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Originally published August 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 9, 2007 at 4:45 PM

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Accreditation lost, Tacoma school closes

Tacoma's Crown College is closing temporarily after having its accreditation revoked last week. Most of its 110 students will transfer to...

Seattle Times education reporter

Tacoma's Crown College is closing temporarily after having its accreditation revoked last week. Most of its 110 students will transfer to an online school; its 26 instructors are being laid off this week.

Crown was accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology -- a national agency for vocational schools. Most community colleges and four-year universities will accept credits only from schools accredited by regional accrediting bodies. But many students said they didn't learn their credits wouldn't transfer until after they had spent thousands on their Crown College degrees.

Two years ago, a Crown student prevailed in a lawsuit against the for-profit school, saying Crown misled her about whether her credits would transfer. Since then, several other students have said they had the same experience.

All students who enroll at Crown sign a statement that they understand the school is nationally and not regionally accredited. Students say admissions officers tell them their credits will transfer -- a charge school officials deny.

Crown College Director Sheila Mullineaux said the 2005 lawsuit almost put the school out of business late last year. Since then, owner John Wabel has been negotiating with a buyer. Those negotiations are ongoing, even in light of the loss of accreditation. Since the state of Washington won't allow the school to operate without accreditation unless it has special approval, the school has shut down its Web site and suggested all its students transfer to Wisconsin-based Herzing University's online program.

Charlene Thompson is $20,000 in debt after getting her degree in criminal justice from Crown College in June. When she applied, she said, Crown College employees assured her credits would transfer.

"They said, 'We're nationally accredited. National accreditation is better than regional accreditation,' " she recalled. But she can't find a college that will accept her Crown College credits, and police departments in the area have also told her they won't honor her degree. Thompson is meeting with an attorney next week to look into filing her own lawsuit against the school.

Wabel bought Crown College 17 years ago when it was a hair-design school in Everett. He turned it into a school for correctional officers, then later moved it to Tacoma and started offering associate's degrees. Most of the students log in from home and take classes in an online "cloudroom."

The accrediting body yanked Crown's accreditation after two years of probation because not enough of its graduates were working in their fields of study. Mullineaux said the school plans to reapply for accreditation and that they were "barely below" the requirements.

Mullineaux said the college is "a little Tacoma school" doing the best it can.

"There is not a dry eye in the building," she said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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