Af­ter prom­ises of stu­dent loan for­give­ness, bor­row­ers wait for debt re­lief

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY COLLIN BINKLEY

BOS­TON | Danielle Ramos’ stu­dent-debt night­mare was sup­posed to be over.

Like thou­sands of oth­ers who stud­ied at failed for-profit col­leges, she was promised by the U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Obama that her fed­eral loans would be for­given by now.

But as the weeks tick by with no re­prieve, the 30-year-old col­lege stu­dent fears the fi­nan­cial bur­den will force and her 4-yearold son to move back with her par­ents.

“I’m a sin­gle mom, so that’s re­ally scary,” said Ms. Ramos, of Fram­ing­ham, near Bos­ton. “It’s just a lot of un­cer­tainty. I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to have to rely on fam­ily to help me, and it doesn’t feel fair.”

Bor­rower ad­vo­cates say the pipe­line to loan for­give­ness ap­pears to have slowed sig­nif­i­cantly since Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice, stir­ring con­cern that some stu­dents may be left in the lurch. Some also see it as a sign that the de­part­ment is veer­ing from its pre­de­ces­sor’s years of work to rein in fraud­u­lent for-profit col­leges.

Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment of­fi­cials dis­pute those claims, say­ing they’re work­ing quickly to clear a back­log that was in­her­ited from the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion.

When Mr. Obama left of­fice, 16,453 bor­row­ers were wait­ing for loan can­cel­la­tions that had al­ready been ap­proved, and more than 64,000 oth­ers had filed new ap­pli­ca­tions.

For months, ad­vo­cates say, it ap­peared few or none of those cases were be­ing pro­cessed. Democrats in the Se­nate re­quested an up­date from the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment in May but say they re­ceived no re­sponse.

On Mon­day, the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment re­leased data show­ing that 7,085 of the 16,453 pre­vi­ously ap­proved claims now have been dis­charged, amount­ing to $92 mil­lion in loans. Ac­cord­ing to the data, which were pro­vided first to The As­so­ci­ated Press, an­other 7,300 cases are in the fi­nal stages of the process and will be dis­charged shortly, while the re­main­ing 2,000 cur­rently are be­ing pro­cessed by the de­part­ment.

Still, the wait has left some bor­row­ers pay­ing for loans that were promised to be wiped clean by now. Some have lost wages and tax returns to debt col­lec­tors.

Ms. Ramos ran up $15,000 in debt to at­tend the Amer­i­can Ca­reer In­sti­tute, a chain of for-profit col­leges that abruptly closed in 2013 af­ter she re­ceived nine months of train­ing as a med­i­cal as­sis­tant.

Now en­rolled at MassBay Com­mu­nity Col­lege and work­ing to­ward a cer­tifi­cate in sur­gi­cal tech­nol­ogy, Ms. Ramos says she hasn’t heard any up­date on her debt can­cel­la­tion and wor­ries she’ll still have to pay it back.

“Be­cause of the ed­u­ca­tion I got at MassBay, I’m go­ing to be able to get good-pay­ing job. But it’s not fair that I’m go­ing to have to use that money to pay back some­thing that didn’t de­liver,” she said.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion cracked down ag­gres­sively on for-profit col­leges that en­ticed stu­dents to take on hefty loans with prom­ises they couldn’t keep. It pres­sured chains in­clud­ing Corinthian Col­leges and ITT Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute to close, and it ap­proved at least $655 mil­lion in loan can­cel­la­tions from those chains.

Un­der Mr. Trump, the de­part­ment’s new data sug­gest, no new loan dis­charges have been ap­proved from the pool of 64,301 pend­ing ap­pli­ca­tions. A de­part­ment spokes­woman did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

“In its last three months, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proved more than 12,000 loans for dis­charge,” said Pauline Aber­nathy, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute For Col­lege Ac­cess and Suc­cess, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy group based in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. “In its first five months, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has ap­proved zero, while tens of thou­sands of ap­pli­ca­tions lan­guish and bor­row­ers are left wait­ing for re­lief.”

In May, a group of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers urged Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos to speed up the process. At­tor­neys gen­eral from 17 states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., later told Mrs. DeVos the de­lay was harm­ing bor­row­ers. A coali­tion of 31 ad­vo­cacy groups for mil­i­tary vet­er­ans sent a let­ter to mem­bers of Congress this month say­ing many vet­er­ans are wait­ing for loan dis­charges, adding that “any de­lay is an af­front to de­frauded ser­vice mem­bers.”


Stu­dents who were de­frauded by for-profit col­leges, like Danielle Ramos in Welles­ley, Mas­sachusetts, were told that their loans would be for­given, but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has yet to keep that prom­ise.

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