The Department of Education announced new online resources Monday for students affected by the abrupt closure of ITT Technical Institutes, amid criticism that the government is not doing enough to help the tens of thousands of people left in the lurch by the for-profit chain.
Education officials are partnering with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and Beyond 12, which helps first-generation, low-income college students, to match students with financial aid and academic counselors for free through an online platform known as NextStepsEdu.org. Staffers on the website will field questions from students by email, phone and text messages about the various academic, financial aid and federal loan discharge options available.
“We’re grateful to Beyond 12 and the NASFAA team for their leadership, their creativity and their commitment to aiding affected students,” Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said during a call with reporters Monday. “We’ve been working around the clock to make sure ITT students remain inspired to pursue the promise of a higher education. ”
In the two weeks since ITT Tech shut its doors, the federal education agency has hosted a series of webinars, teamed with states to hold fairs and reached out to the roughly 35,000 ITT students to inform them about their options. It has also joined with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor to raise awareness. Staff at the department have had nearly 22,000 interactions with students impacted by the closure, according to Mitchell.
None of the options available to students is simple and each comes with its own drawbacks. Anyone enrolled in ITT or who withdrew from the school in the past 120 days is eligible for federal student loan forgiveness under what’s known as a closed-school discharge. Transferring credits to complete the same degree at another institution, however, makes students ineligible for this form of loan forgiveness.
Students can apply to have their federal loans discharged if they can prove a school used illegal or deceptive tactics in violation of state law to persuade them to borrow money for college, a process known as a “borrower defense to repayment.” This option would give people who choose to transfer their ITT credits a path to loan forgiveness, but it is a long and arduous process with no guarantees.
“Students at this stage are understandably confused. They’re demoralized and dispirited by these closures,” said Alexandra Bernadotte, chief executive at Beyond 12, which also helped students displaced by the closure of for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges. “Students on the margins especially need better guidance so they don’t end up in situations and at colleges that are going to let them down.”
Nearly two dozen Senate Democrats are urging the Department of Education to ensure that ITT Tech students have access to high-quality, affordable options and are not lured by other for-profit colleges facing state and federal investigations and lawsuits.
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