For-profit Brensten Education closes abruptly, focuses on new school devCodeCamp

MILWAUKEE -- Brensten Education closed its doors in January 2016, leaving students in debt and without degrees. The FOX6 Investigators have discovered the CEO of that for-profit school, Jim Brent, is now running a new coding school, devCodeCamp.

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From left to right Paul Jirovetz, Wendy Mirenda, and Jim Brent of Brensten Education and devCodeCamp. They pose for a photo while promoting their new coding camp in the local newspaper.

Corrine Nimmer is one of dozens of students affected by Brensten's abrupt closure. Hoping to change her life for the better, she enrolled at Brensten after witnessing a shooting at a Dollar Store where she worked.

"I can't go back to that employment because it is hard for me to even go in that place where I witnessed someone shooting themselves," Nimmer said.

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Former Brensten Education students say they are saddled with student loan debt, and have nothing to show for it. They feel like Brensten's CEO took their money to open his new school, devCodeCamp.

Not being able to go back, but wanting to move forward, Nimmer decided to enroll at Brensten Education.

"It was a two-year associate degree program, which they said they could crunch it down into 18 months," said Ruben Hopkins. "The commercials that they ran were like, 'Hey if you are tired of the rut that you're in and you are willing to make a change come to this boot camp,'" he said.

For hundreds of students, it was more than a degree in technology -- it was a dream.

Tamika Alexander hoped it would be a game changer.

"It's hard to support four children on minimum wage," Alexander said. "They need clothes, they need shoes, they need food, they need hygiene products. And I'm not making it. So this was my chance to do better, to be better."

The school even offered what it called an "earn as you learn" program. If you came to class, got decent grades, the school would pay you up to $10,000.

Classes were held in Waukesha. Many students would go at night, after working full-time jobs. Almost all of them took on thousands of dollars in federal student load debt. Then, without warning, Brensten closed its doors.

brensten-3Enter devCodeCamp, a Milwaukee computer coding school in the Third Ward. It made headlines for shaking up the traditional four-year degree. They promise to make people software developers in just 14 weeks for $14,000, and have recently expanded to Madison.

Our producers went undercover and found devCodeCamp is aggressively recruiting new students.

devCodeCamp is owned and operated by the same people who shut down Brensten Education -- a school that used to be known as PC ProSchools and PC Productivity. This is their second for-profit school in Wisconsin.

Six months before Brensten closed its doors, the State of Wisconsin gave devCodeCamp the green light to open.

The Educational Approval Board says it didn't starting hearing about problems at Brensten until fall of 2015 when a professor blew the whistle. But by then, the EAB says, the damage was done.

Just as devCodeCamp was preparing to launch, students say things at Brensten took a turn. Teachers started leaving, equipment disappeared, and promised financial incentives were never paid. All the while, Brensten assured students they weren't closing -- at least, not yet.

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FOX6 Investigator Meghan Dwyer tries to ask Paul Jirovetz why Brensten Education closed without notifying students.

Even after the state started asking questions in November 2015, Brensten encouraged students to take on more student loan debt. But when students showed up for classes in January 2016, they were turned away. The school had lost its accreditation.

Jim Brent was Brensten's CEO. His daughter, Wendy Mirenda, was Vice President of Compliance. Paul Jirovetz was Director of Operations.

At devCodeCamp, Jirovetz is still urging students to take on debt. Only now he's pushing private loans. Mirenda is also directly involved with the new school.

devCodeCamp students don't qualify for federal aid because devCodeCamp isn't accredited -- and Brensten's under investigation by the Department of Education for how it used federal student loan money.

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FOX6 producers went to devCodeCamp with undercover cameras. Paul Jirovetz aggressively recruited new students for his coding camp, and never mentioned the failed Brensten Education.

FOX6 Investigators tried to talk to Paul Jirovetz. He told us he had to get something, and would come back and speak with us, but never did.

Former Brensten students say they gave up years of their lives -- and put their families on hold for the promise of something better. They are angry, and are considering legal action.

Brensten's owners hired a consulting firm to answer our questions. In an email, were were told Brensten took federal student loan money as recently as December 2015, but returned that money to the U.S. Department of Education. They claim devCodeCamp is a separate legal entity, and it never took money from Brensten students to use for the new school.

Brensten says it's sorry students didn't get to finish their degrees -- and they closed the school with a heavy heart.

Students who qualify have applied to get their loans discharged. Wisconsin taxpayers have paid more than $26,000 to Brensten students in student loan refunds so far.

Some former Brensten student say they have tried to enroll in new schools, but they are learning their credits won't transfer.