- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

The Maryland Higher Education Commission has decertified a Hyattsville computer training school that set hundreds of students and staff adrift when it suddenly closed.
The Unisoft School of Technology, which promised to place successful graduates in good jobs and to pay off their outstanding tuition loans, shut its doors Feb. 3, leaving up to 300 students without an explanation and without their computer certifications.
Commission spokeswoman Walinda West said Unisoft had made promises that it knew could not be kept.
"We sanctioned them, fined them, told them to stop enrolling students at once and told them to reimburse students," Miss West said.
The commission on Jan. 20 imposed an $85,000 fine on Unisoft and gave it 60 days to comply.
Judy Hendrickson, the commission's director of academic affairs, said Thursday the commission had revoked Unisoft's certificate of approval, meaning it no longer is recognized as an official private career school and no longer can provide training.
She said Unisoft was still obliged to adhere to officially ordered remedies to its "illegal financial inducements." Those remedies, she said, included refunds to students.
The commission, she said, had been unable to reach Unisoft owner George Onyewuchi.
Efforts by The Washington Times to reach Unisoft management also were unsuccessful. The school's Web sites do not operate and no one answered the phone at the school in the 3400 block of East-West Highway.
Tabitha Merchant, 24, a student from Landover who attended classes on weekends, said she signed a contract with the school in November 2001 to take network-engineering courses for a tuition of $16,551. She said the school secured her loan from Sallie Mae, but she was eligible only for a $10,000 loan at 10.81 percent. She agreed to pay Unisoft $50 a month to make up the $6,000 difference.
"I want my money back," she said. "They did not deliver the services they said they would. They have wasted my time. I've spent every Saturday studying for these [certification] tests and I have not accomplished my goal, which was to move on to a bigger and better job."
Miss West accused the school of preying on vulnerable people "who could least afford to pay the money and thought that this was a way [out] for them. There were promises of jobs that the students ultimately would take and tuition did not seem like a high price to pay."
Unisoft's contract with students promised them it would repay their loans principal and interest if they "complete the program and pass all their certification tests." It also guaranteed job placement. "Current minimum starting salary is $30,000 per year," it says.
"We want to see [the administrators] in jail," said Chandu Begawada, 23, a former student from Laurel who was most recently an instructor at the school.
Sihanat Meas, 30, said he had feared that the Unisoft School of Technology's offer was "too good to be true." Mr. Meas, who is unemployed, found an advertisement for the school in a technical magazine.
"I got a loan for $14,000 and took classes Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. There were only three other people in my class," he said.
Mr. Meas completed his course work in Web design in December 2001. He said the school promised him a Web design job with a minimum $30,000 salary once he finished classes and took the required certification tests.
"I was hired by Unisoft Technologies as a Web designer," he said, "but I had other responsibilities, which included taking inventory and moving computers around and running errands.
"I didn't do much Web design," he said.

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