Founder, former CEO of Vista College explains what led up to school’s closure

Jim Tolbert spoke with News 3′s Rusty Surette about the challenges that led to the closure of Vista’s campuses including the one in College Station.
Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 5:53 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Vista College closed all its campuses in 2021, including the campus in College Station, and now the former CEO and founder of the for-profit school is sharing more details about what he says led to its closure.

In August last year, in-person enrollment was suspended and employees across Texas would be furloughed following what Jim Tolbert describes as significant impacts on business operations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tolbert on Monday afternoon explained to News 3′s Rusty Surette what led to those challenges.

“We had a senior bank loan with a bank based out of Chicago called Wintrust Bank. Wintrust informed us in July of last year that they were not going to renew our loan. However, they asked me as the CEO and I believe as a long-standing, good steward of their money if I wanted to buy the loan at a discount. Well, I was able to with a group of other partners, buy that loan and prevent the shutdown of our company last July,” said Tolbert.

“Unfortunately, given the business conditions, we weren’t able to keep the company open past October when it eventually shut down. It’s just the realities of business, it’s the reality of resources, and one of the things we tried to do when shutting down the school was to do it as smoothly as possible,” said Tolbert.

However, that attempt didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

Many students and staff who spoke to KBTX last year felt blindsided by the abrupt closure and Tolbert said it could have been handled better.

“It was not a good ending and I’m not going to say otherwise. A lot of people’s educations were interrupted and a lot of people lost their jobs, and that’s a fact. Was anything done in retrospect that could have saved the company? I don’t know,” said Tolbert, who went on to say that when the closure happened, he had already departed the company.

“I was not a part of a lot of those decisions. In fact, I technically resigned prior to the shutdown of the school and was not involved in the decision to shut down the school, nor in the decision to file for bankruptcy. However, in an attempt not to have any outstanding liabilities, the company shut down at the end of the payroll period, so nobody was due payroll and the company went through a very rigorous closeout audit with the US Department of Education to help ensure there were no outstanding liabilities with respect to federal financial aid,” said Tolbert.

Vista College was founded in 2006 by Tolbert, who says his mission was to expand educational opportunities to smaller, underserved communities including College Station, Killeen, Beaumont, Longview, and El Paso. There were also campuses in New Mexico and Arkansas.

“We were very proud of what we were able to do,” said Tolbert. “We’re extremely proud of what professional and career opportunities we were able to provide the communities, and one of the things that I don’t hesitate to boast about is that over the period of time that we are open, over 20,000 people graduated from one of our schools. So I think we had a very positive impact on the communities that we see.”

Tolbert is now chancellor of Universidad Santander USA, a school that aims to help non-English speaking residents achieve their educational goals. He’s also investing in rural hospital hospitals throughout the country. He goes into more detail about his new work in our interview and you can watch it, unedited, by clicking on the video player above.

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