The Department of Education announced a partnership Monday to connect through an online platform former students of the now-defunct ITT Technical Institutes with financial aid and academic counselors, as the government faces criticism it has not done enough to help nearly 40,000 students of the for-profit school that abruptly closed two weeks ago.
The federal agency has partnered with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and Beyond 12, which helps first-generation, low-income college students, to match students with counselors for free through NextStepsEdu.org, according to The Washington Post. The counselors will field questions from students by email, phone, and text messages about academic, financial aid and federal loan discharge options available.
The agency’s announcement comes amid criticism from students and lawmakers. Lawmakers have said the government should ensure students receive high-quality, affordable options, and are protected from other for-profit institutions. Meanwhile, a group of 100 former students have refused to pay back their loans to force the government to cancel their debt.
ITT abruptly closed its doors two weeks ago, after the federal government banned it from enrolling students that would pay with the help of federal financial aid. The institution also faces state and federal investigations into whether it gave students false information about the success of its programs and if its sales tactics to convince students to enroll were predatory.
With the institution closed, about 35,000 of its students have been forced to weigh their options. Should they transfer their credits to another school? Should they seek loan forgiveness?
In a conference call with reporters Monday, Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said the agency has taken a number of steps to assist students. It has hosted webinars, teamed with states to hold fairs, and reached out to the ITT students to inform them about their options, according to the Post. It has also collaborated with the Department of Labor and the Veterans Affairs Department to raise awareness.
But one former student said one of the emails he received from the agency left him with more questions than answers.
“You can read it all day long, I’ve read it like 15 times trying to make sense out of it,” San Touch told Politico. “I want a definite answer from the horse’s mouth. I want to talk to somebody who can give me answers. I want to hear it directly, not from a piece of paper.”
One hundred other students have started a “debt strike” to demand federal authorities cancel their debt, rather than have them seek loan forgiveness.
“We’re not irresponsible brats whining about our loans,” Joseph Smith, a 2008 graduate of ITT Tech who left the institution with more than $80,000 in student loans, told the Post last week. “ITT lied to us. It’s fraud.”
As Amanda Hoover reported for The Christian Science Monitor last week, being granted loan forgiveness is an arduous and sometimes unsuccessful process.
As of June, 26,000 students had filed for loan forgiveness from the Department of Education, according to the Washington Post. Some 14 percent of them had received some approval, and all of them came from former students at Corinthian Colleges, another for-profit education giant that shut down. In that case, the US Department of Education said student loans would be forgiven.
Students must also weigh whether they want to pursue this option, known as closed-school discharge, or transfer to pursue the same degree elsewhere. If a student were to transfer, he or she would no longer be eligible for this program.
As student frustration grows, Lawmakers have penned letters to the Education Department asking the federal government do more. About 20 Democrats have asked students be protected from other for-profit institutions. They also want the department to extend the window for closed-school discharge from 120 days to on or after March 1, 2014, when state and federal investigations against ITT increased.