For-profit college students wait 958 days for loan relief

Morgan Marler had trouble finding a job when she graduated from ITT Tech with an associate’s degree in information technology in 2016.

“I’d get an interview, but after they saw my degree was from ITT Tech — they didn’t necessarily laugh at me — but I could tell they held it against me,” Marler, 29, told CNN this week.

The nationwide network of for-profit schools closed its doors two months after she finished, casting doubt on the quality of her degree. Marler remained in her job at FedEx, shouldering more than $30,000 in student debt.

In 2017, she applied for debt forgiveness from the Department of Education, which can cancel federal student loans if it determines that a college misled students and didn’t offer the quality of education they had promised. The department pulled the plug on ITT Tech’s federal funding in 2016 after it failed to address its accreditor’s concerns.

But nearly two years later, Marler is still waiting to hear whether she’s eligible for debt relief. She’s one of 150,000 former students left in the lurch as a backlog of applications have piled up with the Department of Education.

958 days

Borrowers are waiting an average of 958 days — or 2.6 years — for their claim to be processed, according to a sample of 900 people who submitted testimony in an ongoing court case. The affidavits were filed in court Tuesday morning.

About 61% of those borrowers say they aren’t pursuing further education while they wait. Nearly half said they are delaying getting married or having children and 96% said their life is worse today than it was before they went to school, according to an analysis by the plaintiffs’ lawyers at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard’s Legal Services Center.

“Honestly, by now, I thought I’d be at some huge corporation, working on computers, setting up networks, feeling like I’m doing something worthy and enjoying trips with my family,” Marler said.

Other schools won’t accept her credits from ITT Tech and she’s too scared to take on more debt to earn another degree. Instead, her husband decided to rejoin the Army and she stays home to take care of their 5-year-old daughter so that they don’t have to pay for daycare.

The Department of Education stopped processing claims under Secretary Betsy DeVos, who wants to rewrite the Obama-era rule that allows defrauded students to seek loan forgiveness.

But a federal judge — siding with Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia — ruled that DeVos’ freeze was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered immediate implementation of the rule in October.

Still, the department did not process any more claims through the end of last year, according to the latest data available.

A spokeswoman for DeVos did not return a request by CNN to comment for this story.

DeVos has called the rule, known as Borrower Defense to Repayment, “bad policy.” She’s proposed offering partial loan forgiveness for qualifying students instead, based on the income of their peers who attended similar programs at other colleges. The plan would save the government $12.7 billion over a 10-year period compared with the Obama version, the department said.

The agency was also sued over the proposal to offer partial forgiveness and department officials have argued that they cannot process claims while another lawsuit is ongoing.

“Until we have clear direction from the court, or a different methodology that we think doesn’t run the same challenges — yes, we are in a holding pattern for students that are probably eligible for partial relief,” said Diane Auer Jones, principal deputy under secretary, at an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center in April.

The Borrower Defense to Repayment rule was created by the Obama administration to help borrowers as it cracked down on for-profit schools, like Corinthian Colleges, that it said were misleading students with inflated job placement numbers.

It also created an automatic loan discharge for students who were enrolled in schools when they shut down. Last December, the department restarted canceling loans for borrowers eligible for that type of forgiveness.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending, along with Housing & Economic Rights Advocates, filed its lawsuit in June on behalf of seven borrowers seeking debt relief. It’s seeking class action status. But at this point, Marler is losing hope.

“I have no faith at all. When something goes wrong with the school you would think Department of Education would be the first person to go to. But nothing has happened in two years,” she said.