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Students at Nebraska's for-profit colleges will be protected financially if those schools suddenly close, thanks to a change adopted this year by state lawmakers.

The measure was a response to last year's shutdown of ITT Technical Institute, which impacted some 43,000 students nationwide, including 340 who attended the ITT Tech campus in Omaha.

Those students were left scrambling to obtain their transcripts, and some still haven't.

"That's what we really want to protect Nebraska students against in the future," said Mike Baumgartner, executive director of the state Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, which regulates for-profit colleges.

Under the law change, proposed by state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Pete Ricketts, student records from for-profit schools that close will be sent to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Students may also recoup lost tuition and fees if a school closes mid-term. 

"Students who turn to for-profit schools with the promise of a good education should have the opportunity to recover lost tuition and obtain academic records to help them further their educational pursuits and careers," Pansing Brooks said in a news release. "This bill will help them do that."

The number of for-profit career schools in Nebraska is shrinking.

Purdue University recently announced its purchase of Kaplan University, including the Kaplan campus at 1821 K St. in Lincoln and another campus in Omaha.

Once the transition from Kaplan to Purdue is complete, the state will have just two for-profit career schools offering bachelor's degrees: Creative Center College of Art & Design in Omaha and National American University in Bellevue.

Under this year's bill (LB512), those colleges will be required to pay into a fund operated by the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education. If their school suddenly closes, students may submit claims against that fund for lost tuition and fees.

For-profit colleges must also reimburse the state if government-subsidized students are unable to finish an academic term due to a closure.

Cosmetology schools and other non-profit colleges which don't grant bachelor's degrees are regulated separately by the Nebraska Department of Education and already follow similar rules.

Pansing Brooks' proposal was originally included in a separate bill she introduced (LB123), but was amended into a larger package of education-law changes, which passed without opposition May 16.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zachami.

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Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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