In our new blog series, our clients share what they really got from their for-profit college and how the debt affected them. Their experiences demand a public reckoning on student debt and an end to the predatory practices of for-profit colleges.
This month we interviewed Jorge Villalba, a former ITT Tech student and named plaintiff in the Project’s ITT case. After being cheated by ITT and struggling with massive debt from the school for years, Jorge finally had his loans discharged – a year and a half after filing a borrower defense application. Below, Jorge shares his story and what this debt, and its cancellation, has meant for him and his family.
How did you decide to attend ITT?
I found out about ITT from one of the many commercials they were running on radio and TV. After calling them to find out more information about their programs, I decided to pay them a visit and check out the campus and the equipment they were using. I was told many great things about the programs they offered, how ITT was very reputable, and that big companies were in constant contact with the school looking for students from the programs I was looking into. Because of the statistics they showed me, I was convinced ITT was the school that could help me get my dream job.
How did ITT affect your employment prospects?
I was once told, in an interview after graduating with a degree from ITT, that the company would not hire anyone from ITT because the students they got from that school were not capable of doing the minimum job requirements. For an almost six month period I would apply to about 15 jobs a day and I got zero responses. The school was just not respected, and I believe that is why I never got any responses.
How did ITT affect your life?
I was in school when the country went into the recession of 2007. I lost my job and I was only surviving because at the time, my wife was working full time and I was getting a paycheck from the unemployment office. When I graduated in 2010 I was working in my field, but was only making $8 an hour. My student loans were due and my wife had just given birth. The financial stress this put on my marriage was too much. The school never came through with any job offers. I was left alone to struggle and survive and in the meantime, I had to decide to buy food for my baby or pay the student loans. Going to ITT made my life a nightmare. All the promises and all the prospects I was offered before I joined the school were a lie.
What was it like to borrow student loans at ITT?
It felt like they were trying to get me in no matter what. If I didn’t qualify for loans, they told me not to worry, to ask friends, family, co-workers, or anyone I knew with good credit to be a cosigner. Once I got approved, the process would repeat every so often. Every time I had to sign contracts it was during school hours and while I was attending a class. So in order not to miss anything from that class, I would just go and sign things really quick so I could get back to my class. My mom and my wife co-signed my loans many times because my credit was not enough. My mom did not have a job and she still got approved. At one point, after I graduated, one of my loan service providers told me I put down that I was living on campus when the school had no dorms. They did this to get more money out of my loans.
Your federal student loan debt was recently canceled. How did you find out?
I had submitted a borrower defense claim explaining ITTs fraud. While I was waiting to hear back, I was contacted by Victoria at the Project on Predatory Student Lending, who helped me by providing all the information I needed to be able to get these loans discharged. I got an email about a year and a half after I applied, stating that my loans would be discharged. It was because of the Project that this actually happened.
How has having this debt canceled improved your life, and the lives of your family?
Having this debt canceled has improved my life greatly. My credit score has improved tremendously and I can finally apply to get other types of credit and better rates on my current debt. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted in my life, my mood is better, and I’m not so stressed out like I was before. I no longer have to live with the worry that I will never be able to pay this debt. I can move on with my life and plan my future.
Some policy-makers doubt that for-profit colleges are a problem – what would you say to them?
Policy makers will never understand what the borrower goes through. These schools do not care about the students attending their schools and that will never change. They only care about making money. It is in their name – these schools are “for profit” and that is all they care about.
The Department of Education has refused to fully cancel the loans of thousands of for-profit students. What would you say to the Department about this?
These schools should be held to the highest standards of the law. It’s not fair that they are allowed to file for bankruptcy and close without warning and leave thousands of employees and students stranded without any type of repercussion. I went to school to learn, better my life, get a better job, and achieve what they call the America dream. Instead, what I got was less than half an education and debt that could have lasted me a lifetime to pay. While at the same time, the top of the ITT board was lining their pockets with six and seven figure yearly bonuses. I understand the Department of Education does not want to cancel the loans of thousands of struggling students, but the Department of Education should have done a better job at controlling these schools, and they should do a better job of protecting students.
Click here to learn more about the Project’s ITT case, in which Jorge is a named plaintiff.