"The Department is committed to holding institutions and accreditors accountable to the students they serve," DeVos said in a statement. "In this instance, students were failed and deserve to be made whole."
In early 2017, Dream Center Education Holdings LLC bought dozens of schools under the Art Institute, Argosy University and South University names from Education Management Corp. Dream Center leaders announced they would convert the institutions from for-profit to not-for-profit.
The Higher Learning Commission, which accredits schools throughout the Midwest, approved the acquisition in January 2018 but removed accreditation for the Illinois and Colorado art schools pending review.
Schools can operate without being accredited. In this case, however, it meant future academic credits could be worthless to potential employers or to other schools. For-profit schools also cannot receive federal student aid unless they are fully accredited.
Students said they didn't find this out until July 2018, when Dream Center announced the impending closure during break between quarters.
"All of the sudden, it was like a bomb had dropped," Mahone said. "There was nothing leading up to us not having a school anymore."
"I didn't realize what accreditation was until we didn't have it anymore," said Emmanuel Dunagan, of Bellwood. "We got one email about the loss of accreditation. The way it was worded, and I'm an intelligent person, you would not have understood it without having it explained."
Mahone left school in July. RJ Infusino, of Wood Dale, withdrew from the Schaumburg campus in September. Dunagan finished his two remaining classes before the school closed in December 2018.
"It was madness," Infusino said. "I didn't have a good understanding of whether I'd be able to graduate. I'd already spent close to four years on this and to not get my degree would have been a waste of time."
The House Education and Labor Committee has been investigating the Dream Center collapse for several months.