Alumni express concern about future value of their degrees

NASHUA – The picture on the Facebook group says it all: a Daniel Webster College diploma with a piece of paper taped over it that says “ITT Tech.”

The name of the group – “I went to Daniel Webster before it sold out” – also sends a pretty strong message.

The group in the online network Facebook, which had 304 members as of Friday afternoon, is one of many online venues where the DWC sale has been discussed since it was announced two weeks ago.

These include a blog created by the college called “A New Day For DWC” ( It’s hosted by Mike Quinn, the college’s vice president of institutional advancement.

The blog was launched shortly after the sale was announced. Most of its postings are Quinn responding directly to comments posted on Facebook or made at the end of news articles.

The Facebook group was created by Lee Zerrilla, a 2006 alumnus. He said the picture and the group name reflect his feelings after learning about his alma mater agreeing to be sold to ITT Educational Services.

“Obviously, at the very beginning, I think it was short of shock,” Zerrilla said in a phone interview. “The first thoughts of ITT are some of the commercials you see. A lot of alumni were worried about the impact it would have on the quality of our degrees.”

Another concerned alumnus, Edward Crellin, a 2008 graduate, has taken part in the discussion on the wall of Zerrilla’s Facebook group, but isn’t a member. In an interview through his Facebook account, Crellin said he wasn’t that surprised by news of the sale because during his years at DWC, he heard rumors that the college was in a dire financial situation.

“The rumors manifested themselves in real life by way of deferred maintenance of facilities, ever-increasing expenses for flight students and lower than average pay for faculty and staff,” he wrote in the interview.

Crellin, who now works in airport operations, said only time would tell whether the college would remain unchanged.

“If it basically remains the same old DWC, but with more money to spend on upgrades and improvements, then I think things will turn out fine and my degree will continue to hold the value it now has,” Crellin wrote. “If ITT turns it into something radically different than it is now, then things could turn out badly.”

Zerrilla said he has a fundamental problem with the idea of a for-profit college. Daniel Webster College, like most colleges, is nonprofit.

“They do dilute some of the intent of what higher education is,” said Zerrilla, who works as a residential life director at Middlebury College in Vermont. “I’m hoping ITT does give Daniel Webster a lot of autonomy.”

Zerrilla said that since creating the group, he has spoken with administrators at the college about his questions and concerns. Although still skeptical, Zerrilla said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach. He said he started the Facebook group to create a place where people could discuss the sale.

“The whole intent was to get people asking questions,” he said. “I knew that by posting the picture of the diploma with the label over it, that would be somewhat provocative.”

Several other alumni interviewed through Facebook said they have serious concerns about what the proposed sale of the college will mean for the value of their degrees and the future of the college.

Corey Lynch, a 1994 graduate who lives in Memphis, Tenn., wrote that he was “shocked and disappointed” upon hearing the news. Lynch, who went through the aviation program, said he found out through fellow alumni on Facebook.

“DWC has never seriously tried connecting or communicating with the alumni,” he wrote in an online interview. “I am most upset with the lack of effort by the administration to explain the situation to the alumni.”

Lynch blames school President Robert “Skip” Myers for the deal, claiming it has been his intent to sell the college since coming aboard in 2006.

Lynch added that if this really is a great move for the college, then it would be prominently displayed on the school’s Web site.

Lynch said he has concerns about ITT, which he called “one step above a degree mill.”

“I am embarrassed to even mention the sale to my co-workers,” he wrote. “ITT is not a reputable school. DWC is diluting its reputation by association with a ‘school’ that advertises on daytime TV.”

Lynch also wants to know how much Myers would be making after the sale and whether students, current and incoming, were made aware of the possibility of a sale.

Timothy Poirier, who graduated in 1991 and worked for the college until 2003, first heard about the sale from a part-time staff member he knew from working at the college.

“Admittedly, my initial reaction was quite negative,” he wrote in an e-mail, “but I have tried to temper that reaction and seek more information prior to forming an opinion.”

Poirier now works as associate dean of students for Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Although ITT appears to have a legitimate purpose, Poirier said his biggest concern is having a for-profit entity running the college.

“Based on my experience as a career teacher and administrator in postsecondary education, I see a fundamental conflict between teaching/learning and making a profit,” he wrote.

Jon Collette graduated from Daniel Webster with his bachelor’s degree and is currently pursing his master’s. He lives in Philadelphia and is taking his courses online.

One of the reasons Collette said he was surprised about the proposed sale is that he rarely heard from the college looking for donations from alumni.

Collette, interviewed by phone, said his primary concern is the academic reputation of the school, much of which is now in the hands of ITT. If the management at ITT is committed to keeping academic integrity, then it could be a good deal, he said.

“The fact that the college is going to have more money coming into it could be beneficial,” he said.

Lynch, Poirier and Collette are members of Zerrilla’s group.

Zerrilla said he has been impressed with the level of involvement alumni have had in asking questions of the college about what the sale would mean to them.

“One thing I’ve learned has been the impact of social media,” he said.