Myrtle Beach golf academy will close its doors later this month

The Golf Academy of America, which has five campuses including one in Myrtle Beach, is in the process of saving its accreditation that allows its students to participate in federal student aid programs.
The Golf Academy of America, which has five campuses including one in Myrtle Beach, is in the process of saving its accreditation that allows its students to participate in federal student aid programs. jbell@thesunnews.com

The Golf Academy of America’s 20-year run in Myrtle Beach will come to a close next week.

The school on Mr. Joe White Avenue will close after the current semester is completed next week. Students were informed of the closing Wednesday morning.

The academy’s Myrtle Beach campus, which was previously called the Golf Academy of the Carolinas, was founded in 1998.

It is part of a massive closing of schools throughout the United States. GAA’s parent company, Education Corporation of America, which has a for-profit model, announced Wednesday it is closing all of its approximately 80 colleges, including its five Golf Academy of America locations.

“After many years of training students for new careers, it is with a heavy heart that today we announce that Education Corporation of America (ECA) is closing all its career colleges effective with the completion of the current module or term for most students,” said ECA spokesperson Diane Worthington in a statement emailed to The Sun News.

“We will work with students to ensure access to their transcripts so they can complete their studies at another school. … This is not the outcome that we envisioned and is one that we recognize will have a dramatic effect on our students, employees, and many partners.”

According to an Inside Higher Ed article on Wednesday, ECA received word Tuesday that its accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools was suspended, which would impact its students’ ability to participate in federal student aid programs and the ECA’s ability to secure capital needed to operate its campuses. ECA CEO Stu Reed sent an email to campus employees Wednesday morning announcing the closures.

Students currently in their final semesters will be the last to earn degrees at ECA institutions.

“I’m third semester. One more to go. So I’m not going to have anything to show for it, per se,” said GAA Myrtle Beach student Brandon Canesi.

“It was an awesome experience. This past year changed my life. I loved it. I learned so much. I played so much golf. How could I regret coming here and doing this? It’s a shame. It just shattered a lot of people. I have no idea what I’m going to do right now. I thought I had a few months to finish my learning and work on a career.”

Other ECA schools include Brightwood College, ecotech institute, New England College of Business, Virginia College, and Culinard — The Culinary Institute of Virginia College.

“A lot of people are suddenly going through this heartbreaking story,” Canesi said. “Everything you just invested, all that time and effort and money, is gone. It’s brutal.”

Mike Nixon, the father of 19-year-old student Matthew Nixon, said his family has spent about $20,000 out of pocket on his son’s education at GAA. Matthew Nixon was in his third semester at the Golf Academy and scheduled to graduate in April.

“He finally had some direction in his life and then he gets slapped in the face with this,” Mike Nixon said. “He had a pretty promising future. He had some prospects for when he graduates in April.”

The school had a 16-month program offering an associate of applied business degree in golf operations and management at the San Diego, Phoenix and Myrtle Beach campuses, and an occupational associate’s degree at the Orlando and Dallas campuses.

The Myrtle Beach campus had an enrollment of 98 students, campus president Gene Augustine said earlier this year, with a total cost of $34,300 for its four semesters. Enrollment peaked at about 400 students around 2010, and decreasing enrollment was something ECA was dealing with throughout its schools.

According to an Inside Higher Ed article in September, ECA planned to close at least 26 campuses by early 2020 and ended enrollment of new students at those campuses because of insufficient demand.

ECA’s schools have offered one or more of the following: certificate programs, associate degree, undergraduate degree and graduate degree programs.

The GAA has attracted a number of past military members who attend the school through their GI Bill education benefits.

In the past couple years, ECA schools including the GAA have battled to retain their accreditation as providers of higher education degrees with Title IV eligibility, which allows participation in federal student aid programs.

In December 2016, then-U.S. Department of Education Secretary John King upheld a decision of the Senior Department Official to cease recognition of ACICS as an agency that can provide schools with a seal of approval for educational quality.

The GAA received promising news in March when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Dept. of Education retroactively reinstated the federal recognition of ACICS as of December 2016, and the accreditor would remain in that status until she could reconsider its prior request for re-recognition.

Augustine said in March that the school was also working on accreditation from another organization, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, as a backup plan, and ACCET representatives visited the campus last October.

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Alan Blondin covers golf, Coastal Carolina athletics and numerous other sports-related topics that warrant coverage. Well-versed in all things Myrtle Beach, Horry County and the Grand Strand, the Northeastern University journalism school valedictorian has been a sports reporter at The Sun News since 1993, earning eight top-10 Associated Press Sports Editors national writing awards and 18 top-three S.C. Press Association writing awards since 2007.