Project on Predatory Student Lending

Dear Presidential Candidates: Yes, You Can Cancel All Student Debt on Day One

Dear Presidential Candidates: Yes, You Can Cancel All Student Debt on Day One

 

With the presidential primaries now in full swing, the issue of the nation’s whopping $1.5 trillion in student loan debt – and whether to cancel it – has become a popular topic, highlighting a growing consensus that the current system of debt-financed higher education is broken.

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren recently proposed a new idea pledging that if elected, she would direct her Department of Education to cancel student loan debt on day one of her presidency. This is certainly big news. But this idea is not so new to us, in fact we provided  legal analysis showing that it’s possible. We hope she will be the first of many candidates to pledge to follow through on this simple, but transformational, idea to help families across the country.

 

You’re probably wondering – can the President really enact mass student debt cancellation on such a broad scale on her own? The short answer is, yes. Legally, the power to create debt generally comes with it the power to cancel it. In this case, Congress granted the Secretary of Education a more specific authority to create and cancel debt owed under the federal student loan programs in the Higher Education Act.

 

So, yes, the President can direct the Secretary of Education to cancel all federal student loan debt – on day one.

 

The question then is – why?

 

At the Project on Predatory Student Lending, we’ve seen first-hand the difference it makes when students’ loans are cancelled. Jorge Villalba, a client who was cheated by the notorious for-profit college ITT Tech, struggled under massive fraudulent debt for years. After a long wait and a separate lawsuit in ITT Tech’s bankruptcy, he finally had his federal student loan debts cancelled. Almost immediately, Jorge’s credit score improved, he became eligible for lower interest rates to pay down his other debt, and he began digging himself out. He is proud to be planning his family’s future for the first time since his debt nightmare began.

 

Unfortunately, Jorge’s experience is all too rare.

 

Right now, there are over 44 million Americans with a combined $1.5 trillion in student debt.

 

Of those, we represent over a million borrowers who hold the worst kind of student debt: federal student loans taken out to attend for-profit colleges. For-profit colleges are notorious for preying on students – many of them low-income, veterans, single mothers, or people of color – with lies about quality training and job placements in order to pocket their federal student aid dollars. These schools provide little to no instruction and the majority of students we hear from report they are worse off today than before they went to school.

 

State Attorneys General have brought case after case against for-profit colleges that have committed massive fraud against students. On that basis alone, the federal government has the legal obligation to cancel students’ loans. We have even brought cases on behalf of students asserting that right, and won. But the government has refused to cancel the debts, and. Yet the Trump administration continues to ignore the facts and the law.

 

While the public has acknowledged student debt is at crisis levels that threaten the financial well-being of millions of Americans, there are still those candidates and elected officials who distance themselves from student loan cancellation. This is ill-advised, because research shows that mass loan cancellation will actually help stimulate the U.S. economy.

 

According to a study by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, cancelling all student debt would increase our Gross National Product by one trillion dollars over 10 years. It would cause unemployment to go down, and it would create 1.5 million jobs per year. It would allow students to move out of their parents’ homes and start families, or even their own small businesses.

 

It’s time that more policymakers see loan cancellation for what it truly is: a non-partisan issue that would benefit students and the economy for generations to come.

 

Yes, the current President – or our next one – has the authority to cancel more than a trillion in debt held by millions of former students. And it has the obligation to cancel loans of students cheated by their schools.

 

That should be step one, on day one. Our students, and our country, can’t afford to wait a day longer.

My Student Loan Truth: Jared’s South University Story

One year ago, the Dream Center chain of for-profit colleges collapsed, closing schools across the country – including the Art Institutes, Argosy University, and South University -and leaving tens thousands of students stranded and scammed out of an education. Jared Russell attended South University and was one of those students. 

This is Jared’s story.

 

How did you hear about South University and why did you decide to attend?

I was originally looking to find a commercial driver’s license and was reaching out to different companies for training. One company asked if I had ever considered going back to school. I expressed a slight interest and the representative I was talking to immediately transferred the call so we were on directly with a rep at South University. Within a few days, I was fully enrolled as a student in their Information Technology program. Looking back, I should have seen that as a red flag. It was weird how quickly the company put me in touch with South and how quickly they pushed through the enrollment process.

 

What did South tell you about the school’s programs or resources as you were enrolling?

I was told that South worked directly with corporations placing students in internships and that there was a good possibility to go from a placed internship to working full time. But what they don’t tell you are the real numbers. They don’t tell you that most students don’t experience any direct help from South, never mind get a job.

 

What were classes at South University like?

Most of my family is in IT, so when I would get assignments, I would show them the material. My family members were concerned and told me the programs, software, and materials they were using to teach were several years out of date – sometimes by decades. The information they were using wasn’t even relevant in the field anymore.

Sometimes, the assignments were 3-5 question “knowledge checks” with selectable answers. The format was terrible because it never revealed what question you got wrong, if you got one wrong. On top of that, I found questions whose “correct” answers were in fact wrong, and on a number of occasions, I pointed this out to instructors. Some took it seriously, but others pretty much blew it off as normal.

All of that prompted me to withdraw from South University last March, and I transferred to another university. Less than half of my credits transferred. I basically started over. The school wouldn’t accept any of the IT focused class credits.

 

How much debt did you accrue from attending South University? Have you started paying the loans back?

Between April of 2017 to March of 2019, I took out between $26,000 to $32,000. Before withdrawing, South owed me a refund, and after I left, they claimed that I owed them that money. They immediately sent their collections agency after me threatening that if I didn’t comply with the payments, they could do something with my current financial aid. That freaked me out because I can’t afford for them to mess with my financial aid again.

 

How has that debt impacted your life and decision making so far?

Because I’m still in school, not enough time has passed for me to be required to pay anything yet. But I’m constantly worried about what will happen and that it will somehow affect my ability to get additional loans. And I assume it will impact my credit at some point.

 

What would you say to the people who question whether loans from South and other predatory for-profit colleges should be cancelled?

I would say that I took out these loans under false pretenses. It was fraud, plain and simple. I was told I would receive a service that I never actually received. I was lucky that I’m a little older so I’ve had past experiences and family members that helped me realize things were not right. I caught the red flags eventually. I can’t imagine being 18 or 19 and having no idea what’s happening. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to get these calls from collection agencies. These schools harass you to comply and it’s scary.

My Student Loan Truth: Andrea’s Story

When the Department of Education seized Andrea’s tax refunds to pay for bogus student loan debt from Corinthian Colleges, there were devastating effects for her entire family.

 

Andrea Smith is a single mother living in Decatur, Michigan with three teenage children and a 5-month old granddaughter. She was scammed by Everest Institute, part of Corinthian Colleges, and has been working to overcome the damage the school caused ever since. This is her student loan truth.

 

Why did you decide to attend Everest?

Growing up, my family struggled financially. I was poor her my whole life, but I wanted things to be different for my own family and to show my children that a college degree could make a difference for a better life. Everest guaranteed job placement and a good career, so I enrolled in the medical assisting program.

 

What was your experience like trying to get a job after completing the Everest program?

It became clear pretty quickly that these guaranteed jobs did not exist and that they had lied to students. They promised us jobs they knew we would never get. We were overcharged and undereducated and then Everest left us high and dry.

 

How have the student loans from Everest impacted your life?

Here I am, 6 years later with nothing to show for my education and a lot of wasted time. My inability to pay off these loans has crippled me with terrible credit. As a single mom, you don’t have time to waste or money to spare.  To add insult to injury, they even took my tax refunds two years in a row, which was absolutely devastating. I was counting on those tax refunds, and not having them caused my world to come crashing down.

 

What happened when you found out the Department of Education would be taking your tax refunds to pay for your debt from Everest?

The first time my refund was taken in 2018, I had a plan to use it to leave an abusive relationship. Being financially dependent was part of the abuse. Without that $5,000 refund, I couldn’t leave. Eventually, through the help of friends and family, I was able to take my kids and move out of state, but it was an extremely stressful experience.

Then in 2019, I was unemployed and counting on the next tax refund of $9,000. I had a new grandbaby on the way and had rent to pay. But again, the Department of Education took my refund and I was back in a financial crisis. Fortunately, I was able to get assistance from a local church to help avoid eviction, but it wasn’t enough to keep us in our apartment. So I had to pack up and move back to Michigan with my family and pregnant daughter.

 

How did the financial stress impact your family?

My granddaughter was born seven weeks premature shortly after returning to Michigan and was hospitalized for weeks. I truly believe the financial stress on the whole family during that time was a major reason for the premature birth. There has been so much time lost and pain endured by my whole family because of this debt, and that can never be recovered.

 

What would you say to the Department of Education about your experience with this debt?

I wish they would remember that we are good, hardworking, people who just wanted to build a better life for ourselves and our families. These companies took advantage of us on the Department’s watch.  Changes need to be made so this situation can never happen to future generations.

 

Do you still believe in higher education as an opportunity for a better future?

Despite all the setbacks, I’ve always been able to get back on my feet. I’m not giving up. I have a new job (which has nothing to do with my medical assisting degree), I’m in a happy, stable relationship with my fiancé, and my granddaughter and children are healthy.  And I’m hopeful that for them, college can actually be an opportunity and not a burden.

LSC’s Toby Merrill ’11 named to the TIME 100 Next list

The founder of the Project on Predatory Student Lending is recognized for leading the fight against predatory for-profit colleges and fighting for the rights of over one million student borrowers.

toby merrill

Toby Merrill ’11, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending.
(Photo: Martha Stewart)

Toby Merrill ’11, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, has been named to the first-ever TIME 100 Next list, an expansion of the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. The list highlights 100 rising stars who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, health, science and activism, and more. Others on the TIME 100 Next list include Pete Buttigieg, Kyrsten Sinema, Aly Raisman. The full list and related tributes appear in the November 25, 2019 issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, November 15, and now at time.com/next.

TIME 100 Next says of Merrill: “Years before student debt would be widely considered a national crisis—Americans now owe a combined $1.6 trillion—Toby Merrill started using litigation to fight what she calls the ‘worst-of-the-worst student debt,’ the kind incurred by students who enrolled in predatory for-profit colleges that burdened them with debt and provided them with worthless degrees.”

Read more at Harvard Law Today.

UPDATE: Judge Grants Class Certification to 200,000 Student Borrowers in Sweet v. DeVos

96% of the 900 class members who submitted affidavits in support of this motion said their lives are worse today than before they went to school

 

On Wednesday, October 30, a judge certified the class of more than 200,000 borrowers in Sweet v. DeVos, a case that seeks to force the Department of Education to process their borrower defense applications. This victory for borrowers ensures that the voices of former for-profit college students, who have been cheated by their school and ignored by their government for years, will be heard.

The judge also issued a sharp rebuke of the Department’s excuses for its inaction, saying that the Department’s actions, as alleged in the lawsuit, show “the uniform policy of inaction.”

The court goes on:

But here is a fact no one disputes: the Department has decided zero applications since June 2018 (Dkt. No. 20-20 at 20; Compl. ¶ 181). As represented during oral argument, over 210,000 borrower defense claims now remain pending and the Department has failed to grant or deny a single application since June 2018. This is especially striking considering that between July 2016 and January 20, 2017, the Department had decided approximately 27,996 borrower defenses applications (Compl. ¶ 135). Even if this gaping contrast might possibly be explained in part by the preliminary injunction in Manriquez, it nonetheless evidences the uniform policy of inaction alleged here where the proposed class explicitly excludes Corinthian borrowers who are members of the Manriquez class. According to plaintiffs, the Department “has a legal duty to reach a final decision on each borrower defense assertion” and it is undisputed that — despite the swelling backlog — “it has refused to satisfy that duty for well over a year” (id. ¶¶ 52–76; Dkt. No. 42 at 3).

 

In less than a month after the lawsuit was filed, more than 900 students submitted their testimony to support the certification of this class, and to have their voices heard. The extensive testimony provides a comprehensive summary of the overwhelming harm of the continued debt and stress on students’ lives due to the Department of Education’s refusal to process their claims. Specifically, students reported problems like financial and mental health consequences, and delaying basic life decisions like starting a family or pursuing additional education.

The testimony data show:

  • 96% of students reported that their lives are worse today than before they went to school.
  • 61% of students reported deferring further education
  • 47% of students reported deferring marriage and children
  • 32% of students reported continuing to receive payment demands after submitting their Defense to Repayment
  • 958 days (2.6 years) is the average time students have been waiting for an answer from the U.S. Department of Education on their Borrower Defense applications

 

Click here to view testimonial excerpts and videos from students across the country who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

For more information on this case, click here.

Amanda’s Everest Institute Story

Amanda Wilson went to Everest College in Chelsea, Massachusetts to get a degree in medical assisting. When the Corinthian-owned school collapsed and was found to have misled students, the Massachusetts Attorney General filed an application with the Department of Education asking it to cancel the loans of all Corinthian students in Massachusetts, citing the for-profit college chain’s extensive fraud. This was in 2015 – now, four years later, these loans still haven’t been cancelled and Amanda is part of the lawsuit Vara v DeVos to force the Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos to act.

This is her student loan truth.

 

What made you decide to attend Everest?

It was a combination of things. My cousin was already enrolled there and I had also seen a lot of ads on TV and online about students’ personal success stories that resonated with me, so I decided to apply for a medical assisting degree.

The advisors were pushy and over the top about getting students to sign up. They were very vague about the financial process and I ended up taking out more loans than I realized. The whole process was confusing and felt very rushed. Looking back now, I realize that the enrollment process should have sparked red flags. But I was young and I trusted the school and my cousin.

 

What was your experience like at Everest?

Right away I felt that the class structure was very disjointed. Because Everest lets people start at any time instead of only at the beginning of a semester, new students would be enrolling and joining classes every month. So instructors would constantly backtrack in order to get the new students up to speed, making the class structure very difficult to really learn anything. It was clearly built around just getting more people in the door and not actually educating them.

 

Did your experience at this school help you obtain a job in the field you studied?

In the beginning, recruiters stressed that there was a 100% success rate among Everest graduates, as advisors were really active in helping with the job search, but that was definitely not true. In my graduating class, I know the majority of us didn’t get any of the help we were promised.

Trying to find a job on our own was really difficult because we quickly realized that a lot of places didn’t accept the Everest degree. Employers felt I didn’t have the right hands-on experience or the hours in the field they required to get the skills they wanted. At that point, it was too late to go back and get those credentials without paying more money and going back to a different school. It made it impossible to gain the experience employers require.

I was never able to find a job using that degree. I continued at the job that I had while I was in school, then eventually, switched to get a job in medical manufacturing, which has nothing to do with medical assisting.

 

How has the debt from this experience impacted your life?

I have a total of $18k in federal and private loans. It’s been a really difficult process, especially realizing that the school cheated us and we got a worthless degree.

The process for trying to get these loans cancelled has been extremely stressful. I know the Attorney General submitted the borrower defense application years ago, but still the Department of Education has put my loans on hold and then back into default twice.

Financially, I can’t plan my life. It’s ruined my credit and I was unable to purchase a house or a car without a cosigner. I’m trying to go back to school and move on from this, but I can’t because of all the problems with my loans.

 

The Department of Education has refused to cancel the loans of thousands of former students of for-profit colleges. They’ve ignored the many thousands of students who filed for borrower defense. What would you say to the Department about the need to cancel these loans?

I don’t think they understand how much people are really struggling as it is. We’re getting our wages garnished and our tax refunds taken. Nobody can get a straight answer on the status of their loans, and the Department continues to collect when they’re not supposed to. It crushes people. We’re stuck. It’s a really difficult place to be, to deal with that mentally and financially.

In a system that forces you to go to school, it’s really discouraging to have this experience. It makes you not want to invest in this system that we’ve been told works for everybody. How can you trust another school to not do the same thing, when you didn’t think this would happen to you in the first place?

 

Why did you decide to join this lawsuit to force the Department to act?

The biggest reason is because the lack of accountability towards the Department of Education. They shouldn’t be able to just ignore students and the law and the Attorney General’s application for borrower defense. It’s unfair. A lot of people worked hard, graduated at the top of their class, and were still left in this spot. We were cheated. It destroys your faith in the government and in our system of education and I think it’s important to stand up to that.

 

 

For more information on Vara v. DeVos, click here.

Major Victory for Defrauded Students as Education Department Is Held in Contempt, Fined

 

“Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the law to collect for-profit college students’ debts and deny their rights, and today she has been held accountable.”

Toby Merrill, Director

Project on Predatory Student Lending

The Project on Predatory Student Lending secured a critical court ruling on behalf of students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges, as a federal judge held Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in contempt and fined the Department of Education $100,000 for violation of a June 2018 court order prohibiting the Department from collecting on loans from thousands of student borrowers. The ruling is part of a larger class action lawsuit brought by the Project on Predatory Student Lending and Housing and Economic Rights Advocates to obtain debt relief for students defrauded by the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco said that there was “no question” that the Department of Education’s actions violated the preliminary injunction, and that those violations “harmed individual borrowers.” Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill applauded the ruling, saying “Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the law to collect for-profit college students’ debts and deny their rights, and today she has been held accountable. Thousands of students illegally had their tax refunds seized and wages garnished, and the Department still can’t identify all of the affected students nor refunded the money. The judge is sending a loud and clear message: students have rights under the law and DeVos’ illegal and reckless violation of their rights will not be tolerated.”

Read the Project on Predatory Student Lending’s press release about this important ruling, and see coverage in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and New York Times.

My Student Loan Truth: Lyndsie’s Art Institute Story

“It’s wrong and I’m not going to sit down and shut up about it.”

 

Lyndsie Ross attended the Art Institute of California, where she was pressured into signing up for a design program and significant student loans. She soon realized that the school was a “joke” and her degree was worthless, but the Department of Education still refuses to cancel her fraudulent debt.

This is Lyndsie’s Student Loan Truth.

 

What made you decide to attend the Art Institute? 

I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time. I went to the Art Institute of Portland because I was interested in a career in graphic design and they advertised being a really high-end program. They pressured me into signing up for the Industrial Design program, but I quickly realized I didn’t have drawing skills needed for that kind and nobody was willing to help with that skill. When I moved back home to Sacramento a year later, the Portland campus encouraged me to transfer. I assumed it was just the program that was wrong for me, so enrolled at the Art Institute of California, Sacramento and switched to graphic design there.

 

What was your experience like at Art Institute of California, Sacramento?

The Portland campus was a little older and more established, so I assumed Sacramento would be similar. But it was paltry. There was almost no equipment and only 5 teachers who taught everything. I figured out about ¾ of the way through that this was a fraudulent situation, but felt at that point I had to finish and make the best of it. At one point, students even gathered signatures to try to petition to get the bad teachers fired. We were angry that we were spending so much money and time on a bogus education and were not learning anything.

 

Did your experience at this school help you obtain a job in the field you studied?

Absolutely not. Career services was a joke. They sent us Craigslist ads for job placement and many of them were entry-level positions that required no degree or real design skill. I was told at interviews that they were shocked by my portfolio, which was something that Art Institute promoted as a sure ticket to a job. Some places wouldn’t interview me at all with that school on my resume.  Eventually I secured some in-house design work, but I got that job because I hustled and networked on my own, and I got lucky.

 

How has the debt from this experience impacted your life?

I’ve been in a situation for years now where I am trapped by my financial responsibilities with this student loan debt. I couldn’t move up or move on in my career because of this debt. I’ve had to work a lot of side hustles to make ends meet.

 

The Department of Education has refused to cancel the loans of thousands of former students of for-profit colleges. It ignore the many thousands of students who filed for borrower defense. What would you say to the Department about the need to cancel these loans?

It’s extremely disheartening. They’re punishing students who were just trying to better themselves and do the right thing. We shouldn’t have to put life on hold until these student loans are cancelled.

It’s wrong. I’m not going to sit down and shut up about it.

The Latest Reports on Betsy DeVos Scamming For-Profit College Students

ITT and Corinthian Borrowers Continue to Fight for Relief as the Department of Education Skirts the Law Every Step of the Way

At the end of last week, there was a great deal of news from the U.S. Department of Education — reinforcing that it skirts the law and epitomizes corruption — and much of it flew under the radar.

Automatic Closed School Discharge for 7,000 ITT Borrowers

Betsy DeVos announced that the Department finally began to process automatic closed school discharges for certain borrowers who were cheated by ITT Tech and were enrolled when the company shut down. The Department estimated it would cancel $95 million in loans to ITT students.

The announcement followed demands from elected officials like Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Elizabeth Warren and other senate democrats for the Department to follow the law and process these discharges. 

The Department has fought against discharging bogus student loans from ITT Tech for years. Ultimately, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Department were mandated to process these automatic closed school discharges after a successful lawsuit brought by students (Bauer v. DeVos) ended the illegal delay of the 2016 borrower defense rule, and elected officials like Senator Dick Durbin demanded it.

While this is good news for these select students, many more are still waiting for justice. And the Department of Education continues to go out of its way to prevent them from getting it.

  • Approximately 45,000 students were attending ITT Tech when it closed in September 2016, and were left with massive debt and no diploma. Approximately 16,000 ITT students have already individually applied for and been granted closed school discharges. The Department’s announcement covers about 7,000 additional borrowers.
  • By the end of 2018, more than 19,000 former ITT students had applied for borrower defense, and because of the Department’s inaction, their bogus debts are still hanging over their heads. Secretary DeVos needs to follow the law and cancel the debts of all ITT students once and for all
  • Just three weeks ago, Secretary DeVos published a new borrower defense rulegutting protections for student borrowers and eliminating the automatic closed school discharge provision. This rule would leave students without this safety net if their school abruptly closes.

Illegal Collection on more than 16,000 Corinthian Borrowers

At the same time, Secretary DeVos admitted in a court filing that the Department of Education continued to collect from thousands of former Corinthian Colleges students in direct violation of a federal court order.

According to new numbers revealed by the filing, thousands of students were hurt by DeVos’ illegal actions.

  • The filing was made in a class action lawsuit by Corinthian Colleges students represented by the Project and HERA, Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos.
  • Last year in this case, the federal court ordered Secretary DeVos to stop collecting the loans of thousands of students who were defrauded by Corinthian Colleges. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
  • Instead, the Department demanded incorrect loan payment from 16,034 Of those students, 3,289 borrowers made one or more loan payments because of these demands, which they were not actually supposed to pay. The Department has harmed the credit of 847 non-defaulted borrowers. The Department subjected 1,808 borrowers to involuntary debt collection by garnishing their wages or taking their tax refunds or benefits.

This is part of a pattern by Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education. They callously strip away basic student protections and illegally collect on student loans, all while blaming the courts, blaming servicers, and blaming the students themselves. The court will address these revelations by the Department at a status hearing on October 7.

Click here for the Project’s statement on this news.

Student Loan Truth: Jessica’s Art Institute Story

Jessica is a plaintiff in the lawsuit Sweet v DeVos, in which she and six other former for-profit college students are suing the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos, seeking to force the agency to follow the law and issue the debt relief to which the former students are entitled. The plaintiffs are suing on behalf of more than 158,000 former students who have filed applications for borrower defense to repayment because their schools cheated them.

How did you hear about New England Institute of Art (NEIA)?

After getting my associates degree at Mount Wachusett Community College, I really wanted to continue my education. I was the only person in my immediate family to go to college and it was important for me to keep going. At Mt. Wachusett, I relied on my advisors all the time, so I was expecting a similar experience at NEIA. I trusted Art Institute advisors to help me make the right decisions for my education.

What made you decide to attend NEIA?

I really wanted to be visual effects video editor. When I contacted NEIA, I was told their Media Arts and Animation program would prepare me for a career in visual effects, even though they advertised the program as focused solely on gaming and animation. The advisors told me their program was difficult to get into, but that graduates were highly sought after in their fields. They created a lot of pressure and a sense of urgency for me to apply right away. I didn’t find out until much later that none of this was true.

What did the school tell you about getting a job after the program?

During the whole process, NEIA consistently claimed they had the connections I would need to get a job in the industry. They said the name of the school carried weight in the visual effects industry and it would be easy to find a job. I went on a tour and they made a big deal about having a high tech green screen that students would be able to use. Later on, as a student, I learned that we weren’t actually allowed to use the green screen. Instead, they had us tape green paper to the wall to film our projects.

What was your experience like once you started attending New England Institute of Art?

Everything I was promised was a lie, just like the green screen. I was told that I’d be using state-of-the-art technology in class, but instead, we were either given old and obsolete equipment or we had to make our own. The classes were a joke.

Did your experience at this school help you obtain a job in the field you studied?

Part of their pitch to get me to go to NEIA was how great their connections to the industry were. However, the reality when I got there was the exact opposite of what I had been told. When I reached out to the Career Services Office about getting an internship in visual effects, I was either given no response or a link to Craigslist with a document entitled “Tips for Applying to a Job from Craigslist”. I never found a permanent job in the field. People wouldn’t hire me because of my degree. I’m currently working on my own small business.

Did going to New England Institute of Art make your life better or worse?

It made my life significantly worse. My credit is destroyed, I can’t get a car or a house. My mental health has suffered. I refuse to get married because I’m afraid of associating my partner with my debt. I debated not having kids at all. My life has been placed on hold. It’s devastating.

How long have you been waiting for an answer on your Borrower Defense application?

I filed for Borrower Defense to Repayment in 2015. Four years later, I still don’t have an answer. Just radio silence. The debt is bad enough, and then adding even more uncertainty from not getting an answer is devastating. I can’t plan for my future.

Some policy-makers doubt that for-profit colleges are a problem – what would you say to them?

I would tell them that despite putting in the time and effort at school, the degree that NEIA gave me is useless. I can’t get a job because companies don’t trust the school. I can’t go back to school because other schools don’t recognize my NEIA degree. A bank wouldn’t give me a loan to further my education if I asked.

The Department of Education has refused to cancel the loans of thousands of former students of for-profit colleges. They ignore the many thousands of students who filed for borrower defense. What would you say to them about the need to cancel these loans?

It’s their job to do the right thing. I’m beyond disappointed about the fact that the government isn’t doing anything to stop these schools from defrauding students in the first place. Students should be able to trust their schools and advisors. The fact that there is no protection for a vulnerable 21 year old signing a loan for the first time and being taken advantage of isn’t fair or responsible. You shouldn’t need a lawyer to be able to go to colle