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Talks between the federal government and former college students who are fighting to have their student debt forgiven have hit a snag that could undo a month’s worth of negotiating. Meanwhile, Corinthian Colleges made it official and filed for bankruptcy in Delaware on Monday.
Representatives of the “Corinthian 100,” a movement made up of former and current students of the financially troubled for-profit Corinthian Colleges, Inc., canceled a scheduled May 4 meeting with the Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a protest spokesperson said.
The group says the department was going to roll out a plan to allow Corinthian students to seek loan forgiveness on an individual basis, a process that could take months, if not years. Organizers had hoped regulators would offer an across-the-board debt discharge, which they communicated during a meeting with department leaders last month.
“The plan is designed to prevent rather than facilitate justice for students,” the group said in a statement. “A class-wide discharge is the only way the Department can begin to take responsibility for aiding and abetting the scam. We will not meet with Secretary Duncan until a purely individualized process for Corinthian students is off the table.”
In April, the Education Department fined Corinthian $30 million over allegations that its leaders falsified student job placement data and pressured students to take out costly private loans. Over the course of the last year, regulators forced Corinthian to either shutter or sell the majority of its 100-plus campuses, including offshoots Everest and WyoTech.
As part of the deal, $480 million worth of private student loan debt incurred by Corinthian students was forgiven. But students who took out federal loans to pay for school have to meet a set of criteria to be considered for loan forgiveness (they would have had to be currently or recently enrolled at campuses that were shut down last year). According to the Associated Press, the schools generated $1.2 billion in government loans in its final year alone. .A week ago, Corinthian announced it would abruptly close all of its remaining 28 ground campuses, displacing about 16,000 students. Those students will likely qualify for loan forgiveness due to a school closure.
An Education spokesperson said they hope the meeting can be rescheduled and that students are their main priority.
“It makes me very upset that our government allowed for us to be exploited by giving Everest funding,” said Tasha Courtright, a former Corinthian student from Lake Elsinore, Calif., who was one of the protesters who attended April’s meeting with regulators. She graduated in 2012 with more than $40,000 in federal and private student loans. “I felt that I could trust my college because they were endorsed by the government, and now I feel like my government is responsible for what has happened to us.
Education leaders seemed willing to entertain the idea of federal loan forgiveness for Corinthian students when they agreed to an April 1 meeting with protesters. Despite this month’s hiccup, organizers of the protest have been buoyed by a slew of lawsuits filed against Corinthian by attorneys general in Massachusetts, California and five other states. In a letter sent to Secretary Duncan in February, attorney generals from all seven states Corinthian has schools in urged the department to offer federal loan forgiveness for impacted students.
“These students deserve relief,” the letter said. “The surest and most expedient way to help students is to have the Department relieve borrowers of their obligation to repay these federal loans. Ironically, protection through bankruptcy is not as readily available to Corinthian students because of the difficult burden imposed upon consumers who seek to discharge student loan debt.” (When a borrower files for bankruptcy, his student loan debt — unlike credit debt — is not discharged.)
Tips for students impacted by Corinthian campus closings
If you were among the 16,000 students affected by the Corinthian school closings in April, here’s how you can apply to have your federal loans discharged:
Start by contacting your loan servicer so they can begin the process. You can find out which company is servicing your loans by visiting My Federal Student Aid. Next, make sure you save your academic records, especially if you plan on pursuing a degree at another college. Corinthian hosted several student meetings in late April for students to receive their transcripts. If you missed those, try reaching out to Corinthian directly at http://www.cci.edu/.
If you can’t get in touch with anyone from your old school, contact your state’s licensing agency to ask whether the state has the records on file.
California’s state Attorney General’s office has put together an easy online tool students can use to find out what their next steps should be.
An important note: If you transfer academic credits to another school, you may lose your right to a loan forgiveness.