- Advocates for student loan borrowers have sued the Department of Education over blocked relief claims.
- Former students of Westwood College in Illinois have been waiting more than six years for debt relief.
- Westwood has been accused of misrepresenting job prospects, thereby making students worse off.
After a for-profit college accused of predatory behavior closed, its students were promised student loan relief. But six years later, they’re still waiting – and now they’re taking legal action.
On Thursday, advocacy groups Student Defense, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the National Consumer Law Center sued the Department of Education, on behalf of former Westwood College students. Westwood, which closed in 2015, was later accused by the department of misrepresenting the employment prospects of graduates and therefore these students should have qualified for the borrower’s defense until repayment, which which provides student loan relief to those who have been defrauded by for-profit companies. schools.
But many of these students have yet to receive the promised aid, sparking the lawsuit.
“For nearly six years, in every jurisdiction, the Department has shied away from its obligations, leaving countless borrowers in the dark as to whether or not they will receive the relief due to them under federal law,” said Eric Rothschild, director of student defense litigation. statement. “The Department has what it takes to free borrowers from financial limbo and give them a well-deserved fresh start. It’s high time they acted on it.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education declined to comment on ongoing litigation.
In 2016, the Illinois Attorney General filed a Borrower Defense Claim on behalf of former Westwood Illinois students under the Criminal Justice Program, and although this resulted in compensation institutional loans, which are loans owed by the student to the school, this did not address federal student debt. Earlier this month, Illinois Attorney General Kawame Raoul sent a letter to the Department of Education following up on the 2016 nomination.
“There is no further analysis or proof needed: Westwood defrauded every student who completed his Illinois criminal justice program,” Illinois AG Raoul wrote. “The Department – and only the Department – knows which defrauded borrowers continue to carry federal debt while at Westwood. These consumers continue to be harmed by the student debt they carry and its negative impact on their lives.”
The lawsuit noted the relief the Department of Education has previously provided to students defrauded by other for-profit schools, like Corinthian College, ITT Tech, and even Marinello Beauty Schools, which have provided relief to borrowers who don’t haven’t even submitted an application. And although the department approved relief for former Westwood students in February, the lawsuit cites the failure to act on the Illinois group’s request as “unlawful,” forcing those students to repay the debt that they shouldn’t have once the pandemic payment pause on student loans ends after August 31.
The press release noted that from 2004 to 2015, 44% of Westwood students were black and 21% were Latino, and failure to act on their borrower defense requests “disproportionately denies aid to communities of color that are already facing increased levels of debt and economic insecurity.”