Healey presses lawmakers for tuition relief for students of for-profit colleges

  • Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey takes questions from reporters during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Published: 6/7/2017 9:04:34 PM

State Attorney General Maura Healey and advocates have called on lawmakers to approve a tuition recovery fund for students who incurred debt at for-profit education chains that engaged in unlawful practices or closed their doors, including one campus in Springfield.

Describing their behavior as “predatory,” Healey’s office previously brought enforcement cases against a number of for-profit schools, including Kaplan University, ITT Technical Institute, Corinthian and Salter colleges, the latter of which has a Chicopee location, and American Career Institute, which had a campus in Springfield.

The U.S. Department of Education announced in January plans to grant loan forgiveness to some 4,500 American Career Institute students in the state who took out federal student loans to attend the school, amounting to around $30 million in loan discharges. Healey’s office had previously helped more than 1,200 former Corinthian students successfully apply to have their federal loans canceled.

Both schools closed in Massachusetts amid a crackdown on for-profit colleges from the Obama administration’s education department and state prosecutors. In a consent judgment Healey’s office reached against American Career Institute, the school admitted to falsifying student records and knowingly misrepresenting its job placement and graduation numbers.

Healey and 17 other attorneys general have accused the education department under current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of delaying promised loan discharges. Fearing that the administration of President Donald Trump will relax regulations on for-profit colleges, Healey on Tuesday reiterated her desire to see a tuition recovery fund created for students who lost money attending the schools.

“Under Secretary DeVos’ leadership, we can’t be certain this type of relief will be available in the future,” Healey said Tuesday in testimony before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “And even with government relief, many students will be left with expensive private student loans.”

That testimony was part of a hearing on a bill that would force for-profit schools to put up $2,500 and 0.25 percent of the school’s gross tuition and fees received the previous year toward a tuition recovery fund for students. That fund, she said, is meant to help students who suffered economically because of the sudden closure or illegal behavior of for-profit colleges.

“These schools rake in money by targeting our most vulnerable students — single mothers, first generation college students, returning veterans and service members,” Healey said, adding that more than 20 states have created similar funds.

The ACI abruptly closed its five Massachusetts campuses in 2013, including its Springfield campus that offered courses in everything from computer programming to medical billing.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristenen@gazettenet.com.

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