When Robert Edwards, 31, and a high school dropout, enrolled at the Lacaze-Gardner School of Business in October 1977, his main goal in life was to graduate and to get a white collar job.
But Edwards wears dirty coveralls, not white collars in his current job as a janitor for a local publishing firm where he earns $3.20 an hour.
Just two weeks before he was scheduled to graduate from Lacaze-Gardner with a high school certificate and a college diploma in business management the school abruptly closed its doors.
Edwards is one of about 900 former students at Lacaze-Gardner whose plans for the future were thrown into disarray when the Washington campus of the school was shut down.
The school's closing in November came at a time when the U.S. Office of Education and the FBI both were conducting investigations into charges that Lacaze-Gardner, where 70 percent of the students received federal loans or grants, had misused federal financial aid money.
School officials have said Lacaze-Gardner, which used heavy television advertising to attract its student body of low-income inner city students, grossed more than $7 million last year, about $2.1 million of which was federal fund.
Although a few students have managed to transfer to other schools to complete their education, most former Lacaze-Gardner students are now either unemployed or working in the menial low-paying jobs they attempted to escape by enrolling at Lacaze-Gardner.
"A lot of students have come to me for references to help them get jobs," said Frizell Askew, former president of the Lacaze-Gardner faculty, who is himself unemployed. "There isn't much I can tell them except to keep looking and maybe a job will turn up.
"Many of the students were at Lacaze-Gardner because it was the only school that would take someone without a high school diploma," Askew added. "Now those students are just floating around. They're looking for any job they can get to buy food and pay their rent."
Edwards, who lives in Northeast Washington, said his dream was to graduate from Lacaze-Garner and become manager of a small business or to start his own business. He said he was scheduled to graduate Nov. 24. On Nov. 8 he learned the school would be closed.
"At first I thought it was a joke," Edwards said. "I called the school just to make sure it wasn't true -- but it was true. They (school officials) just pulled the rug right out from under me and I saw my dream go up in smoke."
Edwards, who like more than 70 percent of the Lacaze-Gardner student body paid most of his expenses with federal loans and grants, began looking for a job immediately.
He finally found employment as a janitor at the Washington offices of McGraw-Hill Inc., a publishing firm.
Jonquil Hinton, 18, who had been enrolled at Lacaze-Gardner only two months when the school closed, said she is now employed at a nursing home where she changes patients' beds.
In May she will begin a two-year remedial student program at American University. After that, she said she plans to study business management in the university's undergraduate school.
Joyce Solomon of Southeast Washington and Rachel L. Johnson of Northwest are both unemployed, according to their attorney, Matthew Bogin.
They have filed $70,000 damage suits against Lacaze-Gardner in D.C. Superior Court to recover what the suits describe as the loss of "past and future earnings."
Jerry Mellott, vice president of Strayer Business College, said that although his chool invited the 900 former Lacaze-Gardner students to apply only 40 sought admission and only 25 of those were actually enrolled.
"The biggest problem is that many of the students had not graduated from high school and there were some questions about the financial aid accounts of others," Mellott said. He said that after all financial aid records have been checked with federal authorities, some other Lacaze-Gardner students may be admitted.
Pat Green, admissions officer at the Washington School for Secretaries, said that about 70 Lacaze-Gardner students inquired about admission. He said only 12 were admitted; the others could not pass admissions exams.