Editor’s Note: This is an update to the Clinton Herald story posted on page A1 of the Friday online edition.
CLINTON – Just two years ago, the old Ashford University campus was teeming with student activity as the new home of Pangea International Academy, where international students resided and attended classes.
Now that the campus and its hallways are quiet, due to U.S. law limiting visas for first-time students to attend, and recruiting efforts to attract prospective students stranded by the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions , according to school officials. Over time, the students in Pangea moved to classes at Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf and the rooms in Pangea turned dark.
Today, the future of the Clinton campus remains uncertain, Brian Clem, a member of the Pangea school board, admitted to the Clinton Herald on Friday. But, he said, the Confucius International Education Group, which owns the campus, is hoping the recent reopening of visa offices in China, declining coronavirus cases, and effective vaccines will lead students to Clinton for international education.
The history of Pangea
The campus at 400 Bluff Blvd. at Clinton, opened as Pangea International Academy in 2018, the first students arrived there in the fall of this year. The students lived on the campus, which had been named the New Six Arts International Education Park, and also attended classes at Clinton High School.
But, Clem explained, the operation of CIEG was hampered by US law because foreign students were only able to attend US public schools for one year. Without the certification of the exchange student and visitor program, Pangea would not be able to issue I-20 forms, which are certificates of eligibility for non-immigrant student status. Prospective international students use the forms to apply for visas to enter the United States.
Clem said that in the fall of 2019, CIEG made an agreement with Rivermont Collegiate to send its returning students there. Rivermont is SEVP certified and can issue I-20s. International freshmen attended Clinton High School, but returning students lived at New Six Arts in Clinton and traveled to Rivermont for classes.
At the same time, CIEG’s recruitment efforts to attract new students were hampered in 2019 by the United States’ trade wars with China. In December 2019, Rivermont announced that Pangea International in Clinton would become Campus Rivermont Collegiate Pangea. Then in 2020, COVID and the resulting travel restrictions halted recruitment.
At the time of the initial Pangea-Rivermont deal, Rivermont officials described it as a unique partnership between an independent school, a public school, and an American and foreign educational group.
As to where he is today? “We were working on a long-term partnership with them,” Phillip Dunbridge, Rivermont admissions director, told the Herald on Thursday, describing the partnership as something that “quickly fell apart.”
“We weren’t originally supposed to take back control of this campus until this summer.” But CIEG was falling behind on bill payments, Dunbridge told the Herald. He wasn’t doing the necessary repairs on the Clinton campus.
“So they asked us to intervene earlier,” said Dunbridge. “We worked with them for about three months.”
Communication was difficult and CIEG did not transfer funds to perform repairs, Dunbridge said.
In the fall of 2020, Rivermont cut all ties to the Clinton campus, Dunbridge said. Chinese students who came to the United States through Pangea International Academy became students of Rivermont.
“We have about 20 of them this year, and 16 of them are graduates,” Dunbridge said. Four plan to return to Rivermont for their final year.
“I was really hoping we could have gotten something there,” Dunbridge said, but he has no local contact for CIEG and has not heard of any contacts in China.
Clinton School District Superintendent Gary DeLacy has heard nothing from the organization that collaborated with Clinton High School two years ago. “I don’t even know who’s in charge right now,” DeLacy said Thursday.
But Clem disputes Dunbridge’s claims, saying negotiations over their partnership are not over, that a meeting is even on the schedule for more talks, and that if anyone has ended the negotiations, it’s Rivermont.
The New Six Arts International Education Park is valued at over $ 7 million. According to tax records, annual taxes on the property are $ 325,820. CIEG has not paid taxes owed to Clinton County since April 2020, when it paid its September 1, 2019 deposit of $ 164,298 seven months late. CIEG is past due on its property tax payments for March 2020, September 2020 and March 2021 as well as special assessments.
But, according to Clem, these unpaid taxes do not mean the end of Pangea and CIEG’s involvement in Clinton. In fact, he said that CIEG “is not yet throwing in the white towel”.
He said the organization had to overcome the challenges of COVID and recruiting and could use the help of the City of Clinton and the federal government to obtain visas.
“We talk to parents every day about what Iowa and Clinton, Iowa is, a wonderful and safe place,” he said.