Occupational Hazards

Columbine College students thought they had a future in the floral industry. But their hopes could wither on the vine.

With layoffs looming, AT&T has been offering courses for employees exploring second careers--including "floraculture" instruction in the company's own cafeteria. The course, given by a local occupational school, was represented as a state-approved program taught by licensed instructors and promised to deliver a diploma and good job prospects in the floral industry.

On December 15, AT&T even hosted a graduation ceremony for the students, where John Glau, director of the state Division of Private Occupational Schools, was introduced as "the man who made this all possible" by certifying Columbine College for Floral Design and Horticulture.

But the bloom is off the rose.
State and federal agencies investigating alleged financial improprieties at Columbine have suspended all government-backed student loans--the lifeblood of such schools--for eighteen months. State and school officials are now negotiating what steps Columbine might take to get back into the state's good graces.

According to one state official, who asked to remain anonymous, such steps could include getting rid of the school's controversial director and having Columbine agree to repay loans and grants given to students during its two and a half years of existence. Otherwise, students could still be held responsible for making payments on loans already received, even if they can no longer afford to attend the school.

Or if those loans are forgiven, taxpayers could be left holding this particular bag of manure.

In addition, Columbine is being investigated by Denver, state and federal tax authorities, according to officials at those agencies, who decline to reveal the nature of the investigations.

That there are complaints about Columbine should come as no surprise to Glau, whose agency licenses occupational schools and checks to make sure they are following regulations. Former students and instructors say they complained to Glau about conditions at Columbine but claim he ignored their criticisms because he's a friend of both Columbine's owner and its director.

Glau denies that charge and says he's launched his own investigation into the school.

Columbine College for Floral Design, located in the Lakeside Mall, is owned by Roger Hartman, who also owns Columbine Beauty College and Wheat Ridge Beauty College. According to Marshall Smith, a compliance manager with the Colorado Student Loan Program, CSLP's investigation is focusing on the floral school and its director, Peter Schlosser, who owned the school in its two previous incarnations: Design Floral School and Intermountain College.

In 1993 Intermountain suddenly closed its doors. "One night the computers for the business program just disappeared," says a former instructor who asked not to be named. "The next morning the doors were locked."

Schlosser sold the school to Hartman, who renamed it Columbine College for Floral Design and Horticulture--and then named Schlosser its director.

Schlosser is the subject of many of the complaints about Columbine. His critics say that he listed business courses in the catalogue that were never offered, that he screamed at students and teachers, and that he refused to pay instructors in a timely manner. The teacher of the AT&T course contends she paid Schlosser $50 and filled out the necessary paperwork to be licensed with the state, but the state has no record of her license.

Columbine's national accreditation and state certification, which make its students eligible to apply for government loans, is dependent on having licensed instructors certified by the state. Financial aid, sometimes in the form of outright grants or government-backed low-interest loans, is dependent on students completing a program of at least 600 hours in length. Columbine qualified by adding a 150-hour internship to its program.

But the investigations also are looking into students' claims that they weren't given promised internships. And, sources say, some student "internships" consisted of nothing more than sweeping floors and cleaning at the school.

After making repeated requests for an internship assignment, student Julie Rauh got so frustrated she started volunteering at a friend's floral shop. "I was told lack of staff and office disorganization was the reason for no placement," Rauh wrote in a February 18 letter sent to CSLP investigators (and copied to Glau). "The school gave me a signed diploma to help in any job search. I reminded them that a job placement did not qualify or replace the 150-hour internship program. Without the internship program, the floral college does not qualify for state financial aid."

Former instructor Penny McAnally, who says she quit when Schlosser refused to pay her, claims she was told to fudge student internship hours. She also says she saw falsified internship forms with forgeries of her signature.

Other teachers told investigators that they'd been asked to alter records to indicate that students attended school--and therefore were eligible for financial-aid checks--when they actually were on extended leaves of absence. Although any checks that came in during that time should have been returned, the teachers claim Columbine cashed them.

Former instructors say they were told to change attendance records and grade-point averages so that students would remain eligible for financial aid. In one case, several sources charge, a mother was allowed to take the entrance exams and fill out financial-aid forms for her mentally handicapped daughter so that both could attend the school on government loans.

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