The venerable Heald College: an institution brought to ruin by corporate incompetence and greed

TryingToSaveHeald-2014-530Heald College was known as Heald’s Business College when it was established in 1863 by Edward Payson Heald. My experience with the venerable institution began when I started teaching evening classes for the school’s Electronic Engineering Technology degree courses at its San Francisco campus in 1981.

In 1981, Heald was known as Heald Colleges – and was made up of campuses named “Heald Institute of Technology” and “Heald Business College.” It was also in 1981 that the principal owner of Heald Colleges, Dr. James Deitz, converted the business to a nonprofit educational institution.

In 1988, Heald Colleges celebrated its 125th year of existence with a fund-raiser at San Francisco’s famed Fairmont Hotel. That is where I learned that Heald Colleges had more than a million living alumni in the state of California alone. Among the tens of thousands of famous alumni were restaurateur Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron; San Francisco Chronicle publisher and De Young Museum founder Michael H. de Young; former San Francisco mayor George Christopher; Transamerica, Bank of Italy, and the Bank of America founder A. P. Giannini; and former Santa Cruz, CA mayor and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk developer Fred Swanton.

Heald Colleges alumni were well-established in every walk of life, and well-respected members of their communities.

Heald Colleges was a well-managed, reputable educational institution whose faculty and staff worked as family. From 1981 through 2005, Heald Colleges’ faculty and staff staged annual week-long conferences where everyone got together and exchanged ideas on making the educational process more efficient and effective for students, faculty and staff. Heald Colleges endeavored to make each campus’ faculty and staff a part of the community they served.

HaywardCampus-Vacating-2015-375In 2001, Heald Colleges changed its name to Heald College (dropping the “s”) as it merged its Heald Institute of Technology and Heald Business College campuses. It was in that year that the distinguished Heald logo was developed. Heald was undergoing a series of management changes in an attempt to modernize and cope with new ways of educating people and running a business.

I served on the Heald College team that prepared the school for accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Heald College’s credentials were impeccable as was the quality of its staff, faculty, and students. Heald College’s student population was especially well-qualified and among the best candidates for learning in their respective fields of study.

At this time, Heald College had a total of 12 campuses: ten in California, one in Portland (Oregon), and one in Honolulu (Hawaii).

Around the year 2002, Heald College started encountering serious financial problems that led to a series of changes in management and its structure. As each new management team failed to turn the school’s financial situation around, the Board of Trustees brought in a new team that was worse than the previous one. The school’s owners made their final fatal move when they decided to sell the school.

In 2007, Heald College was sold to Palm Ventures of Connecticut, a private investor group whose objective was to “flip” the business – fix it up, make it look good, and then sell it for a profit. Palm Ventures took Heald out of its nonprofit status, making it a for-profit business. It was also in this year that I decided to quit teaching at the school and enjoyed a “retirement” fete. But the school – its staff and faculty – and I kept in touch.

In 2009, Palm Ventures sold the apparently “financially thriving” Heald College to Corinthian Colleges, Inc., a 24-year-old Santa Ana, California business. With this event, everyone at Heald College should have known that their institution was doomed.

Many questioned the credentials of the people at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. who took over the management of Heald. While Corinthian was growing leaps and bounds, it was at the time being investigated by California’s Attorney General for improper student recruitment practices.

Heald’s student population doubled under Corinthian – but faculty members began to voice their concern about the poor quality of those students. Meanwhile, Corinthian survived the Attorney General’s charges in 2007 by paying a measly $6.5 million fine without admitting any wrong-doing. In that year, Corinthian pulled in $1 billion in revenues. By 2012, Heald College’s student population doubled and Corinthian continued to rake in money.

But Corinthian’s end was nearing. In 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission began an investigation of Corinthian’s student recruitment practices and job placement claims. This was followed by a lawsuit filed by California’s Attorney General against Corinthian for the same malpractices. In the same year, the Department of Education started investigating Corinthian for the same issues and began making it difficult for Heald students to obtain financial aid.

What followed is history.

By mid-2014, Corinthian began to realize that it would not be able to wiggle out of its cases the same way it did in 2007. Corinthian begged to be allowed to sell some of its schools (including Heald College) while shuttering others. And when it couldn’t find any buyers for the schools it was allowed to sell, Corinthian collapsed.

Corinthian decided to just lie down and die – and it did.

But so did the venerable Heald College.



About Julius Willis

A former Philippines newspaper publisher and businessman, Julius resettled in California, USA, where he simultaneously worked as an instructional and technical writer and engineering department manager and taught college for 26 years. Now retired, he serves as a member of the Alameda County Housing & Community Development Advisory Committee. He also served as a member of the City of Hayward's General Plan Task Force and the city's Planning, Personnel, Citizens Advisory, and Community Services commissions.
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