A recent story in the New York Times highlighted several of the Project’s cases, and their prominence in the ongoing battle to force the Department of Education to recognize the legal rights of students who have been cheated by predatory for-profit colleges.
The article featured several of the Project on Predatory Student Lending’s major victories in court asserting student borrowers’ rights. These favorable rulings are a testament to our clients’ perseverance and willingness to stand up to the Department and drive change for student borrowers who attended for-profit colleges across the nation.
One such client, Meaghan Bauer, is profiled in the article. Meaghan was one of the plaintiffs we represented in Bauer v. DeVos. In winning that case, she thwarted the Department of Education’s attempts to prevent the implementation of the 2016 borrower defense rule. Because of this lawsuit, the rule prohibiting schools from taking federal money while forcing students to arbitrate their claims against schools took effect.
Meaghan talked to the Times about her experience the for-profit New England Institute of Art, and how the debt she incurred as a result of the school’s fraud has affected her life.
“It’s just dream-crushing,” said Meaghan Bauer, who owes $45,000 for her time at the New England Institute of Art. The for-profit school, in Brookline, Mass., closed last year and was sued on fraud charges by the state attorney general in July.
“I can’t afford to go back to school,” Ms. Bauer, 27, said. “Will I ever be able to buy a house? Or get married? I spent so much time working on a useless degree, and it could ruin me financially for the rest of my life.”
Meaghan is just one of the many thousands who are waiting for the Department to rule on their borrower defense applications. Right now, “more than 100,000 claims for relief are in limbo, according to the Education Department’s most recent data” according to the Times.
And even when the Department has reviewed claims, it used illegal methods to justify giving students “partial relief.” In another of our cases, Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos, Corinthian students challenged these partial denials and a judge ruled that the Department’s actions were illegal, and granted our injunction to stop these practices. As the Times references:
The department’s attempts to reduce the amount of forgiven debt and block a new forgiveness rule have drawn rebukes from federal judges.
A judge in California found that the department had illegally obtained data from the Social Security Administration on the earnings of former Corinthian Colleges students as it sought to offer some of them only partial loan relief. Last month, the judge granted class-action status to 110,000 former Corinthian students who have applied to have their loans forgiven and may have been granted partial relief.
Still, even after being rebuked again and again by federal judges, the Department has been incredibly, callously slow to act.
“This rule is only as good as the administration’s intent to implement it,” Toby Merrill, the Director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, told the Times.
The Department tries to argue that this issue is complicated, but it is not.
If borrowers were cheated by their school, the government must cancel their loans upon request. It’s what borrower defense is all about. Our partners at The Debt Collective organized cheated Corinthian students in 2015 to demand the cancellation of Corinthian debts. And Eileen Connor, the Project’s Director of Litigation, worked with Debt Collective to develop the original borrower defense application, and was a negotiator for the committee that developed the 2016 borrower defense rule. She even proposed the arbitration provision, which got added to the 2016 rule and took effect when we won Meaghan’s case.
Hundreds of thousands of students have applied for borrower defense since 2015, but only a very small fraction of claims have been processed. This includes another one of our cases, ITT, where only 33 students have received cancellation with 13,000 applications outstanding.
Jason White, a former ITT student, has been waiting for three years. As he told the Times:
Mr. White, 41, of St. Louis, graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering. But when he landed a position as a web developer, he quickly discovered that he lacked the skills to do his job.
Instead of teaching students to program computers, Mr. White said, instructors had handed out sheets of code and simply had the students retype them. At one final exam, the instructor stood at the front of the classroom and read the answer key aloud, he said.
“My degree,” he said, “was a sham.”
To finance that degree, Mr. White took out loans totaling more than $80,000.
Seeking justice for borrowers has never been easy. The court victories we’ve achieved have made significant progress, but are just the beginning of the work that lies ahead.
It’s past time for the Department of Education to do the right thing and cancel the debts of students who were cheated by Corinthian, ITT, and other predatory schools.
We’ll keep fighting alongside these students, one victory at a time, until they do.
Click here to read the full New York Times article.