This article has been updated.

Quest College, a for-profit trade school in San Antonio, abruptly closed its doors on Dec. 6, laying off 50 employees and sending hundreds of students into a tailspin.

“[Dec. 15] was supposed to be when we graduate,” said Gabriella Espinoza, who had been pursuing a medical assistant certificate at Quest. “We had already ordered my cap and gown and everything.”

Days after its closure, Quest was evicted from its offices at the Legacy Oaks Medical Complex, according to a sign posted on the front doors that said the overdue rent balance due was $183,502.36.

“I tried calling them to ask questions, and it just kept taking me to voicemail,” Espinoza said. “I haven’t gotten any calls, no one sent me emails or anything about what’s going on and what’s happening.”

Espinoza is among dozens left hanging by the school’s sudden closure.

Students Reachell Howard and Rose Castillo started a Facebook group on Dec. 8, Voice for Quest College Students, which now has 24 members, because they were frustrated by the lack of information students were getting.

Some wrote they had invited family from out of state for their graduation and were left feeling embarrassed. Others said they were at risk of losing their jobs if they do not achieve certification. One wrote that they used their post-911 GI Bill to pay for classes, haven’t received a refund and now won’t graduate. 

“The only reason I did the program was so my mom could see me graduate before she died. Now she’ll never see me graduate,” wrote Kay Bishop.

What led to the closure

Quest’s closure comes after a Chinese company, YF Investments, acquired it in an October sale that was not reported to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), which regulates for-profit, post-secondary education institutions.

According to a former Quest College office employee who said she quit due to lack of communication on business matters, this was the second sale in a short period of time.

The former staffer said that in 2021, Jeanne Martin, who owned the school for 20 years, sold Quest to Elite Bridge Holdings. That sale was reported to the TWC, but the recent October sale to YF Investments was not. It is unclear how much YF Investments paid for the school.

TWC spokeswoman Angela Woellner told the San Antonio Report that career schools and colleges are required to report ownership changes so that TWC can ensure continued compliance with state statutes and rules.

“In the case of Quest College, TWC was not notified of the sale,” said Woellner. She said the agency received change of ownership notices in September 2001 and October 2021. Each sale was approved at the time of application.

Even before the sale, however, students were being affected by irregularities including allegedly fraudulent diplomas and unexpected delays in certification exams.

Quest College, which began in 1995 as Career Quest, was also part of the City of San Antonio’s Ready to Work program. Eligible participants in the program could enroll in Quest and use federal financial aid to obtain high school equivalency certificates and job certification opportunities to obtain higher-paying jobs.

After officials with Ready To Work learned of Quest College’s closure on Dec. 5, they immediately removed the school from its list of approved training partners, said city spokeswoman Laura Mayes. Quest College is not related to Project Quest, a “prime partner” in Ready to Work.

While no Ready to Work participants were enrolled in Quest College courses, Mayes said, “we understand the uncertainty Quest students may be feeling. The Ready to Work team wants to help!” 

Quest students can apply for Ready to Work at ReadytoWorkSA.com, or by calling 311 or 210-207-6000.

Students in the Facebook group say no one from Quest has contacted them, and that any information they have obtained has come from former staff members whom they’ve contacted directly.

Calls to the school went to voicemail and have not been returned.

Marco Velazquez, an admissions counselor for Quest who was laid off on Dec. 5, told the San Antonio Report that the closure stemmed from the fallout of the school’s unauthorized sale.

Reachell Howard holds up the Medical Assistant Certification that she worked on this year and would have graduated with if Quest College hadn’t closed.
Reachell Howard holds up the medical assistant certificate of completion that she worked on this year at Quest College. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

The TWC received a student complaint in mid-November, Woellner said in an email, alleging that Quest College was causing “undue hardship to the student, by making them pay additional funds for exams that were previously paid for by the program tuition,” she wrote. This initiated an investigation into Quest.

During the investigation, the TWC visited the school to retrieve student records and gather information. It was then that TWC discovered Quest staff were being terminated and that the absence of staff was preventing access to students’ records.

But the TWC did not order the school’s closure. The agency’s investigation was still underway when Marc Huang, who said he was serving as a translator for the Chinese owners, announced that the school would close at a Dec. 5 board meeting.

“Huang confirmed the school was experiencing financial issues and advised he was acting only as the interpreter for the owners of Quest College Inc.,” Woellner said. “The decision to close was made by school ownership, and TWC was notified.”

Woellner said Quest officials were informed of steps it must take to ensure the proper closure, but “given the abrupt actions of the school, it is possible students weren’t notified prior to the school closing,” Woellner said.

More problems

Velazquez said after that October sale, the U.S. Department of Education stopped disbursing Quest students’ federal financial aid due to “bogus” high school diplomas students had paid for at the direction of the college.

Howard, who was pursuing a career as a medical assistant to be a better caretaker to her 14-year-old son, who is disabled, said she was one of those who received a fraudulent diploma.

In October, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) visited Howard’s home and informed her that her high school diploma, which was awarded by a local program called Innovative Approaches to Education, was fake, Howard said. Students were directed to the program by Quest, Velazquez said.

The diploma was paid for by $300 of Howard’s federal financial aid, but after she was informed it was a fraudulent document, she enrolled in a GED program that she has since paused.

Howard, 37, said she had not done any additional work to receive the diploma. She said she believed she was going to receive her high school diploma and her medical assistant certification at the same time.

A spokeswoman with the OIG, which investigates fraud, waste, abuse and criminal activity involving federal education funds, programs and operations, would not confirm an investigation into falsified documents linked to the school, telling the the San Antonio Report, “All we can do at this time is confirm we are aware of the matter.”

Velazquez said he did his “own investigating” on the diplomas as part of his bid to understand what was going on. “And I can tell you, the diplomas are identical. Same grade, same classes, everything — just the name change and the graduation dates,” he said.

He said he also became concerned when he began hearing from students in October that they were unable to schedule their state certification exams.

Velazquez learned the school had stopped paying the National Association of Healthcare Professionals (NAHP), which is the body that provides credentials to healthcare professionals.

Howard shared a copy of an email a fellow Quest student wrote to the certification director at the NAHP, demanding answers.

“We were informed that Quest College is going through a sale and they have stopped all payments until the sale is finalized,” the director emailed back, according to the screenshot Howard shared with the Report. “We do not know how long this will take, or if the school will eventually make the payments.”

In the screenshot of the email, the director said students could take their exams, but would have to pay the $75 application fee themselves.

A special agent with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General knocked on Howard’s door in October to inform her that this diploma and transcript were not valid.
A special agent with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General knocked on Howard’s door in October to inform her that this high school diploma and transcript were not valid. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

What now?

Since the closure, some Quest College staff members have begun pointing students to other for-profit schools in the event they want to continue their studies.

The TWC has since secured student records for those enrolled at the time of the closure, but is still working with state systems to access past student records. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will retain transcripts in its repository, Woellner said, and transcripts will be available upon student request.

The TWC is also working with other licensed schools, including for-profit and publicly funded institutions, to provide students opportunities to continue their education, Woellner said.

According to Woellner, TWC will work with professional organizations such as Career Colleges and Schools of Texas, that have assisted students affected by sudden school closures in the past to find the best fit for each student. Ultimately, the decision on how to proceed is up to the student.

Woellner said the TWC will also work with the Department of Education to determine how much federally granted student aid is forgiven. After the DOE completes its work, the TWC will determine the amount to be reimbursed to each eligible student.

But for-profit colleges are not the only options for students seeking to complete their certifications — often for far less money.

The Alamo Colleges administers several programs of the same programs Quest had, including certified phlebotomy technician, certified clinical medical assistant and dental assistant.

Tuition for medical assistant students at the Alamo Colleges District, for example, starts at $5,000, which is often covered by federal financial aid.

Students entering the Continuing Education program would need to have a high school diploma/GED. For those who may have received false documents, Alamo Colleges offers no-cost high school equivalency (GED) classes for students who qualify.

“While we can’t talk about the risk of attending a for-profit college, we can talk about the benefits of the Alamo Colleges District,” said Linda Rivas, associate vice chancellor for Continuing Education. “The Alamo Colleges offers the most affordable option in the area and we offer the following at no costs to our students: personalized and career guidance, emergency financial assistance and advocacy services and loaner laptops.”

But many students remain at a loss. Some students seeking transcripts say they are being pointed to the TWC’s Career Schools and Colleges web page by former Quest staff they have been able to reach via email. However, it’s unclear how to obtain the documents through the site.

Former student Lina Abdul-Hasib shared her frustration on Facebook.

“This seems like a hopeless battle! I have spent the last 3 days crying. I have no more tears left in my body,” she wrote.

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.