Ultimately, it was a lesson learned the hard way for students across the country who were counting on a new career in the computer industry as promised by Charlotte-based Solid Computer Decisions (SCD).

In five North Carolina locations alone, some 300 students are left with nothing to show for their investments upward of $10,000 for training, certifications and job placement. The schools were closed on April 19, 2002 with the promise of reopening after two weeks of restructuring. That did not happen. SCD founder Jerry Wingate could not be reached for comment.

Upon learning that the SCD would be filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Dr. Stephen L. Athans, the director of Proprietary Schools of NC (the state’s licensing branch for community colleges and for-profit education institutions), set up a meeting with five other proprietary schools in the state to arrange a teach-out plan so students could receive their training. The costs for this teach-out are being offset by donations from two lenders — SLM Financial Corporation and Key Bank USA — and the willingness of each participating school to forego profitability. Another lender, SallieMae, is working with each student and teach-out program on an individual basis.

Betty Gardner, the assistant director of the not-for-profit Computer Training Unit at North Carolina State University was the only school representing Raleigh at the meeting.

“We are working with the lenders to provide a solution for all SCD students at no additional cost,” says Gardner. “We realize the students are disillusioned, but rest assured they will get their training.”

Dan Schweit of Raleigh is one such student. He enrolled at SCD this past September and financed $11,000 for an MCSE course. Even before he got an email from the owner of SCD announcing its plans to close temporarily for a restructuring, Schweit had a feeling things were awry. “In the weeks before the closing, they [SCD] kept rescheduling classes,” he says.

Schweit decided to enroll with SCD over other similar programs in the area because, “They guaranteed me a position to work for them as an apprentice tech making a minimum of $35,000 once I finished my training, plus the opportunity to take other classes at no charge.”

No guarantees

Athans confirms that SCD basically promised its students four things: training courses leading to certification, books, the cost of certification tests, and a job. However, he admits that such schools are not able to guarantee jobs based on state law.

CTU is willing to provide assistance in a student’s job search and back up their program. Per its policy, CTU will offer a retake of any course for up to one year if the student is dissatisfied, needs a refresher, or is unsuccessful the first time around.

“Being a university, we make no false claims or promises,” Gardner says. “We are reliable and prioritize education first and foremost. But, certifications aren’t easy and it takes a real commitment.”

Too good to be true?

Ironically, Schweit met Gardner months ago at an IBM career fair after he was laid off in February. She was bold enough to inquire why he had chosen SCD over CTU. He cited the promise of a job. He remembers her reply, “If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.”

“I’m guilty of believing this company could change my life,” Schweit says. “A tech support position appealed to me because I like helping people and it seemed like a rewarding career. I viewed SCD as a way to get the certifications I needed, acquire real-world experience.”

Gardner points out that CTU charges far less than many of the competing computer-training firms. “I want to restore faith in training,” says Gardner. “I want people to rely on the university and remember CTU in the future. Even in this economy, as job training purse strings are cut by employers, people are taking on personal loans to retool themselves for new positions.”

CTU’s technical training advisor helps students determine a roadmap for their training based upon their background, aptitude, and current tech skills. He explains that nationally there will be 1.1 million job openings in IT in the next 12 months and that 600,000 of those will go unfilled due to a lack of skills.

Bottom line? Students should do their homework before choosing a computer training program, advises Schweit. Find out if the company is licensed and bonded. Inquire about their instructor’s credentials and practical experience. Ask current or former students about their experience and sit in on a class. And keep in mind; many other schools like SCD are operating without a current license.

Former SCD students should work with their lender and contact the participating teach-out schools:

  • Brookstone College of Business
  • Central Piedmont Community College
  • New Horizons (Charlotte only)
  • TechTrain
  • Computer Training Unit at NC State

Students can also file a consumer complaint online at the North Carolina Attorney General’s Web site. Thus far, 50 complaints have been filed; however, the attorney general’s office recommends filing a complaint with the North Carolina Community College System. As a licensed and bonded proprietary school in NC, SCD students have a right to request a refund from the bonding company. Complaint forms and copies of the bond agreements are available at: