College closure leaves woman with $20,000 debt

SMART City's Diploma of Counselling was supposed to be Amy Waghorne's ticket to a better life.

The 29-year-old Toowoomba resident made personal sacrifices to try to complete the vocational course over 14 months, driving 450km a week to study while also caring for two relatives.

Now Ms Waghorne and dozens of other students have been left devastated after Smart City was barred from accessing federal funding to support its training courses.

The Sunshine Coast-based training college effectively shut down its Toowoomba campus last week.

It stated it would no longer honour any outstanding diplomas.

The fallout left Ms Waghorne with $20,000 in VET-FEE HELP debts, yet no qualification to show for it.

"I was in complete shock - I don't know how they can allow this to happen," she said through tears.

"It was a waste of time and hours that all of us had to put in, just to put the assessments in on time.

"I've put absolutely everything into this, into bettering my future - I'm devastated."

DEVASTATED: Ex-Smart City student Amy Waghorne now has $20,000 worth of debt and no diploma to show for it. The result is a sad end to a difficult period of her life studying at the vocational college.
DEVASTATED: Ex-Smart City student Amy Waghorne now has $20,000 worth of debt and no diploma to show for it. The result is a sad end to a difficult period of her life studying at the vocational college. Tom Gillespie

While some students managed to get their final assessments in before the March 21 announcement, many believed they had until April to finish it.

Counselling diploma trainer Shelley Gapp said the shut down of the Ruthven St campus in December and relocating it to the Toowoomba Library put pressure on vulnerable students.

"My concern about this, when the Toowoomba campus was closed down, was that many of the staff were very disappointed they couldn't work with students," she said.

"Most of the students I taught had gone through difficult educational settings.

"They came with a wariness and a lack of confidence.

"It was a real disappointment and shock."

One of Ms Waghorne's classmates Matt Schmidt, who did get his diploma, said Smart City didn't even email students last week about the announcement.

"I received it by text (from a fellow student), linking me to the website," he said.

The website's statement said while it would support training for certificate programs, it would not offer training to diploma students on the previous VET FEE-HELP scheme.

ACPET provides tuition assurance to support students with VET loans and will support students with their options. Contact it at student or on 1800 657 644. Any student affected can also contact the department on 1800 020 108.

Topics:  smart city sunshine coast toowoomba

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