ASA College, a for-profit school based in NYC that targets immigrant students, has lost its accreditation. Plagued by years of legal troubles which include consumer fraud, sexual assault allegations and rogue leadership, the college has reached the end of the line with Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the nation’s leading college accreditation bureau.
In its decision released on November 11, Middle States said that ASA College failed to provide quality education, failed to pay employees in a timely manner and failed to prove the college is operational, among other issues.
Last month, as Documented previously reported, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) found that ASA advertisements were deceptively promising low-income immigrant students that the college could help them stay in the country and provide them with $4,000-$8,000 “gifts” upon graduation. The college was forced to pay $112,500 in civil penalties.
Jessica Ranucci, the Coordinating Attorney of the Special Litigation Unit with New York Legal Assistance Group, says that over the past few years they have worked with about a dozen students who have sought help with student loan debt accumulated at ASA College. Many are international students who were duped by ASA’s ads.
“There are a lot of immigrants that go to ASA, and absolutely those ads that you saw that promise people visas are deeply problematic and seem to target immigrants,” she said.
As Ranucci sees it, ASA marketing practices are explicitly defrauding vulnerable students as a means to profit off of federal and state student financial aid.
“In our experience, they often use misleading or outright false statements to induce students to enroll,” she said. “Their graduation rates are really low. Even the people who do graduate a lot all of them earn minimum wage. They’re a for-profit company so federal money flows into their pockets.”
A former executive at ASA spoke to Documented about the internal struggles at the college, which has campuses in Brooklyn and Manhattan. According to Meagen Rockenbach, ASA’s former director of digital marketing, the school’s owner and former president Alex Shchegol has been secretly controlling the school’s day-to-day operations, even though he resigned amid a sexual assault scandal.
Shchegol was fired in 2019 after at least 10 women accused him of sexual harassment and rape. Then, in 2021, Shchegol briefly regained control of the college and fired the entire board of directors, only to resign again in January 2022.
Although Shchegol maintained no official position at ASA, he continued to exert influence on the overall marketing and other aspects of the school, Rockenbach said. Even as the school was under investigation for deceptive marking, Rockenbach claims that Shchegol wanted to run the ads that the DCWP found to be illegal.
“He wanted me to run those ads on Facebook while they were being investigated and I said no,” she said. “He didn’t understand why they were problematic.”
In addition to allegations of Shchegol’s improprieties, in 2014, the college faced a class action lawsuit for allegedly taking advantage of low-income minority students by misrepresenting its certificate and degree programs as a way to pocket millions of dollars of federal and state student financial aid. The suit was ultimately dismissed in 2015 but they refiled and the case was settled in 2016. Just last year, the college was placed under probation and was in danger of losing its accreditation for the very same thing.
Rockenbach’s allegation that the college consistently failed to pay her in a timely manner was among the numerous reasons that first prompted the Middle States Commission in October 2022 to require ASA to submit a show cause report, which was the final opportunity for the college to prove that it is meeting Middle States accreditation requirements. The school failed.
“The immediate adverse action to withdraw accreditation from ASA College reflects the seriousness with which the Middle States Commission on Higher Education takes our commitment to quality assurance,” said Middle States President Dr. Heather F. Perfetti.
ASA’s accreditation will officially expire on March 1, 2023, which will revoke the college’s access to federal funding and its state license to operate. That could happen even sooner if the school fails to submit a report by December 9 showing that the school immediately notified staff, faculty, and current and prospective students of the withdrawal of accreditation as well as provided accurate information regarding the school’s accreditation status on its website.
The college has the right to appeal the decision. Middle States declined to answer any specific questions about ASA College.
The New York Legal Assistance Group is operating a free hotline for ASA students at 212-659-6166 or ASAHotline@nylag.org