Showing posts with label Corinthian Colleges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Corinthian Colleges. Show all posts

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.







Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pam Hunt, debt striker, begs Obama to forgive all student loan debt of former Corinthian Colleges students: Let's hope the President responds

When Barack Obama steps down from the presidency next month, he will leave a huge mess behind for the next president to clean up. 43 million Americans hold student loans, and almost half of them can't pay them back.

Most desperate among the victims are the hapless souls who attended for-profit colleges. Many were enticed to enroll by high-pressure and even fraudulent recruiting tactics. Most paid far too much for their educational experiences, and few obtained jobs that paid well enough to justify their educational investments.

Under pressure from state and federal regulators, some for-profit colleges are closing and filing for bankruptcy. Corinthian Colleges, with 350,000 former students, filed for bankruptcy last year. ITT Tech filed for bankruptcy a few months ago, and Dade Medical College filed a bankruptcy-type action in Florida after it closed under allegations of corruption. Global University lost all federal funding earlier this month and will likely close.

Unfortunately, most of the students who attended these ne'er-do-well colleges are still liable on their student loans.  The federal government has processes in place for students to obtain loan forgiveness if they can show they were enticed to take out loans through fraud. But the process is slow. In late September, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote the Department of Education a letter, specifically complaining about the Department's failure to provide speedy relief for Corinthian students.

Earlier this week, Pam Hunt, a former Corinthian Student, appealed directly to President Obama to forgive the student-loan debt of all Corinthian students. "We're appealing to you this one last time," Hunt said. "Please forgive these debts before you leave office."

President Obama should head Hunt's plea, but he probably won't. Secretary of Education John King raised two objections to Hunt's proposal. First, King said, it is not clear that fraud occurred on every Corinthian campus. Second, he said that Corinthian students should testify individually that they were victims of fraud.

King is ignoring the fact that the for-profit college industry is riddled with corruption and fraud, and has victimized millions. DOE doesn't have the resources to deal with these victims on a case-by-case basis, and many for-profit students aren't sophisticated enough to file administrative actions anyway. After all, more than half of the people in income-driven repayment plans are not certifying their income on an annual basis, which is a requirement for remaining in these plans.  Few Corinthian students have applied for loan forgiveness under DOE guidelines, even though almost all are probably entitled to relief.

Hunt is right. DOE should forgive all student loans taken out by Corinthian students. And it should forgive all student debt taken out by ITT Tech students, Global University students, and students who attended Dade Medical College.

After all,whether DOE forgives these loans or not, most of these loans won't be paid back. It is in the national interest to give all victims of the for-profit college industry a fresh start.

Pam Hunt: "Please forgive these debts before you leave office."

References

Andrew Kreighbaum. New Call for Debt Relief Before Obama Leaves. Inside Higher Ed, December 6, 2016.

Tamar Lewin, "Government to Forgive Student Loans at Corinthian Colleges," New York Times, June 8, 2015.

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.

Michael Vasquez. Dade Medical College sets in motion plan to sell assets. Miami Herald, November 18, 205.

 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Globe University will probably file for bankruptcy. Why can't students who took out loans to attend Globe get bankruptcy relief as well?

Globe University/ Minnesota School of Business is collapsing like a house of cards. Last September, a Minnesota judge ruled that Globe/MSB violated Minnesota consumer protection laws, and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education began the process of barring it from doing business in the state of Minnesota.

In October, the U.S. Department of Education ordered Globe to stop enrolling students, and this month, DOE cut off all federal student-aid funding to Globe.  Globe cannot survive without federal student aid money; and its seems likely it will file for bankruptcy in the near future.

Bankruptcy is a good thing for failing colleges.  In fact, several higher education institution filed for bankruptcy during the last two years, including: Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech Services, Anthem College, and Dowling College.  Bankruptcy will allow Globe to shut down operations in an orderly manner and ensue that its creditors are treated fairly and equitably.

If Globe/MSB files for bankruptcy, it will be required to list its assets. Those assets will likely include loans it made to its own students. Kyle McCarthy, writing for the Huffington Post in 2014, reported that 42 percent of Globe's students had private loans; and some of these loans were originated by Globe University, Minnesota School of Business, or Terry Myhre, the owner of Globe University.

Ironically,  Globe University has easy access to the bankruptcy courts, where it will be able to shed some if not all of its debt; but Globe's students who file for bankruptcy will find it almost impossible to get relief from their debts to Globe. And this is true in spite of the fact that a judge found that Globe had committed fraud.

Why is this? Because private student loans issued by for-profit colleges, like federal student loans, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy unless the debtor can show that repaying the loans will cause "undue hardship," a very difficult standard to meet.

Obviously, this is a grave injustice. In my view, students who took out loans from for-profit colleges that committed fraud should have all their student loans automatically forgiven: federal loans, private loans, and loans issued by the college themselves.

Terry Myhre, owner of Globe University, receiving an award from the Daughters of the American Revolution


References

Christopher Magan. Fraud ruling threatens Globe U, Minnesota School  of Business with closure. Twin City Pioneer Press, September 8, 2016.

Judge Orders Globe University, Minnesota School of Business to Stop Fraudulent Marketing. KSTP Televsion News, September 10, 2016.

Kyle McCarthy. Globe University: Profiting Off the Backs of Students and Taxpayers. Huffington Post, January 23, 2014.

Shahlen Nasiripour. Corinthian Colleges Files for Bankruptcy. Huffington Post, May 5, 2015.

Andrew Skurria. Dowling College Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Wall Street Journal, November 29, 2016.

U.S. Department of Education. Globe University, Minnesota School of Business Denied Access to Federal Student Aid Dollars. U.S. Department of Education press release, December 6, 2016.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The student loan crisis and the first 100 days: Please, President Trump, provide bankruptcy relief for distressed student-loan debtors

Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, and we can throw her promise of a tuition-free college education in the ashcan. Meanwhile, the student loan crisis grows worse with each passing month.

Eleven million people have either defaulted on their loans or are delinquent in their payments. More than 5 million student-loan debtors are in long-term income based repayment plans that will never lead to loan payoffs.Several million student borrowers have loans in deferment or forbearance while interest continues to accrue on their loan balances.

Soon we will have a new president, and an exciting opportunity to look at the federal student loan program from a fresh perspective. What can President Trump do to bring relief to distressed college-loan debtors. Here are some ideas--respectfully submitted:

FIRST, TREAT THE WOUNDED.

President Trump can do several things quickly to alleviate the suffering.

Stop garnishing Social Security checks of loan defaulters. More than 150,000 elderly student-loan defaulters are seeing their Social Security checks garnished. President Trump could stop that practice on a dime. Admittedly, this would be a very small gesture; the number of garnishees is minuscule compared to the 43 million people who have outstanding student loans. But this symbolic act would signal that our government is not heartless.

Streamline the loan-forgiveness process for people who were defrauded by the for-profit colleges. DOE already has a procedure in place for forgiving student loans taken out by people who were defrauded by a for-profit college, but the administrative process is slow and cumbersome. For example, Corinthian Colleges and ITT both filed for bankruptcy, and many of their former students have valid fraud claims. So far, few of these victims have obtained relief from the Department of Education.

Why not simply forgive the student loans of everyone who took out a federal loan to attend these two institutions and others that closed while under investigation for fraudulent practices?

Force for-profit colleges to delete mandatory arbitration clauses from student enrollment documents. The Obama administration criticized mandatory arbitration clauses, but it didn't eliminate them. President Trump could sign an Executive Order banning all for-profit colleges from putting mandatory arbitration clauses in their student-enrollment documents.

Banning mandatory arbitration clauses would allow fraud victims to sue for-profit colleges and to bring class action suits. And by taking this step, President Trump would only be implementing a policy that President Obama endorsed but didn't get around to implementing.

Abolish unfair penalties and fees. Student borrowers who default on their loans are assessed enormous penalties by the debt collectors--18 percent and even more. President Trump's Department of Education could ban that practice or at least reduce the penalties to a more reasonable amount.

PLEASE PROVIDE REASONABLE BANKRUPTCY RELIEF FOR DISTRESSED STUDENT-LOAN DEBTORS.

The reforms I outlined are minor, although they could be implemented quickly through executive orders or the regulatory process. But the most important reform--reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts--will require a change in the Bankruptcy Code.

Please, President Trump, prevail on Congress to abolish 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(8) from the Bankruptcy Code--the provision that requires student-loan debtors to show undue hardship as a condition for discharging student loans in bankruptcy.

Millions of people borrowed too much money to get a college education, and they can't pay it back. Some were defrauded by for-profit colleges, some chose the wrong academic major, some did not complete their studies, and some paid far too much to get a liberal arts degree from an elite private college. More than a few fell off the economic ladder due to divorce or illness, including mental illness.

Regardless of the reason, most people took out student loans in good faith and millions of people can't pay them back. Surely a fair and humane justice system should allow these distressed debtors  reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts.

President Trump can address this problem in two ways:

  • First, the President could direct the Department of Education and the loan guaranty agencies (the debt collectors) not to oppose bankruptcy relief for honest but unfortunate debtors--and that's most of the people who took out student loans and can't repay them.
  • Second, the President could encourage Congress to repeal the "undue hardship" provision from the Bankruptcy Code.
Critics will say that bankruptcy relief gives deadbeat debtors a free ride, but in fact, most people who defaulted on their loans have suffered enough.from the penalties that have rained down on their heads.

More importantly, our nation's heartless attitude about student-loan default has discouraged millions of Americans and helped drive them out of the economy. President Trump has promised middle-class and working-class Americans an opportunity for a fresh start. Let's make sure that overburdened student-loan debtors get a fresh start too.

References

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

Stephen Burd. Signing Away Rights. Inside Higher Ed, December 17, 2013. Available at https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2013/12/17/essay-questions-mandatory-arbitration-clauses-students-profit-higher-education

Andrew Kreighbaum, Warren: Education Dept. Failing Corinthian StudentsInside Higher Ed, September 30, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/09/30/warren-education-dept-failing-corinthian-students

Senator Elizabeth Warren to Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., letter dated September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2016-9-29_Letter_to_ED_re_Corinthian_data.pdf

Ashley A. Smith. U.S. Urged to Deny Aid to For-Profits That Force Arbitration. Inside Higher Ed, February 24, 2016. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/02/24/us-urged-deny-aid-profits-force-arbitration?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=183bc9e3a3-DNU20160224&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-183bc9e3a3-198565653

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=

U.S. General Accounting Office. Older Americans: Inability to Repay Student Loans May Affect Financial Security of a Small Percentage of Borrowers. GAO-14-866T. Washington, DC: General Accounting Office. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-866T

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Department of Education strips ACICS of accrediting authority: It's time to pull the plug on the rapacious for-profit college industry

Turn out the lights
The party's over
They say that
All good things must end

Willy Nelson
Turn Out the Lights

Last month, the Department of Education stripped the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) of its accrediting authority--basically signing ACICS's death certificate. ACICS will appeal of course, and there may be litigation; but for now at least ACICS is essentially out of business.

ACICS accredited 245 post-secondary institutions, mostly for-profit colleges.  These institutions are scrambling to find a new accrediting agency, which is a life-or-death issue for them. DOE requires colleges to be accredited by  a government-approved accrediting agency in order to receive federal student aid money.  Without regular infusions of federal cash, none of these colleges would last a month.

According to Inside Higher Ed, more than 100 colleges that were accredited by ACICS have applied for accreditation with another accrediting body--the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).  ACCSC also accredits for-profit colleges (more than 300), and many for-profits will probably find a new accrediting home with this agency.

But, as Willy Nelson once observed, when the party's over, someone should turn out the lights. And the party is about over for the rapacious for-profit college industry.  

Corinthian Colleges and ITT have filed for bankruptcy, leaving thousands of students in the lurch. As state and federal regulatory agencies step up the pressure on the predatory for-profit college industry, more for-profit schools will close. DOE has more than 250 proprietary schools on its "Heightened Cash Monitoring" watch list,an indication that the financial viability of this industry is shaky.  Publicly traded for-profits have seen their stock prices plummet as investors bolt for the exits.

Shutting down the for-profit colleges will be messy. The for-profits have been incredibly litigious, and they will certainly sue to protect their interests. But with each passing day, more unsuspecting and unsophisticated young people takes out student loans to attend  for-profit colleges; and many of them never recoup their investments. Indeed almost half of the people who take out federal student loans to attend a for-profit college default within five years of beginning repayment.

It is going to be ugly, and its going to be complicated. But the time has come to turn out the lights on the for-profit college industry, which has harmed so many innocent and unsuspecting American young people.

References

Scott Jaschik. Slight Drop in Colleges in Heightened Cash MonitoringInside Higher Education, July 25, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/07/25/slight-drop-colleges-heightened-cash-monitoring?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=8991789a59-DNU20160725&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-8991789a59-198564813

Paul Fain, Hundreds of colleges, many for-profits, seek a new accreditor. Inside Higher Ed, October 6, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/10/06/hundreds-colleges-many-profits-seek-new-accreditor

Adam Looney & Constantine Yanellis.  A Crisis in student loans? Brookings Institution, September 10, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/projects/bpea/fall-2015_embargoed/conferencedraft_looneyyannelis_studentloandefaults.pdf










Friday, September 30, 2016

U.S. Department of Education mistreats bankrupt Corinthian Colleges' former students and Senator Elizabeth Warren complains

Corinthian Colleges closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy last year, leaving about 80,000 currently enrolled students in the lurch.  Corinthian was besieged with charges of fraud and misrepresentation at the time it went belly up and subsequently had a $1.5 billion judgment entered against in California.

A couple of days ago, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote Secretary of Education John King a letter complaining about how DOE has treated Corinthian's former students who have outstanding student loans. She said about 80,000 former Corinthian students are eligible for debt relief relief under DOE's "closed school" program, but are in some form of debt collection.

According to Warren:

  • More than 30,000 student borrowers are in "administrative offset" and could have tax refunds and Social Security checks seized for nonpayment of their loans.
  • More than 4,000 borrowers are having their wages garnished by the federal government for loan nonpayment.
  • Less than 4,000 former Corinthian students have had their loans forgiven under DOE's "borrower defense" discharge, far fewer than the number who are entitled to relief.
  • Only 23,000 former Corinthian students have even applied for borrower defense discharges, less than a third of the number of Corinthian students who have been put into DOE's collection process.
I've been critical of Senator Warren in the past, but I commend her for her vigorous efforts to help former Corinthian students who have outstanding student loans. As Warren herself put it in her letter to Secretary King, Corinthian's meltdown "left an estimated 350,000 students with worthless degrees or credits and mountains of fraudulent debt." There is ample evidence of wrongdoing throughout Corinthian's operations, and all its former students deserve to have their loans forgiven.

What would that cost? According to the New York Times, if all 350,000 former Corinthian students had their loans forgiven, it would cost taxpayers about $3.5 billion.

But that is what should be done. Instead of requiring hundreds of thousands of former Corinthian students to file applications for discharge under DOE's cumbersome administrative process, every student loan taken out to attend a Corinthian campus should be forgiven.

And let's not forget the Corinthian students who may still be attending Corinthian campuses that were sold to a subsidiary of Educational Credit Management Corporation in a deal engineered by DOE.  ECMC created a subsidiary named Zenith Education Group to run 53 Corinthian campuses that ECMC bought for peanuts--$24 million or less than half a million dollars per campus.

According to an Inside Higher Ed article, the Zenith-run campuses are not doing well. Zenith has consolidated some of the campuses it bought and is closing others. It seems quite possible that the Zenith-run operation will also shut down. In any event, any relief granted to former Corinthian students should include all students who continued their studies on campuses operated by Zenith.



References

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


Paul Fain. More Cuts for Zenith. Inside Higher Ed, March 28, 2016. Accessible at  https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/03/28/nonprofit-owner-former-corinthian-colleges-campuses-loses-100-million-while

Help for Victims of College Fraud (Editorial). New York Times, June 10, 2015, p. A24.

Andrew Kreighbaum, Warren: Education Dept. Failing Corinthian Students. Inside Higher Ed, September 30, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/09/30/warren-education-dept-failing-corinthian-students

Senator Elizabeth Warren to Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., letter dated September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2016-9-29_Letter_to_ED_re_Corinthian_data.pdf

Monday, September 26, 2016

Department of Education strips the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACIS) of its accrediting authority

DOE drops the hammer on ACICS

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it is stripping the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) of its accrediting authority. As Donald Trump might put it, this is a HUUGE deal.

ACICS is the biggest accrediting body for the for-profit college industry. As of last June, ACICS accredited 245 schools enrolling about 800,000 students. All those schools must be credentialed by an accreditation agency approved by DOE in order to obtain federal student aid money. So when DOE decertified ACICS, it put more than 200 for-profit institutions at extreme risk of closing.

Why did DOE take such drastic action against ACICS?

Why did DOE take this drastic action? DOE accuses ACICS of lax oversight of the  for-profit college industry. Two large for-profits filed for bankruptcy recently--Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech; both companies were accredited by ACICS. Other for-profits have been investigated for fraud, misrepresentation, and high-pressure recruiting tactics.

The industry as a whole has notoriously high student-loan default rates. According to a Brookings Institution report, almost half of a recent cohort of for-profit students defaulted on their student loans within five years of beginning repayment. Ben Miller, a senior spokesperson for the Center for American Progress, approved of DOE's action: "With its lengthy track record of shoddy oversight--that has led to billions of dollars squandered--ACICS had abused the public's trust and could not be allowed to continue granting access to federal dollars."

What will happen to the 200 plus colleges and schools that were accredited by ACICS?

What will happen to the 200 plus for-profit colleges that are no longer accredited by a DOE-approved accrediting body? Assuming ACICS loses its appeal of DOE's decision, which seems likely, for-profit colleges will have 18 months to obtain accreditation by another DOE-approved accreditor.  That will be very difficult to do--especially for small for--profit colleges,  As one West Virginia educator explained: "There aren't thousands of accreditors that schools can go to, there's really just a handful. They all have very specific niches to fill." And those accrediting bodies will likely be deluged with applications from colleges that were formerly accredited by ACICS.

In short, the fall of ACICS will inevitably have a domino effect on for-profit colleges. Those that don't quickly become re-accredited by a DOE-approved agency will lose access to federal student-aid money and will collapse. When the colleges collapse, their students' studies will be disrupted. The vast majority of all for-profit students took out federal student loans to finance their tuition. If their college closes, they will have just two choices:  They can transfer to another institution that will take their former college's credits or they can apply to DOE to have their loans  forgiven under DOE's"closed school" exemption process.

Does DOE have a sinister motive in disrupting the for-profit college industry?

The Obama administration will say its drastic action against ACICS is a justified response to the accreditor's shoddy oversight of the for-profit college industry. And maybe that explanation is sincere.

But why did DOE wait until the waning days of President Obama's second term in office to act? I wonder whether DOE might be intentionally disrupting the for-profit college industry so that inside players can step in and scoop up some faltering for-profit colleges in order to reap huge profits.

When Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy last year, DOE engineered a deal for a subsidiary of Educational Credit Management Corporation to buy some of Corinthian's operations. ECMC's unit bought 56 of Corinthian's campuses for only $24 million. Who benefited financially from that deal?

And Apollo Education Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, is being bought out by a consortium of equity groups led by Martin Nesbitt, President Obama's former campaign manager and president of the Obama Foundation.  Tony Miller, a former Deputy Secretary of Education,  will run the University of Phoenix. Cozy!

Time will tell us what is going on here. The for--profit college industry is a sleazy business, and I have argued repeatedly that DOE should shut it down. DOE's decision last week to strip ACICS of its accrediting authority is a big step toward doing just that.

But if we see more political insiders come in and buy struggling for-profits as Martin Nesbitt is doing with the University of Phoenix, that may be an indication, that DOE's death sentence for ACICS is nothing more than a calculated play to drive down the value of for-profit colleges so that powerful financial interests can scoop them up.

One thing we know for sure: Bill and Hillary Clinton are very close to the for-profit college racket. Bill, we remember, got paid nearly $18 million to serve as "Honorary Chancellor" of Laureate Education Group; and Hillary is tight with Goldman Sachs, which has an ownership interest in a for-profit education company.

Image result for bill clinton and laureate education

References

Lauren Camera. Education Department Strips Authority of Largest For-Profit Accreditor. U.S. New & World Report, September 2, 2016. Accessible at http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-22/education-department-strips-authority-of-acics-the-largest-for-profit-college-accreditor

Paul Fain. Federal panel votes to terminate ACICS and tightens screws on other accreditors. Inside Higher Ed, June 24, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/24/federal-panel-votes-terminate-acics-and-tightens-screws-other-accreditors

Jake Jarvis. In wake of ACIS decision, a crisis for WV's for profit schools. Charleston Gazette-Mail, September 25, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-education/20160925/in-wake-of-acics-decision-a-crisis-for-wvs-for-profit-schools

Ronald Hansen. Apollo Education sale 'golden parachute' could be worth $22 million to executives. Arizona Republic, March 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2016/03/08/apollo-education-sale-executives-payout-22-million/81483912/

Rosiland S. Helderman and Michelle Ye He Lee. Inside Bill Clinton's nearly $18 million job as 'honary chancellor' ofr a for-profit college. Washington Post, September 5,  2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-bill-clintons-nearly-18-million-job-as-honorary-chancellor-of-a-for-profit-college/2016/09/05/8496db42-655b-11e6-be4e-23fc4d4d12b4_story.html

Abby Jackson. An embattled for profit education company partly owned by Goldman Sachs keeps downsizing. Business Insider, June 13, 2016. Accessible at http://www.businessinsider.com/for-profit-brown-mackie-shutting-down-2016-6

Patria Cohen and Chad Bray. University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, Will Be Taken Private. New York Times, February 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/business/dealbook/apollo-education-group-university-of-phoenix-owner-to-be-taken-private.html

John Sandman. Debt Collector ECMC Closes Deal for Corninthian College Campuses. Mainstreet.com, February 9, 2015. Accessible at https://www.mainstreet.com/article/debt-collector-ecmc-closes-deal-for-corinthian-college-campuses

Soyong Kim. Apollo teams with Washington insider for education deal. Reuters, January 12, 2016. Accessible at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apollo-education-m-a-apollo-global-idUSKCN0UQ23W20160112




Friday, April 8, 2016

Artist burns student loan records at private university in South America: What a cool idea!

A friend recently sent me an article from The Guardian about an artist using the name Fried Potatoes (Papas Fritas in Spanish) who sneaked into the vault of Universidad del Mar, a private university in Chile, and burned all the documents pertaining to the university's student loans.  Yep, a half billion dollars in student debt went up in smoke.

What a cool idea!

Of course, destroying all loan documents pertaining to private college loans would be impossible in the United States. There are literally millions of student-loan documents in the U.S. involving hundreds of for-profit colleges. Most are in electronic format and the government  maintains records of these debts, since the government guarantees all loans issued through the federal student-loan programs.

Still, some variation of this idea is worth considering. Let's start with Corinthian Colleges, which filed for bankruptcy last year and now has a $1.2 billion judgment against it for false advertising and misleading lending practices. A California judge ordered Corinthian to pay most of the judgment ($820 million) as restitution to former students who were victimized by its scam. The bulk of this money represents federal loans students took out to pay their tuition bills at one of Corinthian's campuses.

But of course Corinthian doesn't have the money to pay the judgment. At the time it filed for bankruptcy, it claimed to have only $20 million in assets--about one sixtieth of the total California judgment.

Department of Education regulations allow students to apply for loan forgiveness if they were students at a college that closed or if they were defrauded by the college they attended. Thousands of Corinthian alums have applied for relief under these regulations.

But the administrative process for resolving these claims has been tedious, and so far only a small number of ex-Corinthian students have had their loans forgiven.

Why doesn't the Department of Education do what Papas Fritas did and just dissolve the debt? Of course, DOE wouldn't need to actually burn all those loan documents, although I'm sure a bonfire would be personally satisfying to Corinthian's former students. But the loans could be forgiven by government fiat. And that is what DOE should do.

After all, Corinthian's former students will never pay back those student loans. In fact, almost half of all students who attended for-profit colleges eventually default on their federal student loans. Wouldn't it be easier and more just for the government to simply decree that any student who took out federal loans to attend a for-profit college will have those loans forgiven if the college is found guilty of fraud or misrepresentation?

Of course it would, but DOE will never take that straightforward step because the amount of money involved is enormous. It would rather deal with student claims through a cumbersome administrative process, knowing that most students won't go to the trouble of filing a claim.

And here's a better idea. Given the high levels of fraud, misrepresentation, price-gouging and totally worthless educational experiences connected with the for-profit college industry, I think we should simply allow anyone who took out student loans to study at one of these shyster for-profit institutions to discharge those loans in bankruptcy under the same standards that apply to other unsecured debt. In other words, people who are otherwise qualified for bankruptcy relief should have their student loans discharged through the routine process of a bankruptcy filing without the need of filing an adversary proceeding.

Image result for crowd around bonfire

References

Jonathan Franklin. Chile students' debts go up in smoke. The Guardian, May 23, 2014. Accessible at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/23/chile-student-loan-debts-fried-potatoes

Matt Hamilton. Corinthian Colleges must pay nearly $1.2 billion for false advertising and lending practices. Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2016. Accessible at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-corinthian-colleges-judgment-false-advertising-20160323-story.html

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

NY Times Urges "Speedy Help for Victims of College Fraud," but the Times Does Not Go Nearly Far Enough

Let's give the New York Times credit: it is on the right side of the argument regarding the federal student loan program. The Times editorializes repeatedly about the plight of people who cannot pay back their college loans. The newspaper has published several fine news articles about individuals who are overwhelmed by student-loan debt. And again and again, the Times editorial writers demand action by the federal government to bring relief to desperate student-loan borrowers.

Unfortunately, the Times does not grasp this simple fact: True relief for student-loan debtors will require radical action, far more radical than the Times is willing to contemplate.

Last Sunday, a Times editorial addressed the issue of fraud in the for-profit college sector. As the Times pointed out, "The federal government's decades-long failure to curb predatory behavior in the for-profit college industry has left untold numbers of Americans with crushing debt while providing useless degrees--or no degrees at all--in return."

The Times then went on to praise the Obama administration for creating new oversight rules for the  for-profit college industry. And the Times expressed approval of the Department of Education's decision to forgive the student-loan indebtedness of some individuals who attended Corinthian Colleges (about 3,000 people so far).

But, as the Times pointed out, DOE has yet to grant relief  to any of the 4,000 people who claim they were defrauded by Corinthian and have asked to have their student-loans forgiven.

The Times expressed the fear that DOE's "legendary bureaucracy will drag its feet and make it difficult for deserving plaintiffs to get relief." And the Times ended its rather tepid editorial by stating vaguely that "the department needs to do a much better job of reaching out to people who have potential [fraud] claims."

The Times editorial is on the right track; obviously DOE needs to speed up the process of reviewing fraud claims by students who attended for-profit colleges. But I don't think the Times recognizes the enormity of the student-loan problem in the for-profit college sector.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution reported that there are almost 1.2 million people who attended the University of Phoenix who have more than $35 billion in outstanding student loans.  According to the Brookings study, 45 percent of a recent cohort of former University of Phoenix students defaulted on their loans within five years.

More alarmingly, for the for-profit sector as a whole, nearly three quarters of students who attended for-profit schools  (74 percent) owed more than they originally borrowed two years after beginning repayment (for the 2009 cohort).  And nearly half the students who attended for-profit schools (47 percent) defaulted within five years of beginning repayment.

And Brookings default data did not take into account the fact that many former students have obtained economic-hardship deferments and are not making their student-loan payments. Those people are not counted as defaulters even though they are not paying down their loans.

For-profit colleges are encouraging their former students to  sign up for economic-hardship deferments as a strategy for keeping their institutional default rates down. Tragically, most of the people who obtain economic-hardship deferments receive only phantom relief because the interest continues to accrue on their unpaid debt. When those economic-hardship deferments come to an end, the people who held them will find that the principal of their loans went up during the deferment period.

IN SHORT, IT IS INDISPUTABLE THAT HALF OF THE PEOPLE WHO TOOK OUT STUDENT LOANS TO ATTEND FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES WILL DEFAULT AT SOME POINT IN THE LOAN REPAYMENT PERIOD. In other words, about half of the federal student-aid money flowing into for-profit colleges will never  be paid back.

If the Times grasped the magnitude of the student-loan crisis in the for-profit college sector it would surely recommend more aggressive action by the Feds.  What is needed is not a more streamlined fraud review process (as the Times recommended), but something close to blanket amnesty for at least half of the people who borrowed money to attend for-profit colleges.

Put another way, DOE needs to craft a secular version of Pope Francis's "Year of Mercy," whereby millions of people who attended for-profit colleges can have their loans forgiven with little or no red tape.

Obviously some case-by-case review needs to occur to make sure student loans aren't forgiven for students who got good value from attending for-profit colleges and can afford to pay back their loans. But--based on the default rates--a majority of the people who attended for-profit colleges should have their loans forgiven.

What is the best process for sorting through this mess? Bankruptcy. Student-loan defaulters who attended for-profit institutions should have their loans forgiven by bankruptcy courts without the necessity of adversary hearings. If a bankruptcy court concludes that a student-loan debtor is insolvent, that person's loans should be forgiven unless the government can show fraud or bad faith.

But the burden should be on the government to show that an insolvent student-loan debtor who attended a for-profit college is not entitled to bankruptcy relief--not on the debtor.

Obviously, I have painted an ugly picture: massive student-loan forgiveness and default on billions and billions of dollars in student-loan debt. But most of the defaulters who attended for-profit colleges will never pay their loans back,  whether or not their loans are forgiven.

It is time to wipe the slate clean. The for-profit college industry should be shut down and the people who were injured by it deserve a fresh start.  We can take action now or we can take action later. But eventually, the federal government will have to face facts: the for-profit colleges are a rogue industry and have ruined the economic prospects of millions of people.

References

Kelly Field, "U.S. Has Forgiven Loans of More Than 3,000 Ex-Corinthian Students, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2015. Accessible at: http://chronicle.com/article/US-Has-Forgiven-Loans-of/232855/?cid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en

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 rates. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015). Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/bpea/papers/2015/looney-yannelis-student-loan-defaults

Tamar Lewin, "Government to Forgive Student Loans at Corinthian Colleges," New York Times, June 8, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/09/education/us-to-forgive-federal-loans-of-corinthian-college-students.html?_r=0

Speedy Help for Victims of College Fraud. New York Times, September 27, 2015, Times Review Section, p. 10.



Friday, September 4, 2015

The End of the Beginning: The Corinthian Bankruptcy Case Marks a New Phase in the Meltdown of the Federal Student Loan Program



Winston Churchill, in a speech delivered after the Battle of Egypt, Britain's first major victory in the Second World War, uttered these immortal words: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Something similar might be said about the recent bankruptcy filing of Corinthian Colleges, one of the largest chains of for-profit colleges, which once had enrollments totally more than 100,000 students.  Corinthian's collapse does not signal the end of federal funding for the for-profit college industry. The Department of Education will continue pouring money down the rat hole of for-profit higher education at an enormous rate--more than $30 billion per year. And the for-profits will continue to use litigation, lobbying, and strategic campaign contributions to protect their interests.

But the Corinthian bankruptcy does mark a new phase in the downward spiral of the federal student loan program. First of all, Corinthian is one of the largest for-profit college chains in the United States, with 350,000 former students. Under federal law, its closure will require the Department of Education to forgive the student loans of at least some of those students. According to the New York Times, if all 350,000 apply for loan forgiveness and those applications are granted, Corinthian's collapse will cost taxpayers about $3.5 billion.

Thus far, DOE has granted loan forgiveness to 3,000 former Corinthian students, which will cost the taxpayers about $40 million (as reported in Chronicle of Higher Education). But that's only a drop in the bucket.

Let's say half of Corinthians' ex-students are entitled to a loan discharge on the grounds that they were victims of misrepresentations or did not receive fair value for their tuition dollars, which, it seems to me, would be a reasonable estimate of the percentage who are entitled to relief.  Half of all of Corinthian Colleges' former students is about 175,000 people.  And if all those people's loans were forgiven it would cost the American taxpayers well over $2 billion.  And Corinthian is just one of many for-profits who have given students very little of value for the tuition that was paid with federal student loans.

But of course the Department of Education will never grant relief on that scale. It will bustle about the edges of the for-profit scandal, making sympathetic clucking noises while failing to confront this huge crisis. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, DOE has received just 12,000 applications for some kind of loan relief from former Corinthian students, a small fraction of the total number of people who deserve assistance.  

Meanwhile, as DOE bureaucrats grant loan relief to a handful of  student-loan debtors who attended Corinthian campuses, DOE lawyers go into the federal bankruptcy courts again and again to oppose bankruptcy discharge for the few desperate individuals who have the temerity to seek justice through the bankruptcy process.

Nevertheless, to paraphrase Churchill, the Corinthian debacle is the end of the beginning. Whether DOE wants to admit it or not, the federal student-loan crisis is gathering steam like a locomotive and thundering down the tracks toward a disaster for America's colleges and universities.

Fortunately for President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan, they have time to get off the tracks before the train arrives. By the time the student-loan program blows up in America's face, they will be out of office and safely ensconced in cushy academic posts at one of the elite universities that made their own contributions to the student-loan catastrophe.

Arne feels your pain--just a little bit of your pain.

References

Kelly Field, "U.S. Has Forgiven Loans of More Than 3,000 Ex-Corinthian Students, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2015. Accessible at: http://chronicle.com/article/US-Has-Forgiven-Loans-of/232855/?cid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en


Tamar Lewin, "Government to Forgive Student Loans at Corinthian Colleges," New York Times, June 8, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/09/education/us-to-forgive-federal-loans-of-corinthian-college-students.html?_r=0