DWC students focus on quality

NASHUA – When his son returns for his junior year at Daniel Webster College this fall, William Hettel hopes it will be to the same high-quality education the family has come to expect from the school.

Like many parents of students at the small private college, Hettel was surprised to learn in April that the for-profit ITT Educational Services would be acquiring the school.

The start of the college’s first year since the sale was approved this summer is fast approaching. School starts Sept. 1, and some parents and their children will be taking a wait-and-see approach this year with the college under new ownership.

Daniel Webster College, a school known primarily for its aviation instruction program, had amassed $23 million in debt and needed a buyer to keep the college running. In stepped ITT, whose purchase of the college went through in June.

“I was kind of shocked at the time,” Hettel said of learning about the sale. His son “said in his e-mail he wasn’t sure what he was going to do as far as staying. I basically told him whatever you want to do is fine.”

His son, David, chose to return. But since that decision, the college has laid off at least 23 employees and Robert “Skip” Myers, the president of the college, has been let go.

Many of the employees who were laid off held administrative positions and worked in the maintenance of the college facilities.

Having worked for companies at which corporate takeovers have occurred, William Hettel has seen how it can quickly take a turn for the worse.

“The change is not always for the better,” he said.

Hettel said all his family is looking for is the quality of education to stay the same.

“The teachers have always been very friendly and he’s had good classes so far,” said Hettel, who lives in Lansdale, Pa.

Bill Connors is sending his son Sean to Nashua for his first year at the college. The family is from New Jersey, and Sean will be studying aeronautical engineering.

Bill Connors called the college last week to get some of his questions answered about the impact of the layoffs and the future of the sports program. Connors said he was able to get a hold of someone at the college.

“The guy was very nice. He didn’t back away from any questions,” he said. “It was the party line, I’m sure, but at least I heard it.”

Officials with ITT Educational Services, including chairman and chief operating officer Kevin Modany, started preparing for the upcoming school year by meeting with faculty on campus Thursday. The meeting was closed to the press.

The day after, Modany said the meeting was in a “town hall” style, and members of the faculty were given an opportunity to ask questions.

Many employees were concerned about what they were reading in the newspaper about the layoffs and Myers being fired, he said.

“It’s made them nervous, and we tried to calm them down,” Modany said.

When asked why Myers was let go, Modany said he couldn’t comment. With regard to the layoffs, he elaborated a bit, talking about how it’s sometimes necessary that a “step be taken backwards before you can take two step forwards.”

“We’re certainly taking actions to solidify the financial future of the institution,” he said. “Some of those very difficult decisions had to be made, but I think we made them very thoughtfully.”

The college has announced plans for improvements to the campus infrastructure, including renovations to the library and the addition of a new residence hall.

Modany said the board of directors would conduct a search for a permanent president. Nadine Dowling, director of the ITT campus in Woburn, Mass., has been named interim president.

The college’s board of trustees has been dissolved and replaced by a board of directors. No one from the college’s previous board of trustees serves on the board of directors, which includes three representatives from ITT, including Modany.

Modany stressed that the college remains a separate entity that’s completely autonomous from ITT.

“They are a standalone institution,” he said. “The college faculty and staff run the college.”

The college is now advertising for three positions – online registrar, chairman of the online school of business and dean of distance education – which will be based out of Carmel, Ind., where ITT is headquartered.

Hettel said he hasn’t received anything from the college in the form of a letter or an e-mail over the summer explaining what the sale will mean to him or his son.

Modany said communication with parents and students would ratchet up as the school year gets closer.

Bill Crawford’s daughter Chelsey will also be a freshman at the college this fall. Crawford said the college recruited his daughter to play sports and that she will major in marketing.

When they toured the campus over the winter, “There was no mention at all of the school not being financially solid at the time,” Crawford said. Had it been mentioned, it would have been a factor in the decision, he said.

Once the sale was announced, Crawford said his daughter and the family chose to still go to the school. Crawford said he wants to see whether the new ownership can follow through on promises to improve the infrastructure.

“We’re going to re-evaluate at the end of the year,” he said. “ITT owns a lot of schools nationwide. They can invest some money into the college and it could be a real good thing.”

“As long as she’s happy there, we’re happy,” he added.

Chad Los Schumacher is a Daniel Webster College student who made the decision this summer to transfer to a new school. He enrolled at the college in 2007, having been impressed with what he saw during his visit.

“Everyone was friendly when I toured the campus,” said Los Schumacher, who is originally from Buffalo, N.Y. “Everyone was happy. I could feel a hominess.”

Los Schumacher said he “wasn’t exactly enthralled” when he found out ITT would be buying the college, but said he was willing to give it a chance to see if things would remain the same.

Los Schumacher was studying computer science at the school and was spending this summer working on campus in the school’s technology department.

Los Schumacher said his concern about the sale started when he was told he had to sign an “intellectual property agreement.”

He said he was worried that by signing it, he would be giving up his rights to anything he thought of or created during his time working for the college or during his internship at a forensics firm in Manchester.

“If I developed the next Facebook or Twitter, they could have argued it was their property,” he said.

Los Schumacher said his mother, a judge in New York, tried unsuccessfully to get answers from officials with the college and ITT about the required agreement.

This summer, Los Schumacher quit his job and moved off campus. When he learned of the layoffs earlier this month, he decided to transfer to St. Leo University in Florida, where he’ll study criminal justice.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” Los Schumacher said. “They said there would be new positions, so why are they laying people off?”