ITHACA, N.Y. — The Finger Lakes School of Massage has officially lost its accreditation and has been directed to close its Ithaca campus by the end of October, along with affiliated campuses in Mt. Kisco, New York, and Frederick, Maryland.
High employee turnover and inconsistent record keeping were some of the issues cited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training for denying the school’s reaccreditation. ACCET initially denied FLSM’s application for reaccreditation in April, but the school appealed the decision. In a letter to FLSM campus director Chanin Storm dated Aug. 16, ACCET announced the appeal was denied and the decision to revoke FLSM’s accreditation is final.
“Upon review of the record, including the appeals brief and oral presentations, the Commission voted to affirm the decision to deny reaccreditation to Finger Lakes School of Massage based on the institution’s non-compliance with the following eight ACCET Standards for Accreditation, as the institution failed to provide documented evidence to demonstrate compliance with these standards,” the letter reads.
ACCET raised concerns about FLSM’s compliance with accreditation standards in December and charged the school with failing to meet standards in 13 areas in April. After reviewing the school’s appeal, the commission determined that the school remained noncompliant in eight areas: human resources management, records, financial assistance/scholarships, program/instructional materials, qualifications of instructional personnel, attendance, student progress, completion and job placement.
Neither Storm nor CEO Shannon Yerkic responded to The Ithaca Voice’s requests for comment.
The for-profit Finger Lakes School of Massage chain operates campuses in Ithaca and Mount Kisco, New York, and Frederick, Maryland and is owned by the Trumantra Education Group. Trumantra also owns the Arizona School of Integrative Studies, which has four campuses in Arizona. ACCET issued a “programmatic probation” warning to ASIS in August regarding its part-time massage therapy program in Tucson.
According to a memo to potential investors from 2016, Trumantra received ACCET accreditation for the two New York FLSM campuses in 2009 and for the Maryland campus in 2012. Apart from ensuring the quality of a school, accreditation carries tangible benefits for students, including eligibility for federal financial aid, license reciprocity across states and transferability of credits. According to the investor memo, the key benefits of accreditation for FLSM are increased enrollment and increased tuition fees.
Between 2010 and 2015, annual enrollment at the three campuses increased from 208 to 297, according to the investor memo.
Storm and Yerkic did not respond to requests for current enrollment numbers, but former Ithaca staff said pressure to increase enrollment over the past two years drove a hostile workplace culture. In an October 2018 interview with The Ithaca Voice, former regional director of education Jeannie O’Neill said Yerkic, who was COO at the time, pushed for a 100% acceptance rate to turn “leads” into enrolled students. She said decision-making shifted away from local administrators, toward Trumantra executives as the company looked to increase revenue.
O’Neill was terminated in September, the first in a cascade of walk-outs and firings at the Ithaca campus. Seven employees who lost their jobs filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging they faced retaliation after they collectively questioned management decisions at the school. The NLRB found the complaint had merit, and in April, FLSM reached a settlement with the seven employees. According to Rob Brown, operations manager for the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, complaints alleging sex discrimination, harassment and wage theft are still pending at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and New York Department of State.
In addition to former employees, five Ithaca FLSM students, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, told The Ithaca Voice last spring that staff failed to provide up-to-date and accurate information about their financial and academic records, including inconsistent documentation of their student loans and scholarships and delayed disbursement of funds. Full-time enrollment at the Ithaca campus cost about $17,000 in 2018-19.
In an April 29 letter denying the school’s reaccreditation application, ACCET wrote that all three FLSM campuses failed to meet accreditation standards related to financial assistance and scholarships. The letter cites several financial issues at the Ithaca campus, including lack of documentation of refunds, lack of financial aid training, and absence of availability of a financial aid officer. Based on a January site visit, ACCET found there was no staff person in Ithaca qualified to discuss student financial records.
The April decision to deny reaccreditation also cited questions about the financial viability of the school, including a lack of financial projections for the 2019 fiscal year. In March, the investment group that owns a majority share of Trumantra sued former owners David Merwin and John Robinson, alleging they lied about Trumantra’s financial distress before selling the company. The lawsuit is currently pending in the New York Supreme Court, New York County.
Following ACCET’s final decision to deny reaccreditation, FLSM has been directed to close its three campuses by Oct. 31, 2019. The accreditation commission directed the school to cease enrolling students immediately upon receipt of the appeal decision. The campuses are required to implement “teach-out” plans detailing how they will complete the training of students who are currently enrolled “and/or arranging for current students to obtain refunds or transfer to other institutions to complete their training.”
Storm and Yerkic did not respond to requests for copies of FLSM’s teach-out plan or respond to questions about how many students and employees at each campus are impacted by the closures.