Showing posts with label borrower defense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label borrower defense. Show all posts

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trump should fire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education for gross incompetence. If Trump fails to act, Congress needs to do whatever is necessary to drive her from office

Let us take our minds off Russia for just a moment and focus on a massive economic problem that affects millions of Americans: the collapsing student loan program. Forty-three million Americans now hold about $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and a lot of that money will never be paid back. 

As the New York Times recently reported, borrowers defaulted at the rate of 3,000 a day last year; and a total of more than 8 million people are in default. Default rates are highest in the for-profit college industry; five-year default rates in this sector are almost 50 percent.

The Department of Education is trying to keep default rates down by pressuring borrowers into income-driven repayment plans, but that tactic isn't working. Nearly half the people who sign up for those plans drop out within three years; and a lot of defaulting borrowers don't even bother to sign up.

In short, the federal student loan program is a train wreck, a catastrophe, an unmitigated disaster. 

As President Trump's Secretary of Education, it is Betsy DeVos's job to address the student-loan crisis; but in a series of wrongheaded decisions, DeVos has demonstrated that she is either grossly incompetent or in bed with the sleazy for-profit college industry. President Trump must fire her immediately, and if he does not, then Congress needs to bring all its forces to bear to drive her from office.

Here is a brief list of DeVos's fumbling misbehavior:

First, she hired consultants from the for-profit industry to give her advice, which is like a hiring a burglar to be a bank guard.

Second, she canceled the Obama administration's order that restrained loan processors from slapping huge fees on student-loan defaulters who quickly brought their loans back into repayment status.

Third, she is overhauling the Department of Education's new regulations for processing borrowers' applications to have their student loans forgiven based on claims of institutional fraud. This bureaucratic delay tactic will leave thousands of defrauded college borrowers in limbo for months and even years.

And finally, DeVos blocked implementation of a Department of Education directive banning for-profit colleges from forcing students to sign mandatory arbitration clauses as a condition of enrollment.

In my view, allowing the for-profit colleges to continue including mandatory arbitration clauses in their student enrollment documents is DeVos's most outrageous decision. Mandatory arbitration clauses bar students from suing their institution for fraud and prevent students from banding together to file class actions suits against colleges that engage in massive fraudulent behavior.

About a year ago, the Century Foundation urged the Department of Education to require the for-profits to stop including mandatory arbitration clauses in their enrollment documents, and two for-profits--University of Phoenix and DeVry University, publicly agreed to abandoned them voluntarily.

Numerous commentators have criticized the use of mandatory arbitration agreements when they are used by corporations to insulate them from lawsuits. Just within the last year, two courts have struck down mandatory arbitration clauses that for-profit education providers tried to enforce. In one case, a university's arbitration agreement required California students to arbitrate their claims in Indiana!

Since taking office, DeVos has shown herself to be a stooge for the for-profit college industry. If she knowingly does the bidding of this shady racket, then she behaving reprehensibly. If she is acting on the industry's behalf out of ignorance, then she's grossly incompetent.

But her motivations don't matter. Betsy DeVos has got to go. If Trump doesn't fire her soon, then federal legislators should join in a bipartisan call for her removal. Americans deserve a competent Secretary of Education who will act in the public interest, not the interests of the venal for-profit college industry. 

References

Patricia Cohen. Betsy DeVos's Hiring of For-Profit College Official Raises Impartiality Issues, New York Time, March 17, 2017. 

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Trump administration rolls back protections in default on student loans. Washington Post, March 17, 2017.

Seth Frothman & Rich Williams. New data documents a disturbing cycle of defaults for struggling student-loan borrowers. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, May 15, 2017. 

Tariq Habash & Robert Shireman. How College Enrollment Contracts Limit Students' Rights. Century Foundation, April 28, 2016.

Magno v. The College Network, Inc.. (Cal. Ct. App. 2016).

Morgan v. Sanford Brown Institute, 137 A.3d 1168 (N.J. 2016).

News Release. Apollo Education Group to Eliminate Mandatory Arbitration Clauses. May 19, 2016.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Federal court orders the Department of Education to rule on Everest College student's request for debt cancellation: Sarah Dieffenbacher v. Betsy DeVos

Dieffenbacher v. U.S. Department of Education: A Student Borrower seeks debt relief on grounds of fraud

From 2007 to 2012, Sarah Dieffenbacher attended Everest College-Ontario Metro, a for-profit college located in Ontario, California. She took out $50,000 in federal student loans to fund her studies.

In March 2015, Dieffenbacher filed a "borrower defense" application with the U.S. Department of Education, petitioning to have her loans cancelled on the grounds that Everest had engaged in fraudulent conduct in violation of California law.

In August 2015, Dieffenbacher defaulted on her loans. Educational Credit Management Corporation, her loan servicer, sent her a notice stating that it intended to begin garnishing her wages.

Dieffenbacher filed a timely objection and a request for a hearing. This objection consisted of a 29-page letter accompanied by 254 pages of exhibits. These exhibits included Diefenbacher's sworn statement and records from the California Attorney General's Office showing documented misconduct by Everest and its parent company, Corinthian Colleges.

On January 20, 2017, Dieffenbacher's attorney received a letter from the Department of Education stating that DOE was denying Dieffenbacher's objection to having her wages garnished. DOE said its decision was conclusive and that Dieffenbacher's only recourse was to file a lawsuit in federal court.

This Dieffenbacher did. In her lawsuit, Dieffenbacher claimed that DOE's decision was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

Without admitting fault, DOE filed a motion to remand Dieffenbacher's case back to the Department so that its decision could be "reconsidered and re-issued in a way that would not be arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law."

Judge Virginia Phillips' decision

Last week, Judge Virginia Phillips, a California federal judge, denied DOE's request for a voluntary remand. In Judge Phillips' view, the Department "[had] not established a substantial or legitimate concern guiding its request for a remand."

The judge pointed out that Dieffenbacher's application for loan forgiveness had been pending for more than two years and that the Department had made contradictory arguments about what it intended to do.

Indeed, Judge Phillips' suggested that the Department of Education was attempting to get Dieffenbacher out of court so that it could garnish her wages. "The Department's request for remand appears to be an attempt to evade judicial review so that it can retain the ability to garnish [Dieffenbacher's] wages without a conclusive ruling as to the enforceability of her loans," the judge observed. "Under such circumstances, the remand request appears both frivolous and in bad faith" [emphasis supplied].

Judge Phillips concluded her opinion by ordering DOE to rule on Dieffenbacher's loan cancellation application within 90 days. If the Department fails to comply, the judge added, she would proceed to hear Dieffenbacher's claims on the merits.

The Dieffenbacher case: More Evidence of the Department of Education's Stall Tactics

The Dieffenbacher case is the latest example of the Department of Education's efforts to avoid dealing with student borrowers' legitimate applications for loan forgiveness.

In the Price case, which I wrote about recently, DOE took six years to rule on a University of Phoenix graduate's application for loan forgiveness based on her claim that Phoenix falsely certified that she had a high school diploma when she began her studies. Ultimately, DOE disallowed the claim. A federal court in Texas countermanded DOE's ruling and discharged the debt.

Last January, DOE sent a letter to 23,000 former students at Corinthian Colleges, assuring them that their loans had been approved for cancellation and that the loans would be forgiven within the next 60 to 120 days. Almost six months later, DOE has not kept its promise, which prompted a protest letter from 19 states' attorneys general.
So what's going on?

I think Betsy DeVos's DOE pencil pushers have added up the costs associated with discharging students loans under DOE's own rules and regulations and have found those costs to be enormous. DOE is trying to put the brakes on its administrative loan forgiveness process. The Department announced this week that it is rewriting the "borrow defense" regulations that Dieffenbacher relied on.

BUT IT IS TOO LATE. DeVos's efforts to slow down the loan forgiveness process will not withstand scrutiny in the federal courts, as the Price case and the Dieffenbacher case demonstrate.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said in a recent report that eight million student borrowers are in default, with nearly 1.2 million defaulting in 2016 alone. As CFPB pointed out, people are defaulting at the rate of 2 borrowers every minute!

Two things must be done to bring the federal student loan program under control. First, the federal government must stop sending student aid dollars to for-profit colleges, which have shockingly high student-loan default rates.

Second, Congress must amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student borrowers to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy like any other unsecured consumer debt.

But Betsy DeVos's Department of Education refuses to face reality while it stalls for time. In the end, this approach is going to enrage millions of student borrowers. These borrowers are also voters, and they will vote for any politician who promises real debt relief to the legions of student borrowers who will never pay back their loans.

References


Dieffenbacher v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., ED CV 17-342-VAP (KK) (C.D. Cal. June 9, 2017).

Seth Frotman & Rich Williams. New data documents a disturbing cycle of defaults for struggling student loan borrowers. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, May 15, 2017.

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Court Orders Education Department to End Delay in Ruling on Loan Discharge. Inside Higher ED, June 9, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Education Department to hit pause on two primary Obama regulations aimed at for-profitsInside Higher ED, June 15, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum. State AGs Want Action on Student Loan DischargeInside Higher Ed, June 6, 2017.

Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General. Letter to Betsy DeVos, US. Secretary of Education, June 5, 2017.

Price v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 209 Fed. Supp. 3d 925 (S.D. Tex. 2016). [Link is to U.S. Magistrate's opinion, which was affirmed by a U.S. District Judge.]
 


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Department of Education is slow to forgive loans of student borrowers defrauded by Corinthian Colleges: State Attorneys General urge DOE to move more quickly

Yesterday, nineteen state attorneys general and the Director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection delivered a letter to Betsy DeVos, U.S. Education Secretary, urging the Department of Education to quickly process fraud claims brought by former students of Corinthian Colleges.

The state AGs asked DeVos to approve "swift automatic group discharge" to students in Corinthian cohorts where fraud has been found. Alternatively, the AGs asked DeVos to process individual fraud claims faster.

Corinthian Colleges closed and filed for bankruptcy in 2015, leaving behind more than 350,000 former students who took out loans to pay Corinthian's tuition. Many of these student borrowers were induced to attend Corinthian through fraud, and the nineteen AGs claim there are defrauded Corinthian students in all 50 states.

So far, DOE has discharged 27,000 borrowers from their federal loan debt, but that number is a small fraction of the former students who are entitled to debt relief. Thousands have filed "borrower defense" claims, asking DOE for loan forgiveness, but DOE is not processing these claims quickly. Meanwhile, many Corinthians students are still paying on their loans or defaulted and are subject to having their wages garnished and their credit ruined.

According to the state AGs, DOE notified 23,000 Corinthian student borrowers in January that their loan forgiveness applications had been approved and that "forgiveness should be completed within the next 60-120 days." It's been nearly 180 days since that announcement, and these loans have still not been discharged.

What's going on?

I think the Department of Education is simply overwhelmed by the meltdown of the student loan program. Almost half the people in a recent cohort of students who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within five years. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, half the students who attended more than 1,000 colleges and schools have not paid down one dime of their student loans seven years after their repayment obligations began.

In addition, the first beneficiaries of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program will be eligible for debt relief before the end of this year, and DOE has no idea how many people are eligible to have their loans discharged under that program.

Personally, I think Secretary DeVos should adopt the AGs' suggestion and grant swift automatic group discharges to all Corinthian students who were in DOE's "Designated Fraud Cohorts." Or better yet, I think DOE should forgive the loans of all 350,000 former students.

Admittedly, there are probably some people who completed a Corinthian program and actually got a good job, but I'll bet there aren't many. Undoubtedly, the default rate for Corinthian students is extraordinarily high largely due to the fact that Corinthian's students did not get well-paying jobs at the conclusion of their studies.

I recognize there are risks associated with a mass loan forgiveness program. If all 300,000 of Corinthian's former students are granted a discharge, then ITT Tech's former students will ask for blanket loan forgiveness. ITT Tech also closed and filed for bankruptcy, and it has 200,000 former students.

It is shocking to contemplate, but millions of Americans will never pay back their student loans. In addition to the for-profit college students, there are the law graduates who accumulated mountains of debt and can't find law jobs. And then there are the poor saps who got liberal arts degrees from expensive liberal arts colleges; many of them will never pay back their loans.

The 19 state AGs are right to urge Secretary DeVos to grant automatic group discharges for thousands of former Corinthian students. But Corinthian Colleges is the tip of the iceberg. Millions of student borrowers will never pay back their loans, and the ultimate loss to taxpayers will be in the billions.



References

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than Believed. Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2017.

Tamar Lewin. Government to Forgive Student Loans at CorinthianNew York Times, June 9, 2015, p. A11.

Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis, A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising default ratesWashington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015).


Andrew Kreighbaum. State AGs Want Action on Student Loan Discharge. Inside Higher Ed, June 6, 2017.

Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General. Letter to Betsy DeVos, US. Secretary of Education, June 5, 2017.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Bipartisan Solution to the Student Loan Crisis: What if Betsy DeVos and Senator Elizabeth Warren Worked Together to Craft A Fix?

At the conclusion of Betsy DeVos's Senate hearing last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to shake DeVos's hand. If this is a sign of enmity between Senate Democrats and the Trump administration over education policy, this is a scary development for distressed student-loan debtors.

Millions of borrowers are drowning in student loan debt--now pushing $1.4 trillion dollars. Eight million have defaulted, and millions more are teetering on the edge of default. Now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to work together.

What if Secretary of Education DeVos and Senator Warren cooperated to solve the student loan crisis? Thinks what they could achieve.

Here's a plausible scenario:

1. During the first month of the Trump administration,  Secretary of Education DeVos calls a press conference to announce that the federal government will stop garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters.

At the press conference, Secretary DeVos is flanked by several U.S. Senators, including Senators Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Lamar Alexander. Senator Warren announces she will introduce legislation barring the government from garnishing Social Security checks of student-loan defaulters.

2. Next, DeVos issues a directive to DOE bureaucrats, ordering them to speed up the process for processing so-called "Borrower Defense" claims by students who are trying to get their student loans discharged on the grounds that their colleges defrauded them.

DOE responds quickly, and thousands of debtors who were scammed by shady for-profit colleges get their loans discharged. Warren and her Senate compadres issue press releases praising DeVos's action.

3.  Shortly thereafter, DeVos tells reporters that she agrees with the Obama administration's stance on arbitration clauses in student enrollment documents. The for-profits routinely require their students to sign these clauses, which forces students to arbitrate their fraud claims in unfriendly forums.  The Obama administration said it opposed these clauses but did not do anything to stop them from being used.

DeVos says, as of the day of her announcement, DOE will not allow any for--profit college to participate in the student-loan program that forces students to sign coercive arbitration agreements. Senators Warren and Senate Democrats applaud DeVos's step.

4.  In spring of 2017, Senator Warren holds Senate hearings on the student loan guaranty agencies, which rake in millions of dollars in fees from collecting student loans. Warren points out that four of these agencies have each amassed $1 billion in unrestricted assets, even though they are non-profit companies. She subpoenas the agencies' records and learns that the guaranty agencies' CEOs are paid millions in salaries and benefits for harassing destitute student borrowers.

DeVos testifies at Warren's Senate hearing, pledging DOE will do what it can to rein in the debt collectors.  DeVos makes good on her pledge by terminating its contract with Education Credit Management Corporation, perhaps the nation's most ruthless student-loan debt collector.

5. A bill passes Congress that disbands the student-loan guaranty agencies and abolishes all fees and penalties that have been applied to defaulted student loans over the past 20 years. President Trump signs the bill.

6. With bipartisan support and Trump's blessing, another bill is approved by Congress to amend the Bankruptcy Code to eliminate the restriction on discharging private student loans in bankruptcy.

Trump signs these bipartisan student-loan reform bills and give the bill-signing pens to Senator Warren. Senator Warren then shakes Secretary DeVos's hand.


What will it take for Senator Warren to shake Betsy DeVos's hand?
References

Paul Crookston. Betsy DeVos Hearing Ends with Handshakes — Except from Elizabeth Warren. National Review, January 18, 2017.

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt. New York Times, January 1, 2014. Acccessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/us/loan-monitor-is-accused-of-ruthless-tactics-on-student-debt.html?_r=0

Robert Shireman and Tariq Habash. Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way? The Century Foundation, September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://tcf.org/content/report/student-loan-guaranty-agencies-lost-way/

U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education Takes Further Steps to Protect Students from Predatory Higher Education Institutions. March 11, 2016. Accessible at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-takes-further-steps-protect-students-predatory-higher-education-institutions?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Obama's Department of Education grants automatic loan relief for all students who attended the American Career Institute: A puny effort--too little, too late

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Education granted automatic debt relief to all students who attended American Career Institute. As Inside Higher Ed pointed out, this is "the first time the department has granted automatic loan relief to all students of a college without requiring individual applications." About 650 former ACI students received closed school discharges; but the rest--about 3,900 students--are getting their loans discharged en masse. In addition, DOE also announced it will grant Borrower Defense discharges to 28,000 student who had attended Corinthian Colleges.

This is a good thing, of course; but why now? And why so small a gesture?

After all, Corinthian Colleges, which closed and filed bankruptcy under allegations of fraud, had more than 300,000 students; and ITT, which also filed bankruptcy, had 191,000 enrollees.  Yet so far, DOE has only grant Borrower Defense discharges to 28,000 former Corinthian students.

As for the small size of the gesture, I think Luke Herrine, legal director of the Debt Collective, got it right. "There's just no coherent logic whatsoever," he said. "The only thing I can think of is it would be deeply embarrassing for them to stop collecting on so much debt." It is one thing to forgive the loans of 4,000 ACI students and a small percentage of Corinthian students; it is quite another to discharge the debt of a half million people.

As for the timing, I think the Obama administration has known for quite a while that the only responsible thing to do about millions of people who took out loans to attend flaky for-profit colleges is to grant massive debt relief to nearly everyone without the necessity of reviewing each case individually. But that is a difficult thing to do politically.

I think DOE waited until a week before Obama leaves officer to offer token relief to ACI students in order to highlight the student-loan crisis when there is no time left for the Obama administration to do something substantive.

Like a retreating army that spikes its cannons before being overwhelmed by the enemy, the Obama administration may have wanted to publicize the student loan crisis to create difficulties for Trump.

Here are my thoughts on DOE's surprising but welcome action:

1) Granting debt relief to ACI students is the first small step toward doing what the federal government will inevitably be forced to do: forgive student debt to nearly all of the millions of people who attended for-profit colleges and received no economic benefit.  Billions of dollars in student loans will eventually be written off.

2) I think Obama's DOE took the action that it did for ACI students because the Obama team thinks Trump, who takes office in a few days, will try to prop up the for profits at the expense of exploited students.

But the Obamacrats may be wrong. After all, President-elect Trump knows how to read a  balance sheet, and he may quickly grasp the fact that the student loan program is a catastrophe. 

And if Mr. Trump realizes the enormity of the student loan crisis, he might actually take decisive action.  Everyone agrees that Mr. Trump understands bankruptcy and its value for distressed debtors.  President Trump might surprise everyone and ease the path to bankruptcy relief for millions of student loan debtors who will never be able to pay back their college loans.



References

Andrew Kreighbaum. Education Department announces thousands of new loan discharges. Inside Higher Ed, January 16, 2017.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Department of Education's fumbling efforts to aid students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges: No relief for the Walking Dead

David Goldman wrote a  highly informative article for Bloomberg yesterday about the Department of Education's fumbling efforts to process Borrower Defense claims filed by people who claim they were defrauded by Corinthian Colleges. I am grateful to Steve Rhode for calling my attention to Goldman's article.

Essentially, here's the story. Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy last year under a cloud of fraud allegations. In fact, the the State of California got a $1.1 billion judgment against Corinthian for its wrongdoing in that state. At the time it filed bankruptcy, Corinthian had 335,000 former students.

DOE has an administrative process whereby it will forgive the student loans taken out by students who were defrauded by for-profit institutions. So far, 82,000 former Corinthian students have filed those claims.  But DOE's process for reviewing those claims is slow. Goldman reported that so far only about 15,000 students have gotten debt relief through the Borrower Defense process.

DOE won't grant blanket forgiveness to all of Corinthian's former students, arguing that not all of them were defrauded.  But in fact, a high percentage were defrauded. As Goldman reported, "Department officials concluded that Corinthian engaged in 'widesperead placement rate fraud' for almost 800 programs at nearly every one of its more than 100 U.S. campuses."

 David Vladek, a former director of the Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection division, said this about Corinthian's former students: "These kids by and large have been scammed, and the Department of Education in some sense is continuing the harm by making them jump through hoops to get the relief to which they are entitled."

But it gets worse. Not only is DOE not processing loan-forgiveness claims quickly, it is actually employing debt collectors to hound Corinthian's former students, even though most of these students are entitled to have their loans forgiven.  Although DOE states on its web site that it will stop all loan collection efforts on Corinthian borrowers, that statement is not true.

Indeed, DOE's debt collection activities are a hell of a lot more efficient than their loan forgiveness process. As Maggie Robb, a consumer-rights attorney, observed, " When the Department of Education wants to collect money, it doesn't stop."

Goldman's story focused solely on Corinthian Colleges' former students, but there are hundreds of thousands of people who took out loans to attend for-profit colleges who have been scammed. I know one woman with a documented claim for fraud against DeVry University who filed a Borrower Defense claim with DOE last August and still hasn't gotten a response from DOE.

In short, people who have been defrauded by the for-profit college industry are the real life representations of the Walking Dead. Fraud victims have debt hanging over their heads, which DOE has not discharged; and if they default on their loans they are subject to abusive debt collection tactics, wage garnishment, income-tax offsets, and ruined credit. Many are continuing to make loan payments on debt they don't really owe; and most did not get fair value for their for-profit college experiences.

In DOE's defense, the Department is simply overwhelmed by the implosion of the for-profit college industry. It does not have the resources to process claims by Corinthian students or to even notify those students that they may be entitled to debt relief. ITT's closure and bankruptcy will bring a deluge of new claims, and other for-profits are sure to follow over the next few months. (Globe University and Charlotte School of Law, for example, have been accused of misrepresentation and many of their students will be filing Borrower Defense claims.)

There is really only one sensible solution: DOE should allow all people who borrowed money to attend for-profit colleges and who are insolvent to file for bankruptcy relief in the federal bankruptcy courts. Whether or not a a particular student debtor can prove fraud should be irrelevant. If they took out loans to attend a for-profit college, the odds are better than even that they were scammed or did not get fair value for their money.

Image result for walking dead'
Students who were scammed by for-profit colleges are the Walking Dead.

Note: All quotations come from Mr. Goldman's article.

References

David Goldman. The U.S. Government Is Collecting Student Loans It Promised to Forgive, Bloomberg News, December 19, 2016.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Defrauded students file debt-relief applications with the Department of Education: Bankruptcy courts can provide relief faster and more efficiently than DOE bureaucrats

When Betsy DeVos takes over as the new Secretary of Education next year, she will inherit one huge headache--thousands of pending applications for loan forgiveness from students who claim they were defrauded by various for-profit universities.

As Andrew Kreighbaum explained in a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, the Department of Education had received 80,000 loan discharge applications as of last October; and the total number has likely grown to at least 100,000.

So far, DOE has approved 15,694 applications for discharge from students who attended three campuses owned by the now defunct Corinthian Colleges system, but many more of Corinthian's former students are surely eligible for loan forgiveness based on fraud claims. After all, Corinthian has 350,000 former students.

And there are hundreds of other student borrowers who may file loan-forgiveness applications: students from ITT Tech Services, Globe University, Minnesota School of Business, and several more for-profits that closed after being accused of wrongdoing.

I. Problems with forgiving loans through the DOE administrative process

DOE has been extremely slow to process borrower defense applications; I know one young woman who filed her application in August based on a claim she was defrauded by DeVry University. She has yet to receive a response from DOE.

New federal regulations for processing borrower defense claims will become effective next summer, but there are several fundamental challenges that new regulations won't solve:
1. Tax consequences. First, all former for-profit student who have their student loans forgiven will have a one-time tax liability because the amount of their forgiven loans is considered taxable income by the IRS. 
2. Forfeiture of college credits. Under the current debt-relief program, students whose student loans are forgiven due to fraud will forfeit any credits they received from the institution they attended.

3. Insufficient DOE resources. Third, the Department of Education simply doesn't have the resources to process thousands of loan forgiveness claims in a timely manner, not to mention the thousands of new claims that will inevitably be filed as more for-profit colleges close their doors.
II Bankruptcy is a better way to process loan forgiveness applications

Fortunately, there is a solution to these problems; it's called the bankruptcy courts.

First, debtors whose student loans are discharged in bankruptcy will not suffer tax consequences for a forgiven loan because under current IRS rules forgiven debts are not taxable to an individual who is insolvent at the time the loan is forgiven.

Second, a student debtor who discharges student loans from a for--profit college through the bankruptcy process will not forfeit credits or degrees conferred by the college.

Finally, the bankruptcy courts clearly have the resources to process hundreds of thousands of bankruptcy petitions filed by distressed student-loan debtors. Filing an individual Chapter 7 action is relatively simple and does not require a lawyer.  Bankruptcy petitions could be routinely resolved in the bankruptcy courts, which have the expertise to weed out fraudulent or unworthy claims.

III. DOE has the authority to reinterpret the  "undue hardship" standard 

Critics might argue that my proposal is unworkable because anyone seeking to discharge student loans in bankruptcy must meet the "undue hardship" standard, a very difficult standard to meet.  But there is a solution for that challenge as well.

All DOE needs to do to ease the path to bankruptcy relief for insolvent student-loan debtors with fraud claims is to write an official letter expressing its view that every insolvent debtor who attended a for-profit college that has been found to have acted fraudulently meets the undue hardship standard.

In essence, such a letter would be a a revision of DOE's letter issued on July 7, 2015, giving the Department's interpretation of the "undue hardship" rule. In all likelihood, the bankruptcy courts would defer to DOE's revised interpretation of "undue hardship" and begin discharging student loans routinely.

Of course, DOE would also need to direct the various student-loan guaranty agencies to stop opposing bankruptcy relief for any insolvent debtor with a fraud claim against a for-profit college.

Easing the path to bankruptcy relief for distressed debtors who took out student loans to attend dodgy for-profit colleges will cost taxpayers billions. But most of the people who took out these loans will never pay the money back anyway. Almost 50 percent of the people who took out loans to attend for--profit colleges default on those loans within five years. Others enter into income-driven repayment plans that lower monthly payments, but according to the Government Accountability Office, about half the people who begin these plans are kicked out for failing to verifying their income on an annual basis.

So let's begin cleaning up the mess our government created when it began shoveling federal student-aid money to  the rapacious for-profit college industry. Let's shut these colleges down and wipe out the student-loan debt accumulated by millions of victims of massive fraud. Incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will have the authority to grant relief to these victims by easing the path toward bankruptcy. Let's hope this is what she does.

Incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos


References

Andrew Kreighbaum. Activists and borrowers call on Obama administration to provide debt relief to defrauded students. Inside Higher Ed, December 14, 2016.

Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis, A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising default ratesWashington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015). Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/bpea/papers/2015/looney-yannelis-student-loan-defaults

Lynn Mahaffie, Undue Hardship Discharge of Title IV Loans in Bankruptcy Adversary Proceedings. CL ID: GEN 15-13, July 7, 2015.

Eric Rosenberg.You Need to Know How Student Loan Forgiveness Is Taxed.  Studentloanhero.com, July 18, 2016.

US. Government Accounting Office. Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income-Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accounting Office, November, 2016.