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Virginia College will be closing its North Charleston location. Matthew Fortner/Staff

One of the United States' largest for-profit college operators announced Wednesday it will close all its campuses in December, including five Virginia College locations in South Carolina and the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach.

The parent company, Education Corporation of America, runs Virginia College campuses in North Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Spartanburg and Florence.

Students attending them could earn associate's degrees or certificates in fields including business administration, computer networking, cosmetology, dental assistant work, and heating and air conditioning. The company also operates Culinard, a culinary school under the Virginia College brand, in Greenville, according to its website.

"After many years of training students for new careers, it is with a heavy heart that today we announce that Education Corporation of America is closing all its career colleges effective with the completion of the current module or term for most students,” company spokeswoman Diane Worthington said in a statement to the education website Inside Higher Ed. The company operates more than 75 college campuses nationwide.

In an email to company employees, CEO Stu Reed blamed his college chain's recent financial struggles on new U.S. Department of Education rules that made it more difficult to obtain federal student aid. He also wrote that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools had suspended the accreditation of ECA's schools on Tuesday night.

"The Council is seriously concerned about the educational outcomes for the approximately 15,000 enrolled students across all campuses of Virginia College, LLC," ACICS President Michelle Edwards wrote in a Dec. 4 letter to Reed.

At Virginia College's North Charleston campus, fewer than half of students returned after their first year, and its graduation rate was 31 percent, according to federal data. Students graduated with a median of $16,700 worth of student loan debt and earned a median salary of $24,600 10 years after starting at the school.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.