Regency Beauty Institute abruptly closes all locations, including one in Duluth
Until Thursday, “it was a happy day every day” at school for Jazzmin Okoye and her fellow students.
Then, without warning, there was no school.
Regency Beauty Institute abruptly locked the doors on its 79 nationwide campuses, which includes a location in Duluth’s Burning Tree Plaza.
The cosmetology school didn’t reach out to students. A notice posted on its website Wednesday night said the school was out of money and efforts to stay open “were not successful,” and that was that.
“We thought it was a prank,” said Jordan Juntunen, 25, who started at Regency about two months ago. “I quit my job to come here.”
Juntunen was among the two dozen students who came to pick up their belongings Thursday afternoon at Regency. The scene inside the sunbathed walkway was emotional, with hugs and tears and I’ll-miss-yous rippling through the crowd as one by one, students walked into a dark campus that just the day before had been filled with so much light.
“Some girls were supposed to take their boards Friday, and just yesterday some had a graduation ceremony,” Juntunen said. “Some girls just started three days ago — they just paid.”
And they paid more than $20,000, some with loans, some out of pocket.
The state Office of Higher Education said Regency is now required by law to refund tuition and fees. But that might not be a sure thing.
“I have not been able to get confirmation from their corporate office that they will be making those refunds,” said Betsy Talbot, the department’s manager of institutional licensing and registration. “If they do not make those refunds, we will be filing claims on their bonds, but those funds are limited and students will not get a full refund.”
Minnesota has five Regency locations with about 430 students; Duluth had an official enrollment of 56 as of last year, though students estimated there were between 35 and 40 as of Thursday.
No one answered the phone at Regency’s corporate headquarters in St. Louis Park on Thursday.
In its online post, the company blamed the closure on “declining numbers of cosmetology students nationwide, a negative characterization of for-profit education by regulators and politicians that continues to worsen and, in light of these factors, an inability to obtain continued financing.”
Instructors and staff couldn’t tell the students, or the press, anything more as they helped students gather kits and other gear and wave goodbye to this path so many were so glad to be on.
“I’m a single mother and I quit my job to come here,” said Okoye, 25, who had said that every day at school was a happy day.
The kinship between the students — mostly women who ranged in age from 18 and up — was apparent as they picked up the pieces of something completely out of their control.
“Everyone was so good to each other,” Juntunen said. “My fiance had said to me recently: ‘This is the happiest I’ve ever seen you.”
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College had dispatched a career specialist to help the students get back on their feet fast.
“Obviously you’re upset and you rightfully should be,” Kayti Stolp told the bewildered faces, some still wet with tears. “We have a program at WITC.”
Stolp said the program is much less expensive — $6,500 compared to up to $25,000 for Regency — and WITC would be able to handle each transfer on a case-by-case basis.
Regency said Thursday many cosmetology schools were reaching out in order to enter a “teach out” agreement to help displaced students finish their courses; it said to check regency.edu for updated lists of such schools.
The state said students have options to deal with any loans they might have outstanding.
"There are state and federal resources available to help students impacted by a sudden school closure, including possible student refunds and federal loan forgiveness,” Office of Higher Education Commissioner Larry Pogemiller said in a statement Thursday.
Regency is mailing transcripts, and it said students should receive them by Monday. Students have one more chance to pick up personal belongings from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Regency said.
The for-profit educational institution said it explored all options to stay open.
“This is not another case of a school being forced to shut down because it was accused of wrongdoing,” the company said. “The environment is simply not one that allows us to remain open.”
Among all the lingering questions students had as they faced their first day forced out of school, Juntunen had a sharp one.
“Is this even legal?”