A woman in Portland, Oregon filed a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in federal court on Monday over the department's recent suspension of new protections for students who borrow money to attend for-profit colleges.
Niesha Wright, a 40-year-old mother of two, graduated last year from the now-defunct ITT Technical Institute with what her lawsuit calls "worthless, non-transferable credits and a mountain of student loan debt." She attended ITT Tech from September 2014 to June 2016, graduating with an associate's degree about two months before the for-profit college shut down after former President Barack Obama's Education Department accused the school of putting students at financial risk and banned it from enrolling new students who receive federal financial aid.
Wright, who now owes more than $25,000 in student loans, applied for debt forgiveness under the new Obama-era regulations, which were set to take effect on July 1. Those rules, which expanded the process for forgiving federal loan debt in cases where for-profit colleges had defrauded students, were suspended last month by DeVos, who said they created a "muddled process that's unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs"
"I was very upset because I was actually looking forward to getting some gratification and some justice and some relief from the debt that I’ve accumulated," says Wright, who is now working as a loan analyst. "To hear that a woman who’s never even taken out a financial aid loan would say, 'No, they can’t have it,' that was just devastating."
The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. "It's time to take a step back and make sure these rules achieve their purpose: helping harmed students," DeVos said in a statement in June. "It's time for a regulatory reset. It is the Department's aim, and this Administration's commitment, to protect students from predatory practices while also providing clear, fair and balanced rules for colleges and universities to follow."
Wright, who previously held only a high school diploma, said she had thought going back to school would create more career opportunities for her. She attempted to re-enroll at ITT Tech in September 2016 to get her bachelor's degree, but found that the school had shut down. When she tried to apply her credits to a program at another school, she found they were non-transferrable.
"Especially for someone with no college education at all, for someone who’s not real educated on the schooling system and how it works, I was putty in their hands," she said.
"To find out that they weren’t [transferable] was devastating," she added. "I don’t even have that school on my resume. I can’t use it for anything."
Wright's lawsuit aims to stop the delay of the borrower defense regulations and allow her to apply for debt forgiveness. Her suit comes days after Democratic attorneys general in 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a suit, demanding that DeVos implement the borrower defense rules.
"All I wish to gain is to be free and clear of a fraudulent school that preyed on the weak," Wright said. "That’s really it. And it’s unfortunate because I want to go back to school, but now I’m like, ‘How can I really trust the board of education because they’ll allow anyone to get in these false debts?'"