Update | 2019: A Year of Student Victories And Holding Betsy DeVos Accountable

December 30, 2019

2019 was a landmark year for student borrowers cheated by for-profit colleges. The issue captured national attention as elected officials, advocates, students, media and the general public have tuned in to injustices taking place within the for-profit college industry, at the hand of the U.S. Department of Education.

We continue to be inspired by students who are willing to take on the system and fight for what is right for themselves and others. We now represent over one million borrowers, and have secured more than $650 million in loan cancellation for cheated students.

The reality of 2019 is that borrower rights have been under intense attack by the U.S. Department of Education. Our clients and our team have had to work harder than ever to hold the Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos accountable. This year, a federal judge in one of our cases even took the rare step of holding Secretary DeVos in contempt of court for her actions against students. Here is just some of what happened in 2019.


Held the Department of Education to Account

Secretary DeVos was held in contempt of court for her illegal collections against students. On October 24, a federal judge took the rare step of holding Secretary DeVos in contempt of court in our class action lawsuit Calvillo Manriquez v DeVos, saying she was “extremely disturbed” by DeVos’ illegal loan collections on tens of thousands of former Corinthian Colleges students. What’s more, in December we learned that the number of illegal collections was actually TRIPLE the amount that the Department had previously disclosed – subjecting 45,000 borrowers to illegal collections.

7200 former Corinthian students in Massachusetts sued the Department of Education. The Department of Education continues to ignore these students and refuses to acknowledge the Massachusetts Attorney General’s application for debt relief that was filed on their behalf in 2015, even though a judge ruled last year that the Department must consider and adjudicate the Attorney General’s application. In October, we sued alongside Attorney General Maura Healey to force the Department to grant a discharge to these borrowers.

Secretary DeVos’ testimony on borrower defense at the House’s Education and Labor Committee hearing featured the Project’s cases and client voices. On December 12, Secretary DeVos was called to testify at a hearing on borrower defense implementation to answer questions from Congress on her disregard for student rights and her illegal collections on loans which landed her in contempt of court. At the hearing, Secretary DeVos answered heated questions about her destructive policies including the new “partial relief” methodology that denies full loan cancellation, the replacement 2019 Borrower Defense rule that guts critical borrower protections, and the inaction on pending borrower defense claims which are estimated at over 300,000. Our cases were crucial to the members’ questioning and our clients’ cases provided perspective on the human harm caused by the Department’s reckless actions.


Fought for Critical Borrower Defense Protections

Over 200,000 students sued to force the Department to process their borrower defense claims. The law says that their loans should be cancelled, but after waiting for a response for an average of 2+ years, these defrauded former for-profit college students filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education in June to force the agency to decide their claims. 900 former students submitted testimony that was filed in support of a motion for class certification, which was granted. 96% of them reported that their lives were worse after they went to a for-profit college.

In March, the Department said it would implement the 2016 Borrower Defense regulations. Six months later, it announced it will roll back those protections. The Department repeatedly attempted to delay the implementation of these rules, but those delays were ruled illegal last year in our victory in Bauer v. DeVos. Even though the Department was forced to implement the rule, it instead announced a new borrower defense rule that would eliminate borrower protections. We vowed to challenge it in court.


Students Spoke Out

Borrowers are raising their voices and telling their stories. Our clients have bravely shared their struggles with for-profit college debt, telling their story across the country, from the New York Times and CNN, to the Austin American-Statesman and the Boston Globe, and in their own words through our Student Loan Truth blog.

Elected officials continue to speak out – raising this issue in hearings, on the Senate floor, and doing everything they can to make sure students’ voices are heard. Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with Senator Dick Durbin, and many others in congress continue to advocate for students in Washington, while attorneys general across the country, like Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, are also fighting in the courts. We’re proud to work with them and thank them for their support.


Honors and Recognition

Time 100 Next honors Project founder and Director Toby Merrill. We were honored to learn last month that TIME named Toby Merrill to the first-ever TIME 100 Next, an expansion of the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. The recognition is a testament to the Project’s clients, our team, and the hard work of so many people dedicated to creating change.

We launched an Advisory Board to recognize the contributions of leaders who have been crucial advisors and partners. As we reflect on what we have been able to accomplish, we are extremely grateful for the support we have received. 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.

Our accomplishments would not be possible without our amazing team that is dedicated to social justice and standing up for students who have been cheated by for-profit colleges. Our team works hard every day to deliver justice for our clients, and to the entire team, we are grateful.


Looking Ahead to 2020

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has repeatedly found new ways to mistreat and disregard students, taxpayers, and the law, which has become the trademark of her tenure. It is clear that our work, now more than ever, has a pivotal role in protecting borrowers’ rights. We remain inspired by our clients’ resolve to stand up for their rights despite hardships, and by the many advocates and leaders fighting by their side to advance those rights.