Education

Students Testify On Capitol Hill Against Predatory For-Profit Colleges

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Students reeling from debt incurred while attending for-profit colleges traveled to Capitol Hill Thursday to voice their struggles to the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions committee, seeking to pursue blanket discharges for debt taken on by attending expensive programs that, in reality, had little value.

The stories told to the Senate panel were emotional. According to the Huffington Post, Alicia Stevens, who enrolled at the Florida Metropolitan University in 2005, graduated with $33,000 and little hope for a job, given the poor quality of education she received. She lives on Social Security payments, and is likely to be forced to live out of her car due to her financial situation. Another student, Alyse Zachary, was told she would be kicked out of ITT Technical Institute if she did not sign up for a high-interest private loan. She graduated $30,000 in debt.

One of the most heartbreaking stories was that of Pam Hunt, a former Corinthian student who studied criminal justice and owes $172,000. She is without a job and is currently homeless, along with her five children, one of whom is disabled.

Despite the increasing amount of evidence suggesting that many for-profit colleges function as little more than scams, the federal government will likely not apply blanket debt forgiveness to students affected by predatory, dishonest programs. Students will instead have to work through their options individually, which can often be a lengthy and fruitless endeavor. The activists who met with government officials on Thursday were disappointed when Education Department Special Master Joseph Smith told them that it was unlikely that the government would act to help groups of students in similar situations. The federal government will likely opt for the individualized process, as opposed to group-focused action, instead. The Department of Education, while mindful of the dangers of for-profit colleges, has been very slow to provide relief to students in need.

For-profit colleges have a poor reputation when it comes to loan default rates. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, nearly half of students who attend for-profit colleges default on their loans within five years. Students have been catching on, and have been choosing to take their money to better educational programs, causing upheaval in the for-profit college market. Students who feel that they have been scammed by a for-profit college may have some options open to them, but should be wary of debt-forgiveness scams and other predatory practices.