Michael Adorno can’t help feeling behind.
At 33, Adorno has nearly $40,000 worth of student loan debt and — despite having earned an associate’s degree in information technology from Everest Institute — no full-time job to show for it.
“The best thing my school could do for me was set me up to work at a call center run by Xerox,” Adorno says. “You don’t need an associate’s degree to work at a call center. I wasn’t able to find any work in my field at all.”
Now Adorno has gone on strike, refusing to pay back debt for an education he claims didn’t prepare him at all for his field. In March, he joined the “Corinthian 100,” a growing movement made up of 100 (and counting) former and current students who attended schools under the for-profit Corinthian Colleges, Inc. banner., including Everest and WyoTech.
Last summer, federal regulators forced Corinthian to either shutter or sell the majority of its 100-plus campuses after allegations it had falsified student job placement data and pressured students to take out costly private loans. When Corinthian sold its remaining campuses in a $24 million deal to student loan servicing company Zenyth, Zenyth agreed to forgive $480 million worth of private student loan debt incurred by Corinthian students. But students who took out federal loans to pay for school have to meet a certain set of criteria to be considered for loan forgiveness. In a nutshell, they would have had to be currently or recently enrolled at campuses that were shut down last year. Alumni like Adorno, who completed his coursework long before regulators stepped in, are out of luck.
That’s why he and the rest of the Corinthian 100 are protesting to have their student loans discharged. They argue that school officials misled them about their chances of finding jobs in their areas of study and offered courses that didn’t prepare them for full-time work.
“When I started looking for jobs in IT, I realized they required all these certifications and security clearances, a lot of things I was not prepared for by Everest,” Adorno says. He tried to transfer his credits to another school to earn a Bachelor’s degree, but he learned he would have to retake many of his classes in order to do so, incurring even more debt in the process.
Stories like Adorno’s have helped strikers make headway with regulators. On Tuesday, representatives from the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau met with a small group of protesters in a private meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve been concerned about the future of Corinthian students throughout this process – which is why we’ve taken a series of actions in recent months to protect students from being misled and to hold Corinthian accountable,” said Denise Horn, spokesperson for the Department of Education.
That government officials are open to dialogue with disgruntled Corinthian graduates doesn’t necessarily mean protestors will achieve their ultimate goal of complete student loan amnesty. In her statement, Horn says they encourage all borrowers to keep making student loan payments. But organizers of the protest have been buoyed by a pair of lawsuits filed against Corinthian by attorneys general in Massachusetts and California. They hope these legal actions will provide the the legal boost they need to go forward with their action.
The Education Department announced Tuesday that it’s taking steps to increase accountability of colleges’ financials. It is releasing a list of 560 colleges and universities that have been placed on “heightened cash monitoring,” which means they are "watching these institutions more closely to ensure that institutions are using federal student aid in a way that is accountable to both students and taxpayers."
“We dont know how [regulators] are going to respond but we know we’re going in seeking a full discharge,” says Laura Hanna, an organizer for Strike Debt, the Occupy Wall Street offshoot that is backing the protest. “Until recently the Department of Education has not acknowledged these strikers, so it’s important they’re actually sitting in a room now acknowledging that this is going on.”
Check out more from Mandi: