paier on “warning status.” The 20-page letter details a range of concerns the accreditor has identified, including low graduation rates and weak validation of faculty credentials.

The ACCSC letter, in keeping with an apparent troubling change in that accreditor’s practices, does not seem to appear on the ACCSC website –instead the accreditor has posted a summary — but it was obtained and put online by the Hartford Fox station.

ACCSC’s letter also raises concerns about Paier’s financial stability, particularly in light of the school’s decision in December 2023, after it had faced scrutiny, to voluntarily withdraw from eligibility for student grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Education. That federal student aid, in academic year 2021-22, accounted for more than 57 percent of the school’s $2.9 million in revenues.

Some schools that lose federal aid status intensify recruiting of students from overseas, who are not eligible for federal aid and can pay cash. One student told Fox 61 that Paier has been heavily recruiting students from India, and the school’s website now appears to emphasize outreach to prospective students from overseas.

A Paier spokesperson told the Fox outlet, “Paier College is currently undergoing a change of ownership that is pending approval from its regulatory agencies. However, we have new operational management and our new management team has started conversations and meetings with faculty to renew contracts for the Fall Semester. Our new Provost Dr. Avis Chapman has communicated with students and we are prepared and excited to welcome them back for the Fall.” The spokesperson said the school retains “a student-first approach.”

In May 2022, the U.S. Justice Department settled a whistleblower lawsuit with Stone Academy and Bierbaum’s former co-owner Mark Scheinberg, with those defendants agreeing to pay just over $1 million to resolve allegations that they concealed payments by Scheinberg to prevent certain loans from being counted in Stone Academy’s student loan default rate, and for failing to disclose Stone Academy’s actual, higher default rate to the U.S. Department of Education. Scheinberg at that time agreed to divest his ownership stakes in Stone and Paier.