Thursday, May 18, 2017

University of Phoenix graduate got her student loans discharged on the grounds that Phoenix falsely certified she was eligible to receive the loans

 As the Department of Education attests on its own web site, DOE will forgive or cancel student loans under certain circumstances. For example, students are entitled to have their loans forgiven if the school they were attending closes while they were enrolled or shortly thereafter.   Students can also obtain a discharge if they can show they were induced to take out student loans through fraud. And students are also entitled to have their student loans discharged if the school they attended falsely certified that they were eligible to receive a federal student loan.

Unfortunately, the administrative process for obtaining a loan discharge is not easy to navigate. In fact, one might conclude that DOE sets up roadblocks to prevent student borrowers from obtaining the discharges to which they are legally entitled. Price v. U.S. Department of Education, decided last year, illustrates just how difficult it can be to obtain a loan discharge even when a student is clearly qualified for relief.

Price v. U.S. Department of Education: The facts

Phyllis Price graduated with a degree from the University of Phoenix in 2005. She paid for her studies by taking out student loans, which she consolidated into a single loan in the amount of $36,868 bearing interest at 5.3 percent.

Price was 52 years old when she began her studies at the University of Phoenix and had not graduated from high school. A university counselor "instructed her to state on the [admission] application that she had actually finished school and to fill in the year she 'should have graduated.'" Price filled out the forms as she was directed.

Apparently, Price's degree from Phoenix did not benefit her financially. She was working as a contract administrator at the time she began her studies and she was still doing substantially the same work ten years after obtaining her degree.

Price's first payment on her consolidated loan was due in August 2006. She did not make payments on the loan, and the Department of Education (DOE) declared her in default in October 2007.

In March 2008, Price filed a "False Certification (Ability to Benefit) Loan Discharge Application" in an effort to get her loans discharged. Essentially, she argued that her student loans should be cancelled because the University of Phoenix had falsely certified that she was eligible to receive federal student loans for her studies.

American Student Assistance (ASA), DOE's loan servicer, denied Price's application and told her to produce evidence that she did not have a high school diploma. Price produced her high school transcript, which was prominently stamped "DID NOT GRADUATE" and asked for a hearing.

On June 24, 2009, more than a year after Price produced her high school transcript, DOE affirmed ASA's original decision denying her a loan discharge.  On October 1, 2014--more than six years after she filed her discharge application, DOE issued its final decision denying Price's "false certification discharge application."  A short time later, Price received notice that her wages were subject to being garnished for failure to pay back her student loan. Price then brought suit in federal court.

Statutory and Regulatory Issues Pertinent to Price's case

Under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), private lenders make loans to "eligible borrowers" to finance postsecondary studies. The loans are insured by student loan guaranty agencies and reinsured by DOE. Generally, an eligible borrower is someone who has a high school diploma or a GED. 

"However, a 'student who does not have a certificate of graduation from a school providing secondary education, or the recognized equivalent of such certificate,' may qualify for a loan if the school certifies that she has the ability to  benefit from the education it provides." Price v. U.S. Dep't of Educ., 209 F. Supp. 3d 925, 930 (S.D. Tex. 2016) (quoting 20 U.S.C. sec. 1091(d)). 

A school can certify that a student has the ability to benefit from its programs if the student passes an independently administered ATB ("ability to benefit") test.  However, the University of Phoenix did not require Price to take an ATB test.

What is the purpose of the "ability to benefit" rule? Congress adopted "ability to benefit" legislation in 1992, "spurred by public concern over unscrupulous schools exploiting student borrowers who received no benefit from expensive classes of little use." Id. Under federal law (20 U.S.C. sec. 1087(c) (1)), the Department of Education is required to discharge loans taken out by people who were falsely certified as being eligible to receive federal loans by the schools they attended. 

A federal magistrate rules in Price's favor

Price filled out an application to have her loans discharged in 2008, asserting under oath that she did not have a high school diploma at the time she took out federal loans and had not  been given an ATB test. End of story, right?

No, DOE refused to discharge her student loans on the grounds that it had no evidence that University of Phoenix had systematically violated the "ability to benefit" rules. In refusing to forgive Price's loans, a federal magistrate found, DOE violated federal law and DOE's own regulations. In essence, the magistrate observed, DOE's decision-making process "amounted to a cursory glance at the forest, with no attempt to spot the only tree that mattered."

DOE attempted to defend its decision by offering post-hoc rationalizations. In particular, the Department argued that Price obtained a degree from the University of Phoenix and should not be allowed to benefit from that degree without paying for it. But the federal magistrate rejected that argument, pointing out that Price was entitled to have her loans forgiven whether or not she obtained a degree. 

Furthermore, the magistrate noted, Price apparently had not benefited from her studies at the University of Phoenix. "Price is doing essentially the same job as before she enrolled, and any psychic benefit from achieving a degree is more than offset by eight years of fending off debt collectors." In any event,  the Magistrate continued, "Congress did not see fit to condition student loan relief upon a showing that the student ultimately failed to graduate." Id. at 934.

Why did DOE deny Price the relief to which she was legally entitled?

Clearly, Price was ill treated by DOE, which dragged her through a tedious administrative process for six years before ultimately denying her claim.  And, as a federal magistrate concluded, Price was clearly entitled to have her student loans forgiven under federal law and DOE's own regulations.

Why did DOE take the position it did? I can think of only one reason--DOE is so desperate to keep people from getting their loans forgiven that it is willing to ignore federal law. 

DOE is like the fabled Dutch boy with his thumb in the dike. Once a few people are granted relief from their student loans, it will be apparent that millions are entitled to relief. That will lead to a torrent of loan forgiveness, which will cause the federal student loan program to collapse.


Price v. U.S. Dep't of Education, 209 Fed. Supp. 3d 925 (S.D. Tex. 2016).


  1. I HATE the UOP with everything i am. They screwed me too. Signed me up for endless loans even when I hadn't changed to new classes. I lost count of how many forms i filled out in total confusion as to why I needed another loan. It was dizzying. Now i owe out the butt and I can't pay it back. Their so called 'we'll help you get a job' is bullcrap. People who take one look at my diplomas seem to automatically turn me down.

    1. Thanks for writing, Beth. Someday, the federal government is going to be forced to face that fact that a lot of people were harmed by for-profits like Phoenix. In my view, reasonable access to bankruptcy court is the only solution.

    2. Beth I am absolutely right there with you. When I was first with them I wanted to stop. My financial aid counselor told me flat out that they would return my loan and send me the bill. Feeling pressured, I continued and figured I would make the best of it. I mean, some degree is better than no degree, right? Except in this case, I feel that I have been black-listed by employers simply because the UOP is on my resume. I see on LinkedIn for example how many recruiters have looked at my profile and resume only to move on. As to anyone who says bankruptcy is the only answer, I say wrong answer. So let's make matters worse by completely ruining my finances and then wait 10 years for it to drop off your credit report. If you file a 13 that is up to 15 years. And student loans are not forgiven under any bankruptcy. As typical, let's not hold the people who did the actual harm accountable.

    3. I'm right there with you Beth. I was defrauded out of my Post 9/11 GI bill from them. and as a Service Connected Disabled Veteran I can't even find a job. It's as you said, it seems employers take one look at my education and see UoP and move on.


    4. I took 4 classes from UOP before I realized something wasn't right. Every class I took just happen to be the exact amount of my loans and grants. Hummm I did file bankruptcy and did not include my student loans as I was told over and over that you could not put them in the bankruptcy. Now I'm finding out you can under circumstances that we do qualify for. Just my luck!!

    5. Really? What circumstances qualify us to put them in bankruptcy? These student loans are a pain in the butt.

  2. Dear Will.

    Although many experts say otherwise, students loans are dischargeable in bankruptcy if the debtor can meet the undue hardship standard set forth in the Bankruptcy Code.

    One who seeks to discharge student loans in bankruptcy must file an adversary complaint (a lawsuit) in the bankruptcy court, and the Department of Education or one of its agents will be sure to oppose the complaint. But bankruptcy discharge of student loans can be done and has been done over the past several years. For example, on September 22, 2017 (less than three weeks ago) a district court in Kansas upheld the partial discharge of more than $200,000 in student loan owed by a married couple in their forties.

    If you would like a list of successful cases, write me at, and I will send it to you. Best of luck to you.
    Richard f

  3. Did anyone take online classes with University of Phoeniz? Was/Is the online program closed?

  4. Boy do i know this feeling all to well. Was convinced to go for my bachelors degree with them was told my total debt wouldnt acrue past 30k. Was also told that with the bachelors degree job placement would be easy. I graduated in 2012 now having my wages garnished and my degree is a overpriced toilet paper. Everywhere i have apllied and listed that degree has went nowhere. I actually have had a response of " we do not deem it as a legitimate college". If anyone knows who can help email me.

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  6. I attended and had grants and loans. My loans for a bachelors in criminal justice is over 40k, I have listed a bachelors degree and I'm still not using it.

  7. I have attended this horrible school and have grants and loans without having a good job as promised. This school will say and do just about anything to take money and fraud the government.

  8. I was in attendance of UOP as well...I was qualified for numerous loans now sitting at a staggering $113,000. I managed to attend the University with no proof of GED etc...I have been unemployed for a few months. I obtained my Associates, Bachelors, and Masters of Science in Psychology. Still no job. All the promises. During my Bachelors program just before graduation they informed me there wasn't enough money to pay for my last class... I was like bull...I know how much was taken out to c9ver classes etc. Fix the problem or I will report! Fixed. Next I find I was not able to register for my Masters saying hadn't completed the requirements etc had to deal with that got I to the Masters program. Its been on going. Anyways still no job but a staggering amount of student loan debt.

  9. I graduated from Yoo this past October though i am sure their financial aid practices are shady I can't say that they defrauded me on this front. I CAN say that they practice false advertising. They convince you to go there by informing you about all their expert instructors. But the truth is their instructors do not teach you anything. At Yoo you teach yourself and write a bazillion research papers. They are a shady group. Luckily, my diploma qualified me a Master's program at Texas Tech so UoP won't be the first thing employers see when I'm finally through with my education .

  10. Same thing happened to me, a Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Phoenix is not worth anything. Have not been able to find a job in Counseling, in over 15 years.

    Waste of time, money, energy. And yes, I am in default.

  11. At about 20 years old UOP admission counselor Ashley told me I didn't qualify for student loans because my parents wouldn't submit their financial information. Ashley told me to say I was a child of the state and BAM- I got the Loans.... now I owe more than 20k in debt From them when they sent me money and then told me I owed the school. I couldnt afford it and now I'm still paying off the debt. Thanks UOP

  12. The UOP collector agency took my taxes away even is I sent my info and I do a monthly payments. now I am looking for a Lawyer to sue the University. Really bad example of how Education system should be.

  13. I was attending UOP and had two classes to finish my bachelors in social work. I had to have brain surgery and was in the hospital for two months so of course I failed the classes. I tried talking to the university and I even sent them the paperwork from the hospital telling them that I was in the hospital and they refused to talk to me. They will not release my transcripts and say that I have to pay them all this money for the classes. I am also in debt like 80,000 in student loans because of course I could not use the degrees because people look at me and laugh because I have these degrees from this college. I wish someone would do something to help because I wish I could sue there butts off for everything that they have done to me.

  14. I also received a MBA from UOP and 42k in loans I am struggling to pay back. I did file bankruptcy a few years ago and of course am stuck with loans doing similar work i was doing before my degree. No one takes the degree seriously anymore because it was online so it’s really worthless piece of paper. If I could file again to get this discharged I would do it... my credit is already a mess so wouldn’t do me anymore damage. I just feel very hopeless at this point.

  15. I am the same situation with University of Phoenix . I an struggling to pay back and it is so stressful. I feel stupid for even deciding to enroll with University of Phoenix.

  16. The incompetence of the advisors and so-called managers at UOP amazes me. I am in a significant amount of student loan debt without the high paying job to show for it. I foolishly enrolled in a doctoral program after I completed a masters from there several years ago. To date every single department has lied to me verbally and in writing simply to get me and/or keep me enrolled. I had a class that started on 4/17 that I refuse to post any attendance in because they have not provided me any correct information about my loans or leave of absence. My advice to everyone, DO NOT INVOLVE YOURSELF WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX, their only concern is the almighty dollar!

  17. UOP called me while I was inquiring online for free college programs, the counselor flat out lied to me saying I would be fully covered by grants for each year and would not have any debt to repay other than possibly 1,200 if there was a class price increase during my attendance. I asked repeatedly to make sure and made it very clear I did not want to go to school if I would have debt since My situation at the time didnt give me the anility to pay it back not to mention I choose my spending very wisely and if I was going to spend money I would have went with the most affordable option for me. All my grants went straight to the school and they never got the cal grant that she said I qualified for that was supposed to cover the majority of my loan. They took advantage of people, lied, and misled me into attending their school when I would have never signed up with them, she knew this because I made it very clear I was not interested in taking out loans that would cause me debt, the fact that the government has allowed this school to continue to operate is a complete injustice to the people, not to mention our degrees are seen as a joke to most people based on their reputation, I cant even mention where I got my degree because of this, a complete screw over and I will never pay them they are going to pay me and every student they defrauded too one day soon I believe and look forward to it.

  18. I went to UOP and graduated in 2012 i have an associates degree and have not been successful with job placement. I too feel like employers overlook my resume because if UOP and kaplan career institute which i graduated from there in 2007. However i can remember failing one math class and was 2 points from at least a D and the instructor passed me so now im thinking did he do that just to push along to ensure payments and is my degree even credible? My loans from both schools are consolidated now but every month i pay on time but loan amount hasnt moved saying im still paying on interest im like 36,000 in debt. I work for a third party company making less than 12 an hour. Anyone have suggestions on what i can do?