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School closure a blessing for many Drake students

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"They really let us down, Drake," said Paul Jacques of Jamaica, who attended the Astoria branch.

Like most of his former classmates, he plans to get back up again with the help of a dozen area schools taking pains to enroll a flood of displaced students. Three weeks after learning that the 131-year-old school was closing on the first day of classes for the summer term, many are learning that the shutdown was a blessing in disguise.

"It opened up opportunities to spread and travel," said D. Grant of Jamaica, filling out paperwork to enroll in Plaza College in Jackson Heights, just one of the schools the state enlisted to help with the fallout from Drake.

Citing financial difficulties, the non-profit school, which offered non-degree business and medical certifications, closed just weeks after Chief Executive Officer David Cary Hart was shot in the buttocks in a Steinway Street subway turnstile. Police were still investigating the case.

Some former students said they knew the end was coming soon for Drake when teachers stopped showing up for classes and ink and paper became scarce.

"They weren't giving us books on time," said Merquiades Guevara of the Bronx.

Now that Drake has closed, many are learning that they can get a better, more valuable education elsewhere.

Helen Castellano of Whitestone was six months shy of getting an office assistant certificate from Drake. She now plans on going for an associate's degree from Plaza, even though her credits from the business school will not transfer.

"I have to start all over, but that's my choice," Castellano said. "Instead of a diploma from Drake I'm going to get an associate's degree from college."

Grant is taking the same route.

"Might as well go all the way" if you're going to attend school, she said. "It is better."

About 60 Drake students have taken enrollment exams at Plaza, and the school plans to admit as many as 50 this summer and fall, said Chuck Calahan, the college's chief operating officer.

He said his school was happy to go out of its way to accommodate them by offering special tours, group exams and counseling.

"No one really likes to see students stranded," Calahan said.

A week before Drake closed, the state Department of Higher Education contacted Plaza and a group of other schools such as Access Careers in Kew Gardens and Metropolitan Learning Center in Forest Hills to help students transfer with financial aid.

"I appreciate the fact that a lot of the schools are working to help with the Drake students," Guevara said.

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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