In 2016, the Project launched a first of its kind legal fight against the predatory for-profit college industry and the harm they cause to students and communities.
During that time, the Project has grown to represent more than one million borrowers and its litigation has directly resulted in the cancellation of over $2.5 billion in fraudulent student debts.
When the Project began this work, the for-profit college industry was still growing and thriving, operating on government money and to the detriment of students. It faced little accountability for targeting people and communities of color, low-income people, veterans, and first-generation college students. The industry was making a fortune by promising the world and delivering debilitating debt. In many cases, it was difficult or impossible for cheated students to get any recourse—neither against predatory for-profit colleges nor against the federal government.
The Project’s landmark litigation – and our clients’ willingness to stand up for themselves and others in court – has in five years changed the landscape of how these schools operate and their ability to cheat students.
5 year impact video
Our partners and clients are leading this fight. Some of them weighed in on the past five years of the Project’s work.
By The Numbers
Landmark Legal Victories
For 750,000 former ITT students in the school’s bankruptcy, winning the cancellation of $500 million in ITT debt and a $1.5 billion claim against the bankruptcy estate, and the immediate return of $3 million to students. (Villalba v. ITT)
Forcing the Department to enact the illegally-delayed 2016 borrower defense rule, which resulted in cancellation of over $250 million of federal student loans through the automatic closed school discharge provision. This litigation victory also forced into effect the federal rule restricting federally-funded schools’ use of forced arbitration. (Bauer v. DeVos)
Forcing the Department to stop seizing tax refunds from borrowers who had applied for borrower defense and forcing the Department to consider borrower defense applications filed by state attorneys general. (Williams v. King)
Winning court-ordered cancellation of the federal student loan debt of all 7,200 former Corinthian students in Massachusetts: the first time a court has ever ordered borrower defense discharge of federal student loans. (Vara v. DeVos)
Enjoining the first (2017) “partial relief” rule from being applied to borrower defense applicants, and leading then-Secretary Betsy DeVos to be held in contempt of court for violating that injunction by collecting federal student loan debts from tens of thousands of former Corinthian students. (Calvillo Manriquez v. Cardona)
Challenging the Department’s second (2019) unlawful “partial relief” scheme attempt, stopping the harmful policy from being effectuated. The ultimate end of these two unlawful policies will lead to $1 billion in loan cancellation for over 72,000 Corinthian and ITT borrowers. (Pratt v. DeVos, Calvillo Manriquez v. Cardona)
Holding the government accountable for its failed borrower defense system by representing over 170,000 defrauded students who applied for borrower defense cancellation. For over 5 years, borrowers were ignored, and then subjected to a sham process that the Department designed to deny borrowers’ claims, regardless of evidence – a rigged process that was uncovered through the Project’s litigation. (Sweet v. Cardona)
"I believe the work that is being done by the Project on Predatory Student Lending has helped bring light to a very dark corner of our education system. On a more personal level, the Project has given me the courage to speak about this issue. There can be a lot of fear and shame associated with being victims of education fraud. But the Project’s work has helped show me, and millions of other students who were cheated, that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that if we speak up and stand together we can make a difference.”
- Theresa Sweet, the lead plaintiff in the case Sweet v. Cardona.
“It’s hard to underestimate the impact that the Project on Predatory Student Lending has had on real people’s lives. By my count, with borrower defense and the ITT bankruptcy, the Project has already gotten rid of over $2 billion of predatory debt. But I think my favorite thing was the way they were able to flip the script in the ITT bankruptcy in terms of who owes what to whom, getting the court to acknowledge that it is ITT who owes the students – and the Department of Education who owes the students – not the other way around.”
- Thomas Gokey, co-founder and organizer for the Debt Collective.
"Last year you helped get relief to over 7k borrowers. You took on Betsy DeVos and Corinthian Colleges and you won – woohoo! I couldn’t be happier and more grateful. This is how change happens for people all across our country – one fight at a time. And you know our fight for borrowers is far from over. So, thank you for staying in the fight. This is a righteous fight and we’re going to win it."
- Senator Elizabeth Warren
"This is meaningful work and it has made a difference to so many. And I can’t end here without saying something about the students. The students who did nothing more than try to live the American dream. They deserve better. I want to thank them for their willingness to share their stories and their commitment to fighting back and standing together against some pretty powerful people."
- Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey
Raising Public Awareness of Predatory For-Profit Colleges
It seems only right that victims of predatory for-profit education companies should have their student loans forgiven. After all, in addition to being left with mountains of debt, former students have worthless degrees from schools that no longer exist, such as those once operated by the defunct Corinthian Colleges or ITT Educational Services.Read More
Judge Greenlights Obama-Era Rule for Scammed Students, Despite Delays by Trump Administration | MarketWatch
An Obama-era regulation aimed at providing relief for scammed student-loan borrowers takes effect Tuesday, despite efforts by the Betsy DeVos-led Department of Education to delay it. Judge Randolph Moss struck down an attempt by a group of private colleges to block the regulation, known as borrower defense, paving the way for it to take effect.Read More
As creditors of ITT Educational Services fight over the remaining assets of the defunct for-profit college operator, one group has secured a significant victory in the bankruptcy proceedings: former students. On Wednesday, a federal judge gave final approval to a settlement that will erase nearly $600 million that 750,000 students owed ITT Technical Institute. The agreement, which was first announced in January, will also refund $3 million that students paid the for-profit chain.Read More
A for-profit college received millions of dollars from the federal government to help low-income students whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak, but that same school, Florida Career College (FCC), is also accused of defrauding students.Read More
A federal judge has ordered US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to cancel the student loan debt of more than 7,200 Massachusetts students who attended Everest Institute, part of Corinthian Colleges’ defunct national chain of for-profit schools, capping a prolonged legal battle.Read More
Only a few years ago, Douglas Jones, who worked night shifts as a security guard at a nursing home in Roxbury, was hesitant to spend even $10 more than his typical budget allowed. Payments on his student loan debt were being withdrawn directly from his bank account. If the balance was short—for instance, if Jones hadn’t managed to get 40 hours at his job that week—the bank charged an overdraft fee. The debt had ruined his credit score and he hadn’t had a credit card in years. “They were even taking money I didn’t have,” Jones says. “It was stressing me the hell out.” Along with millions of other Americans, Jones had fallen prey to the for-profit college industry, which is in essence a two-pronged system—federal loans at one end and for-profit schools designed to access those loans at the other.Read More
Judge Blasts DeVos’ Sweeping Denials of Student Loan Relief Claims as ‘Disturbingly Kafkaesque’ | Politico
A federal judge scrapped a settlement Tuesday over the Trump administration’s slow processing of loan forgiveness for borrowers who have accused their colleges of fraud, ruling that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos undermined the deal.Read More
Students who were defrauded by their colleges and received only partial relief from their federal loans could now see them fully canceled, the Biden administration announced Thursday, reversing a Trump administration policy.Read More
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made no secret of her disdain for a program intended to forgive the federal student loans of borrowers who were ripped off by schools that defrauded their students. She called it a “free money” giveaway, let hundreds of thousands of claims languish for years, and slashed the amount of relief granted to some successful applicants to $0.Read More