A group of former Corinthian College students say they will boycott a meeting scheduled for Monday with Education Department officials after hearing chatter that the government won't discharge the loans they took out to attend the for-profit college giant that collapsed last week.
"This is unacceptable," Laura Hanna, a spokeswoman for the former students, told Fusion. "Given what we have learned, we will not be showing up to the meeting with Education Secretary Duncan and his staff."
Last month, more than a dozen Corinthian College graduates met with the department and demanded that the government discharge the student debt they incurred as students. They argued that their degrees were worthless.
“I’m not one of these people who are sitting on the couch expecting the government to take care of me,” said Jessica King, a 32-year-old who ended up $33,000 in debt and working at a bar after completing her medical assisting program at Everest, a Corinthian school. “I want to go back and get a real degree and until I get these loans off of my credit report, I can’t do anything.”
The department said it would get back to the students. Now, Hanna and the students are frustrated by what they've heard are the department's plans to unveil a "heartless and wasteful" individual review process for former students instead of a blanket discharge.
"A class-wide discharge is the only way the department can begin to take responsibility for aiding and abetting the scam," the group said in a statement.
Dorie Nolt, an Education Department spokeswoman, told Fusion in an email, "While we are disappointed that the Collective has decided to cancel Monday’s meeting, the Department remains committed to helping students harmed by Corinthian Colleges. Students are our focus, and we hope this meeting can be rescheduled for a later date."
The push for complete loan discharge comes as more than 15,000 current Corinthian students grapple with their own options in the wake of the company's collapse last week.
Unlike former students, the students whose campuses closed suddenly last week can have their federal loans discharged. But that will only happen if they give up the credits they've earned. Horn said more than 42 percent of the students were within six months of completing their degrees, while 25 percent were within three months.
Some students say they have been pressured to enroll in other schools. The department published a list of "alternative education options" for Corinthian students. While it includes many community colleges, some students and lawmakers were disappointed to find other for-profit schools on the list as well.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) blasted the Education Department for suggesting that students transfer to for-profits like ITT Tech that are also under investigation and for allowing students to enroll in Corinthian for as long as they did.
"Now is not the time for the department to be concerned with the cost to taxpayers of discharging this debt," he said at the Capitol after the collapse was announced. "The time for that was really the last 12 months when the Department of Education kept Corinthian alive by pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars to keep their doors open when they were headed for bankruptcy."
Eliminating the loans could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but Durbin and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have urged the Education Department to discharge them using a process called defense to repayment. The department has so far refused. A section of the department website that used to provide more information about the process, which can be used if a school failed to provide a service it should have provided, has recently been removed.
Several Democratic lawmakers have also unveiled a new bill aimed at protecting students from falling prey to the shoddy practices of for-profit schools.
The bill, called the Protections and Regulations for Our Students Act, would limit the amount of revenue the schools can receive from federal student aid, prevent schools from using federal aid dollars to recruit, and market their programs, and create a complaint tracking system.
“Thousands of students have been defrauded and mislead, and they are now stuck with mountains of debt and poor job prospects," said Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), who introduced the legislation, in a statement. "As a former high school teacher and a community college trustee, I've seen enough."
"All Corinthian student debtors deserve justice," said Paul Hicks, a former Corinthian student. "We demand a full discharge for all."
Rob Wile contributed reporting.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.