Wearing the Red Square with Pride and Solidarity: Student Negotiator Report From Washington

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From January-March, former Everest student, Ann Bowers, represented for-profit students at the Department of Education's negotiated rulemaking session in Washingon, D.C. In this post, Ann shares her experience. Below, you will also find information about the Department's recent debt relief announcement for former Corinthian students.

Ann Bowers:
I would like to share my opinion on the negotiated rulemaking process, on the progress we have all made together, and what we need to do as a collective going forward.

First, as many of you know, the Department set up a process for Corinthian borrowers who have filed Defense to Repayment over the last year. The agency appointed a "Special Master" to review those claims. I do not like this process at all. The Special Master did not provide very useful information to the Borrower Defense committee. I think it is obvious now why he was so uncooperative: he has little interest in providing broad relief. It is not fair, it is not what we asked for, it is not what we want, and it is definitely not the right thing to do!

For example, the Department released a list of schools and programs whose students can apply for individual relief. When I first looked at the list of programs, schools, and years, I did not think that my program was there because my degree is in “Business Marketing.” However, when I looked at my transcripts, they say I have a “Business” degree. I went to the Everest web page and found marketing listed under “Business.” Therefore, I did qualify to file for relief and I did so. My point is: please look closely at any paperwork or refer to the school’s site for your program name because your program may be listed under another name. Even though the relief process is overly complicated and the individualized process is not what we asked for, everyone who qualifies for relief should apply for it.

To those whose school, program and/or years are not listed, don’t give up! This is not over! In fact, it’s only the beginning!

There is still a group of negotiators and supporters working on the FFEL loans process. We have the best team ever working hard on behalf of all students. We need to continue with our pressure on the Department. The fight is not over! We need to use our collective strength to let the DOE know that what they have proposed so far is not even close to relief for all students that were defrauded by these fake schools. The Department still needs to #DoTheRightThing. All defrauded students, including FFEL borrowers, must get relief! We still have a lot of collective work ahead of us. We must keep the pressure on!

The other thing that I would like to share with you is what it was like to sit at the table during the Borrower Defense Negotiated Rulemaking. First and foremost, I thank you, the student borrowers, for your faith in me and for the awesome strength that you provided during the negotiations. It was a great honor for me to represent all student borrowers, and I am continuing to work on your behalf. Many amazing people on the negotiating team support us. I am so thankful to each of them for helping me as well as for all of their hard work, long hours, and dedication.

As most of you know, we did not come to consensus in the negotiations; therefore, the Department makes the final decision. They received a lot of useful information from borrower advocates and we felt that, by the end, the Department was trying to do the right thing. This is a “package deal” type of negotiation, which means we accept all or none. It was looking pretty good for us until the end when one negotiator would not give consensus on the package. My hope is that the Department will keep the changes that were on the table and follow through on them. They need to show us that they care about students. It is hard to win back trust from people who have been so horribly broken and abused.

I would like to say something about the power of collective action. As students from for-profit colleges who did not know each other until recently, we have most definitely grown stronger each day. We need to keep going! There are still far too many students that are not aware that relief is available to them. We have a lot of community awareness work to do.

When we talk about community awareness, when we talk about organizing, we don't mean that you must put up a big booth or attend special events (although this is one way to do outreach). I am going to share something that I found out about our little red square: it is a great conversation starter! I pin red squares to my purse, luggage, shirt, jacket, scarf, wallet, and the list goes on. People see all of these red squares on me and my stuff and get extremely curious. It is a great conversation starter! I end up talking with people everywhere all because of the squares; taxi drivers, grocery clerks, people in line with me at the store, etc. A large number of people have student loan debt, so most of them are very thankful to find out there is a way to challenge our loans. People are happy to hear that we are doing something about this problem.

I cannot stress the importance of #Solidarity to everyone. These negotiations have proven to me the importance of solidarity. My strength came from all of you. Knowing that I was not just there for myself but for all students, past, present, and future, drove me to keep fighting.

I am so proud to be a part of the Debt Collective. It seems like just yesterday when we declared the strike with only fifteen of us. Look at us now, a little over a year later…I do not know our number of strikers and supporters at this point, but I do know it is a heck of a lot more than fifteen! I am proud to be standing strong in Solidarity with each and every one of you! We are amazingly strong when we stand together.

We are each an essential part of a very important group of people with more strength than we could have ever imagined a year ago. We had the strength to dare to do something that had never been attempted before: we refused to pay back student loans from fraudulent schools. I do believe it is working! We are bringing change to our higher education system. We have made more people aware of the fact that the Education Department allowed these schools to take advantage of us. We are making so much noise that they cannot ignore us, and our noise is going to get even louder as we grow.

We need to continue getting louder and reaching out and making everyone aware of the power of collective action. We need to continue until we put an end to the Department of Ed pouring Title IV funding into fraudulent schools. We need to keep fighting until we see free, quality education for all in this country.

I am looking forward to future workshops with those of you that I have met and looking forward to seeing new faces that have joined us as well! We are making change happen in education. We still have a ways to go, so we will continue growing and fighting against the wrongs that are going on in the name of education. #StrengthInSolidarity

INFORMATION ABOUT DEBT RELIEF FOR CORINTHIAN STUDENTS

If you enrolled in one of the Everest or WyoTech programs during the time period listed here and want to apply for a student loan discharge because your school violated state law, you must do the following:

Complete this online form.

If you’d prefer to print and mail your application, use this version. Send your signed form to the Department of Education by:
email to FSAOperations@ed.gov

or by regular mail to
Department of Education
P.O. Box 194407
San Francisco, CA 94119

Special Instructions for Certain Heald College Students

If you were enrolled in one of the Heald College programs on or after the dates listed here and want to apply for a student loan discharge because your school violated state law, you must do the following:

Complete this online form.

If you’d prefer to print and mail your application, use this version. Send your signed form to the Department of Education by:
email to FSAOperations@ed.gov

or by regular mail to
Department of Education
P.O. Box 194407
San Francisco, CA 94119

Any Corinthian student can call the Department of Education hotline at 855-279-6207 to ask questions about the relief program.

The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET.