Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ITT Tech files for bankruptcy, leaving more than 35,000 students in the lurch. 23 Democrat Senators ask the Department of Education to give ITT students special assistance

ITT Educational Services, a for-profit corporation operating more than 130 vocational and technical training schools, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. The Department of Education shut off student aid money to ITT in late August, and the corporation quickly collapsed.

ITT's bankruptcy left  about 35,000 students in the lurch.  Most of them took out federal student loans to pay ITT's extraordinarily high tuition, and none of them will be able to complete their studies. DOE Secretary John King sent a message to these students telling them they had just two options: transfer their credits to other institutions or file for loan forgiveness under DOE's "closed school"forgiveness regulations.

On September 15, 23 Democratic Senators sent Secretary King a letter asking DOE to grant ITT's former students special assistance. The letter is slightly incoherent, which is understandable given the fact that 23 politicians had to agree on the text. Nevertheless, the Senators articulated several specific requests for relief.

Extending the eligibility guidelines for total student-debt relief for ITT's former students. First, the Senators want DOE to loosen the eligibility requirements for ITT students who file for total loan forgiveness under DOE's "closed school" relief regulations.  Under current DOE guidelines, ITT's former students can apply for debt relief under DOE's "closed school" procedures if they were enrolled at ITT at the time it closed or withdrew from ITT up to 120 days prior to closure.

The Democrats asked Secretary King to expand the 120-day window to a little more than two years. If King grants this request, any student who withdrew from ITT on or after March 1, 2014 will qualify to have their ITT student loans forgiven under DOE's "closed school" discharge process.

Preservation of ITT's student records. The Senators also asked DOE to preserve all of ITT's documents and records that might be relevant to an ongoing investigation of ITT's  activities or that could be helpful to students seeking to get their loans discharged..

Explore legal authority to automatically discharge ITT students' federal loans.  Finally, the Senators urged DOE to determine its authority to automatically discharge student loans of ITT    students and to consider discharging loans of all students who don't transfer their ITT credits to another institution within three years and who are otherwise eligible for a "closed school" discharge.

All these recommendations are commendable but they are far too timid. After all, as the Senators attested in their letter, DOE shut off ITT's funding based on serious concerns about "ITT Tech's deceptive practices, dubious educational quality, and financial integrity."

As reported in Bloomberg News, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued ITT for fraud in 2015, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued the company in in 2014, "accusing it of overstating students' job prospects and potential salaries and then pushing them into high-cost private loans that were likely to default." Both suits are still pending.

ITT has enrolled thousands of students over the years. Many of these students--my guess is most of them--received little or no economic benefit for their ITT tuition dollars.

I'm sure ITT can point to some students who completed their ITT studies and found good paying jobs, but I think for every success story  there is surely one or more students who  got no economic benefit from their ITT studies and wound up heavily in debt.

One thing is certain. The for-profit college industry is imploding, and DOE needs a comprehensive process for assisting students who attended one of the collapsing for-profit schools.  Several years ago, Professor Robert C. Cloud and I proposed a change in the Bankruptcy Code that would allow anyone who accumulated student-loan debt from attending a for-profit college and who is insolvent to receive a bankruptcy discharge of student-loan debt without having to show "undue hardship."

In other words, we argued that student debt acquired to attend a for-profit college should be treated like any other unsecured debt, which would make it readily dischargeable in bankruptcy. In my view, this proposal makes more sense than for DOE to deal with each collapsing for-profit college on an ad hoc basis.

Let's see if our U.S. Senators have the courage to offer broader relief for for-profit college students than the tepid proposals contained in the Democratic Senators' recent letter.


Richard Fossey, Robert C. Cloud, R. (2011). From the cone of uncertainty to the dirty side of the storm: A proposal to provide student-loan debtors who attended for-profit colleges with reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts. Education Law Reporter, 272, 1-18.

Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. A Message from the Secretary of Education to ITT Students. Accessible at http://blog.ed.gov/2016/09/message-secretary-education-itt-students/

Letter to the Honorable John King, Secretary of Education, from 23 Democratic Senators, September 15,2016. https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/9_15_16%20ITT%20Tech%20ED%20Letter%20(1).pdf

Dawn McCarty and Shahien Nasirpour. ITT Educational Services Files for Bankruptcy After Shutdown. Bloomberg, September 16, 2016. Accessible at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-16/itt-educational-services-files-for-bankruptcy-after-shutdown-it6byu6t

Reuters. ITT Educational Services Files for Bankruptcy After Aid Crackdown. International New York Times, September 17, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/business/itt-educational-services-files-for-bankruptcy-after-aid-crackdown.html?_r=0

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