Tampa technical school closes doors in middle of session

Money woes take down the Medical Training Institute in Tampa, stranding its students.
Published December 22 2014
Updated December 22 2014

TAMPA — Evan Mikowski isn't sure he'll become a paramedic after all.

That's because the school he was attending to earn his paramedic certification, Florida Medical Training Institute, shut its doors before he could graduate.

FMTI is a subsidiary of Lincoln Educational Services, a New Jersey company that owns for-profit colleges that provide associate and technical degrees. Earlier this month, Lincoln notified students and faculty on all five FMTI campuses, including the one in Tampa, that operations would cease at the end of December.

The campuses were hemorrhaging money, according to Scott Shaw, Lincoln's chief operating officer.

"The enrollments just weren't high enough for us to justify keeping them open, unfortunately," he said. "We tried to do it for as long as we could, keep it open. No one ever wants to close a school."

Students who were scheduled to graduate before the end of the month will be able to do so, Shaw added. Those who weren't due to complete their program before the new year will get a complete refund, but no degree.

Mikowski, 28, who was attending the 14-month course at the Tampa campus with about 100 other students, was scheduled to graduate in March, so he's out of luck. Another school, Orlando Medical Institute, offered to step in so the students could graduate. That arrangement is still pending.

"I want to try to keep this disruption to a minimum" for the students, Orlando Medical Institute president Felix Marquez said.

He said if the deal is worked out, he'll look into keeping the FMTI faculty and staff.

"As long as they're willing to, I'm willing to keep them," Marquez said.

Tuition would be $3,200, the same amount that Marquez charges transfer students for a single semester, he said. The expense for students would presumably be covered by the refund they receive from FMTI.

The problem, though, is that in order to receive an Orlando Institute certification, students need to complete at least half its curriculum. That means students who are three months away from graduating, like Mikowski, will need to start over back at the midterm and won't graduate until June.

Mikowski is already a certified emergency medical technician, which is different from a paramedic, but works for a contract security firm. He went to paramedic school to help his chances of being hired by Tampa Fire Rescue.

In order to complete the course, Mikowski rearranged his work schedule at the security firm to accommodate classes.

"I work crazy hours, usually 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. three days a week, and another five-hour shift, just to have off one day a week for class," he said.

And then he does his necessary hands-on clinic hours — 400 are needed to graduate — over the weekends.

He worked out a deal with his boss to maintain that bizarre schedule through March, but no longer.

"I haven't told her yet," he said.

Another student, Kamai Curry, an EMT with Sunstar Paramedics, who was in Mikowski's class, was upset the school would discontinue its operations in the middle of students' education.

"We are the various faces of 911 that show up when people are having the worst day of their lives," Curry said in a written statement. "How can we be disregarded like this?"

She said she is talking to an attorney about filing a class-action lawsuit against FMTI.

If anyone could figure out how to navigate a complicated situation, Mikowski said, it's paramedic trainees. "This is what we're going to school for, to deal with unknown, chaotic situations."

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @josh_solomon15.

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