SOUTHINGTON — Lincoln College of New England could benefit from a proposed sewer expansion plan that will bring service to the northwest section of town. But enrollment last year declined by more than 30 percent at the college, which is owned by a for-profit educational company that’s also closed a dozen campuses across the country in the past two years.
The town is proposing a $2.6 million sewer expansion that would bring service to the northwest corner of town, including Lincoln College of New England and 300 acres of undeveloped land currently owned by Tilcon.
Voters will decide on the expansion plan at a November referendum.
The college on Mount Vernon Road currently uses a septic system. Town Council Chairman Michael Riccio said sewer access could allow them to expand and build more dorms, but that the main objective is encouraging development elsewhere.
“Lincoln College is a bonus for putting sewer up there. Our focus is the 300 acres north of Welch Road,” he said. “Lincoln College just happens to be in that area.”
Lincoln College is a for-profit campus owned by Lincoln Educational Services Group which owns nearly 50 campuses in 17 states.
Riccio and Economic Dev-elopment Coordinator Lou Perillo are planning a visit to New Jersey to talk with Lincoln College executives about the sewer plan and let them know about the opportunity to expand the Southington campus.
Lincoln College paid $160,909 in taxes in 2013. It offers three certificate, 17 associate and four bachelor programs, according to Spencer McNiven, vice president of operations and student affairs.
The lack of sewer has restricted growth in previous years, McNiven said, and there are no current expansion plans.
“As a college, it would be great to have the opportunity to expand, however, up to this point; we have not been able to start these types of conversations because of the limitations of not having sewer,” he said. “If a sewer line is added, it allows us to change our strategic conversation when looking into the future.”
Patricia Santoro, academic affairs director at the state Office of Higher Education, said enrollment had dropped from 1,230 in the fall of 2012 to 837 in the fall of 2013.
The school is accredited by the state and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
For-profit colleges have come under scrutiny in the past few years as graduation rates, cost and loan default numbers were compared to non-profit and public counterparts.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was presented with a report on for-profit colleges about two years ago. The report left him with concerns about graduation rates and student enrollment practices at for-profit colleges, although he didn’t have any specific information on Lincoln College of New England.
The study, released in 2012 and requested by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, examined students who enrolled in 2008 and 2009.
According to information presented to Blumenthal, for-profit colleges are more expensive than public or non-profit institutions and have high drop-out rates.
“(Students) have the worst of both worlds — large debt and no degree,” Blumenthal said.
Lincoln officials could not be reached for a response.
Data from older reports don’t necessarily reflect on the current situation with for-profits, however. Blumenthal said the increased attention paid to such institutions in previous years spurred changes.
“For-profit colleges are trying to maximize their graduation rates,” he said. “They’ve gotten the message.”
Along with rule changes, Blumenthal said legislators can help by informing the public on the downsides of for-profit colleges.
“We’re trying to raise awareness so consumers will be smarter in the decisions they make,” he said.
Lincoln Educational Services’ latest SEC filing shows the company has reduced the number of students it enrolls, in part to conform to changes in education law enacted in 2010. The company also closed five campuses in 2013 due to low enrollment. Seven campuses were closed in 2012 for the same reason.
According to the financial filings, the company became more selective with its admissions in 2011, reducing the number of students admitted who were deemed to be at high risk for dropping out and defaulting on loans.
Changes in the rules governing federal loan programs also reduced enrollment, according to the company.
More laws could be on the way. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., co-sponsored a bill this year that would create a commission that would enact standards for colleges and universities receiving federal funds. Standards would include affordability, accessibility and value.
Lincoln Educational Services earned $37 million in net income in 2012.