On February 17th and 18th, members of the Debt Collective who attended Corinthian, ITT Tech, Art Institute, and the University of Phoenix traveled to Washington D.C. to attend meetings at the Department of Education negotiated rulemaking session and to tell their stories to Senate staffers. (You can watch video from the sessions here and read a detailed report on some members' statements here). Students from Corinthian also met with the Borrower Defense Special Master, Joseph Smith. In all of these meetings, debt strikers and supporters demanded class-wide loan cancellation for all defrauded borrowers. After returning home, some of them reflected on their experience.
Danielle Adorno, Art Institute: On February 17th I attended the DOE's negotiated rulemaking for Defense to Repayment to deliver a comment during the public comment period. Like many other for-profit students, I received a sub par education at Art Institute in NYC. Joining the Debt Collective and meeting other people with stories like mine, I began to learn that my experience is not unique.
When we first arrived in D.C. we learned that the Department had already issued a proposal that limits students' rights to dispute their loans. Not one of their proposals is for students. Not one of these terms will help us, let alone defrauded parents who did their best to assist their children.
Naturally I do not agree with any of this. In an ideal world the people with our lives in their hands would be able to put actual faces to names and develop a sense of humanity. While I believe not everyone was unaffected by hearing our stories, this is just one of many battles lying ahead for us to face. This process has not been and will not be easy. It will take time and commitment. I can only speak for myself when I say the Department of Ed and BDSM Joe Smith have not seen the last of me, not until for-profit schools are shut down and students and parents have had their debt discharged.
Danielle, with her son Noah.
Paul Hicks, Corinthian: Well, I think the meetings in Washington went as predicted. At the negotiated rulemaking, the Department of Education once more is showing its true colors. They continue to back predatory schools and their willingness to look the other way shows they are in favor of Big Banks and corporations and not students. They are lining their pockets with the people’s money and attempting to write the rules to help the schools and themselves and to save face.
The statutory of limitations that the Department is proposing for Defense to Repayment claims is a way to stop students from getting the legal relief they are owed. The Department is denying us the chance to have our voices heard, a right afforded by the US Constitution under the Bill of Rights.
As a Corinthian student, I also met with Joseph Smith, the "Special Master." That title alone tells us we need to get back in our place and let Mr. Joseph Smith do what he thinks is best for the rest of us.
This battle is far from over, and we're here for the long haul.
Paul, telling his story to Senate staffers.
Alyse Zachary, ITT Tech: The Department of Education is not going to give us what we want unless we keep fighting. The government always does this. They try to make it look like they are helping when they are not. We just have to play their game and outsmart them. We have a talented group of people who are organizing to do so. I'm drawing strength from the Civil Rights movement, from the movement for gay rights, women's rights and so forth. All of these battles hit snags along the way. The government has always pushed these groups to the side, but look what happened. Keep that anger and that fire. Don't be defeated if you get knocked down. Excuse my French but get the FUCK back up. You're not a victim. You're not helpless. You're a warrior.
Brittany Prock, Corinthian: My experience in Washington D.C. for the meeting with Joe A. Smith, the "Special Master", and the "neg reg" committee was a major eye- and heart-opening situation. I learned that I was not the only person from these for-profit schools to have fraudulent debt.
On Feb. 17, I and a group of ex-Corinthian students met with Joe Smith to talk about why the DOE has delayed debt relief to the thousands of people who filed Defense to Repayment. His response was nothing more than a song and dance intended to avoid any real answers. His reassurance that he cares about us was nothing more than a show. As one who sat next to this souless human being, I can tell you that he seemed bored during the meeting, as if he had better things to do. Since the meeting, a renewed fire has been lit with in me, a burning fire to fight this tool and the DOE.
I cannot say much about the "neg reg" meeting other than that the Department's proposal (which they released before the beginning of the session) was a slap in the face. The powers that be want to put a time limit on filing a DTR, for example, which shows that they want to make it as difficult as possible for defrauded people to get relief.
It just goes to show that we need to rally together and grow in numbers to show the DOE that we will not sit back and let them continue to push us to the side.
To everyone who stands with the students, thank you for continuing to fight.
Brittany, in Washington.
Karen Clark, University of Phoenix: I attended the "neg reg" session in Washington D.C. to tell my story of being defrauded by the University of Phoenix and the Department of Education.
I thought it would be a good thing to advance my education by getting a degree in Psychology at the University of Phoenix. I did not know that the school was under investigation. My question to the DOE is: why continue to fund a school that is under investigation?
And most of all, why did my degree cost me $50,000? It's not worth the paper it is printed on!
I chose University of Phoenix because I needed to go to school online. I have 5 grandkids living at my home. I am also on a fixed income. I thought that if I went to college, I could better myself. But attending college did more harm than good to me and my family. The D.O.E is responsible for my situation and for the situation of thousands of others.
I will not quit until the DOE does what is right.
Karen, preparing to make a statement to Senate staffers.
Joseph White, ITT Tech: As soon as I arrived at the hotel in D.C., we learned what the Department of Education had proposed for Defense to Repayment. The DOE plans to make it difficult to get our loans discharged. For example, they proposed a two-year statute of limitations on disputing debts. They also want to bypass State Attorneys General investigations on for-profit schools. They are also expecting this to be an individual process, and they expect the claimant to file against the school. The school would be able to defend itself against the students, which is unfair since the schools have more money to hire lawyers.
On Feb. 17th, all the for-profit students attended the "neg reg" session where we made our statements, which are all available to watch here. The statements were recorded via Periscope, an app where you can broadcast live. Hilariously, one of the meeting moderators noticed at the last minute that the meeting was being broadcast. I was caught red handed, since I was the guy holding the phone. Everyone in the meeting had to remind the moderator that this was an open meeting.
Another hilarious note: a lobbyist from ITT Tech stood up and spoke positively about the school. Right after her speech, myself and a few other ITT alumni stood up and spoke about our experiences. Dawn L did an especially good job challenging the lobbyist, who just shook her head.
One of the guys from the Department of Ed, Fred Marinucci, was not receptive of any of our statements, and looked like he was doodling on his notepad. There were a huge amount of supporters in the room, though, and I was met with praise after I made my statement. I got to meet David Halperin, from the Huffington Post, and that was a huge plus. He was such a gentleman.
The following morning, we went to Capitol Hill. Sanders Fabares and I walked through the Senate office building, and we passed by Senator John McCain's office. Walking through the building made me seriously feel like Harry Potter walking through the Ministry of Magic. The place is very ominous, and I felt like a little peon in a different world.
We walked into a huge room that looked like a court room and some students passionately told their stories and demanded relief.
Elizabeth Warren wasn't able to make it, but we were met with a variety of different staffers from several Senators. I got to meet the staffer from Al Frankin's office and Elizabeth Warren's along with media correspondents from Politico.
We are still making progress in the movement. The Department of Education is well aware that we will not go away without a full class-wide discharge.
Joseph, at the Lincoln Memorial.
Sanders Fabares, Art Institute: While in Washington with the Debt Collective, I had the chance to walk the city. I saw inspiring quotes from Martin Luthor King Jr. I stood on the "I Have a Dream" spot on the Lincoln Memorial. I was reminded of the sacrifices that were made to help make the American Dream a reality for all people, not just those in control.
Then I went to the negotiated rulemaking meeting and witnessed a more modern conflict, where a battle was being waged for the future of our educational system. On one side, there were people like me: students defrauded by schools that they trusted, and people who understand how the DoE created the problem but does not want to accept any responsibility for it. There were also advocates who understood the ways that the for-profit sector has deceived the masses and exploited taxpayers for the last few decades.
On the other side, there were those defending the colleges, questioning the validity of our claims and saying that the schools are committed to repairing their sullied reputations.
But we all know that real change doesn't fit their business model.
To those of us who have a sense of doubt about the future and about the change that we can make, we need to remember that without us, who will fight for the truth? Without us, this entire corrupt machine would continue to roll on indefinitely, making countless victims. After all this is over, I want to be able to say that I was on the side that stood up against such absolute corruption.
I was glad to be able to tell my story at neg reg and to hear others' stories about how the massive debt from worthless degree programs has altered, sometimes destroyed, their lives. We gave the committee members a much-needed human element that they desperately needed in that room in a huge building, somewhere in Washington DC, a room where the majority of people were most likely making 6 figures.
I think that they understand that we are not going away. Now we just have to stay with it, grow our numbers, promote the truth, and prove that this is so.
Sanders, at the Washington monument.