Weeks after federal regulators closed a North County university, several former students say they are now trying to recover thousands of dollars in lost tuition.
Agenta Shayo, 56, dreamed of opening her own school in her home country of Tanzania.
Now, she has no degree, no money and no hope.
“I don't eat, I am not even sleeping well,” Shayo said.
In late 2011, she came to Carlsbad to get her master’s degree in Public Health from Aristotle University .
Following a series of NBC 7 investigations, state regulators with The Bureau for Postsecondary Education launched an investigation and ordered Aristotle University in Carlsbad to shut down or face a fine. The agency said the university's co-founder and dean Xanthi Gionis had been operating without a license. Read letter here
“The state of California has closed the school which is good, which is supposedly good, but what happens to the students?” asked former student Irene Niuke.
Former students of Aristotle University's School of Public Health say they paid Gionis $18,000 in tuition.
The students are from India, Thailand, Jordan, Ghana, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Some wanted NBC 7 to hide their identities because they say they are ashamed, they don’t want their families back home to worry about them.
“People need to understand the value of money $1 is like $500 in my country,” said Niuke.
Gionis has defended the school in a Feb. 17 news conference saying, “The allegations against Aristotle University are ridiculous and unfounded.” Watch video: Gionis Denies Allegations
In a letter to students, Gionis said a new application had been submitted to the state Bureau around March 1.
However, a spokesperson from the bureau told NBC 7 they haven't received a new application from Gionis.
Students would love to transfer schools, but it's not an easy process.
“It’s a procedure,” Niuke said. “You don't just stand up and say, ‘Okay, fine, I want to go to school right now.’ There is an admission procedure.”
The students asked Xanthi Gionis for their transcripts, which Gionis said she would give them in three separate emails.
They were last told the transcripts would arrive by FedEx March 18. The students say they never received them.
Even with their transcripts, the students say transferring their credits is difficult.
“It's like the schools you are trying to contact no one is accepting the credits from Aristotle university, since it is not approved and accredited,” Niuke said.
The students say they need time and money.
They've asked Gionis to refund their tuition. She said she would do so in an email, but none of the students NBC7 contacted have received a refund.
Since they are no longer students, they are in violation of their F-1 visas. They can't legally work in the U.S., to make money.
“So now if they are going to start a different school, where are they going to get that money?” asked Albert Anarwat, another former student. “Where are they going to raise that kind of bulkhead money again to start all over? The whole situation is very complex to believe.”
The students have spoken to a lawyer about suing Gionis in civil court.
“The problem here is justice is very expensive in the United States,” one student told NBC 7.
Another lawyer said it is going to take another two years, so you might leave the country before you get your money back.”
The students say it's not in their nature to ask for help from other people. They say they are self-motivated and hard-working individuals but now, they are desperate.
“I know as a nation in the United States if there is any problem, they are the first people who will go there,” Anarwat said. “And now, there is an emergency right here.So, they should turn and look at us and help us to move ahead.”
Xanthi Gionis told the students, Aristotle University of Public Health was under new ownership by a man named Dr. Kim. They have never met him or had any direct contact with him.
NBC 7 asked Xanthi Gionis for more information on Dr.Kim and for a response to this story.
She emailed NBC 7, saying she had no comment.