About the Project on Predatory Student Lending

Representing Students Against the For-Profit College Industry

About the Project

The Project on Predatory Student Lending is the leading legal organization representing students against the predatory for-profit college industry and the government policies that enable the industry to exploit the promise of higher education to cheat student borrowers and taxpayers. It has been helping students fight for justice since 2012.

The Project represents hundreds of thousands of former students across the country and has won landmark cases to protect borrower rights, recover money owed, and cancel fraudulent debt. Its ongoing cases hold predatory colleges accountable and force the Department of Education to act on behalf of students and stop protecting this insidious industry.

The Project is part of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, a community law office and clinical teaching site of the law school. Clinical students join the Project’s staff to litigate cases on behalf of clients, in partnership with community-based and advocacy organizations.

A Predatory Industry

For decades, the predatory for-profit college industry has exploited the promise of higher education, at the expense of students who are trying to build a better life. The industry specifically targets low-income students, people of color, single parents, and veterans.

 

The industry recruits students with lies and false promises of well-paying jobs and meaningful careers. One school told prospective students it placed 70 to 99 percent of students in jobs, when the reality was only 20 to 30 percent of students got jobs.

 

Instead of providing the quality programs promised, these companies invest almost no money into meaningful career training. In one study, less than 25% of for-profit colleges’ revenue went to expenses related to education. The majority goes to marketing and advertising, executive compensation, and shareholder profit.

 

As a result, students are left with mountains of debt and without the means to pay for it. For-profit colleges account for 13% of the student population, but 33% of federal loan defaults. And 98% of all student loan cancellation applications sent to the federal government in 2016 and 2017 were due to fraudulent for-profit colleges.

 

Government funding and policies intended to help people improve their lives are instead enabling this industry to cheat students. The for-profit college industry is among the most heavily tax subsidized of any private sector, taking more than $30 billion in taxpayer money each year in the form of federal student aid.

 

The Department of Education alone has the power and authority to stop the flow of federal money to these schools, but it has not. The industry and the interests it serves are powerful, and gets its way in Washington.

 

The Department of Education has repeatedly sided with the industry, and against students and taxpayers. It continues to broker student loans for these companies and collect fraudulent student loans, while delaying and rewriting borrower defense rules that stop schools from using forced arbitration.

 

The Project’s landmark cases help students defend their rights and stop this predatory industry from cheating students and taxpayers.

 

Toby Merrill

Director

Toby Merrill

Director

Toby founded the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2012 as a Skadden Fellow. In addition to representing borrowers with debt from for-profit colleges in a variety of actions, she has twice represented legal aid providers and their clients in the U.S. Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking sessions, by which the Department promulgates new student loan regulations, and was a member of the advisory council on Private Occupational Schools to the Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure. She was previously a law clerk for the Honorable Janet C. Hall of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. She received her J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School, and holds a B.A. from Yale. She is a clinical instructor and lecturer at Harvard Law School.

Eileen Connor

Eileen Connor

Legal Director

Eileen Connor

Legal Director

Eileen Connor joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2016. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Attorney in the Special Litigation Unit of the New York Legal Assistance Group, where she was counsel on multiple consumer class-action lawsuits concerning student loan debt, and a founder of NYLAG’s For-Profit School Project. Prior to joining NYLAG, she was a John J. Gibbons Fellow in Constitutional and Public Interest Law at Gibbons P.C., and a staff attorney at the Habeas Corpus Resource Center in San Francisco. Eileen has twice represented legal aid providers and their clients in the U.S. Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking sessions, by which the Department promulgates new student loan regulations. She served as a law clerk to the Honorable Martha Craig Daughtrey of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and received her J.D. from New York University School of Law and B.A. from Brown University. She is a clinical instructor and lecturer at Harvard Law School.

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Kate Manning Kennedy

Senior Advisor

Kate Manning Kennedy

Senior Advisor

Kate Manning Kennedy joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending as senior advisor in 2018. Previously, Kate was a strategic communications consultant where she designed and executed national communications campaigns for nonprofit clients. Her work included strategic planning and goal setting, message development, media relations, external stakeholder engagement, partnership development, and internal communications. Prior to consultancy, Kate held senior communications positions at organizations including Social Finance, Inc., The Glover Park Group, and Fidelity Investments. Kate received her B.A. from Fairfield University.

DeanneLoonin

Deanne Loonin

Attorney

Deanne Loonin

Attorney

Deanne Loonin joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2016. Previously, Deanne founded and directed the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project. She is the primary author of the first five editions of NCLC’s Student Loan Law treatise and numerous policy papers and reports. She created and maintains the Student Loan Borrower Assistance website. Deanne has advocated for low-income student loan borrowers before Congress, many states, and federal administrative agencies, including U.S. Department of Education negotiated rulemaking sessions, and in other forums. Prior to joining NCLC, Deanne was an attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles. She holds a J.D. from Berkeley and a B.A. from Harvard.

Margaret O'Grady

Senior Attorney

Margaret O'Grady

Senior Attorney

Maggie O’Grady joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2020. Maggie graduated from Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. Prior to joining PPSL, Maggie was Counsel in the Government and Regulatory Affairs Department at the Boston office of WilmerHale, where she specialized in antitrust matters and represented clients in Federal Court, before the International Trade Commission, and throughout the merger clearance process. She also maintained an active pro bono practice, including litigating against ICE and advising non-profit organizations.

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Victoria Roytenberg

Senior Attorney

Victoria Reytenberg

Attorney

Victoria Roytenberg joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2016. Previously, Victoria was a public defender at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, where she represented indigent clients who were charged with criminal offenses. Victoria received her J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law, where she was a staff member of the CUNY Law Review, a student clinician in the Adult Defender Clinic, and defended students facing long-term exclusion from New York City public schools through the Suspension Representation Project. Prior to law school, Victoria worked as a paralegal at The Legal Aid Society in the Juvenile Rights Practice, and as a legal assistant at the Central American Solidarity Association of Maryland. She holds a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

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Eric Schmidt

Attorney

Eric Schmidt

Attorney

Eric Schmidt joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2019. Previously, he worked at the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office as a Special Services Attorney with the Division of Law. There, he assisted the Bureau of Securities in litigation related to the 2007 financial crisis and was also assigned to the Government and Healthcare Fraud Section, where he investigated Medicaid fraud and worked on consumer complaints and false claims actions. Prior to graduating from Brooklyn Law School in 2015, Eric worked for the Hon. ALJ Ziedah Diata at the NYS Dept. of State, as well as the Hon. Joan A. Madden of the NYS Supreme Court. Eric received his B.A. in History and Journalism from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

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Michael Turi

Attorney

Michael Turi

Attorney

Michael joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2020. Michael graduated from Tufts University and Harvard Law School, where he was a student at LSC in the housing clinic. He was a Skadden fellow at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a fellow at the plaintiff-side labor & employment firm Lichten Liss-Riordan, and most recently a law clerk to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Gants.

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Emmanuelle Verdieu

Attorney and Fellow

Emmanuelle Verdieu

Attorney and Fellow

Emmanuelle Verdieu joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2018. She received her law degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, where she was an Associate Editor of the BYU Journal of Public Law, BYU Trial Advocacy Team Member, and Co-Vice President of the Black Law Student Association. During law school, Emmanuelle was a legal intern with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office in the Consumer Protection Division, Bowmans in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the Utah County Attorney's Office. Prior to law school, Emmanuelle interned with the Boston Branch of the NAACP advocating for students, parents, and teachers in Boston Public Schools. Emmanuelle holds a B.A. in Crime and Justice Studies, magna cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

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Lindsey Withem

Project Manager

Lindsey Withem

Project Manager

Lindsey Withem joined the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2017. Previously, Lindsey worked as a Compliance Officer at the Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology. While working at MIT, she developed best practices to ensure compliance with federal, state, and institutional financial aid regulations. Earlier in her career, she held multiple positions in higher education accreditation in Washington D.C. Lindsey holds a B.A. in Art History from James Madison University.

Join Our Team

The Project on Predatory Student Lending looks for talented professionals to join our team of passionate advocates. We also seek outstanding candidates for summer internships and fellowships.

Advisory Board

The Project on Predatory Student Lending Advisory Board supports the Project team, helping us navigate opportunities and challenges. With these partnerships, we believe that a future without predatory student loan debt is possible and we will work together to meet the challenges ahead.