The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Thousands of Virginians may be eligible for student loan forgiveness. And they might not even know it.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is notifying former students of Corinthian Colleges of their eligibility for student loan forgiveness. (Timothy C. Wright For The Washington Post)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Tuesday said his office is notifying about 5,300 people who attended a chain of defunct for-profit colleges of their eligibility for federal student loan forgiveness.

Corinthian Colleges, a chain that was felled by charges of fraud and predatory lending, operated branches of its Everest College in Tysons Corner, Newport News, Arlington and Chesapeake before shutting down last year. Those locations are among the 91 campuses involved in a government investigation that found Corinthian lied about the number of students at its Everest and WyoTech schools who landed jobs between 2010 and 2014.

Corinthian students may have a clearer path toward debt relief

Evidence in that case is supposed to make it easier for students who enrolled in those schools to have their education debt canceled through what’s known as “borrower defense to repayment.” The statute wipes away federal loans if a school used illegal or deceptive tactics to persuade students to borrow money for college, but the claims process is time consuming, and there is no guarantee of approval.

To speed up the process, the Education Department in March said it would group the submissions of students from the Everest and WyoTech campuses involved in the investigation, the same action it took in another case concerning Corinthian’s Heald Colleges. At the time, education officials estimated that 250,000 students who attended Everest and WyoTech in 24 states, including Virginia and Maryland, might be eligible for debt relief.

Yet just 82,000 people had filed claims as of early October, despite efforts by the Education Department to notify former students through mailings, email, partner organizations and other means. Of those claims, the agency has approved 15,694, for a total of $247 million in loan forgiveness.

How a $30 million fine against a for-profit college could be a win for students

The tepid response from former students is leading education officials to team up with state attorneys general to get out the word. Anyone who was enrolled at one of the Everest or WyoTech programs listed on the department’s website can apply to have their federal student loans forgiven by filling out an attestation form found at StudentAid.gov/corinthian#ev-wy.

“In many cases students are still repaying the debt they incurred based on false pretenses even though Corinthian Colleges and its subsidiaries have closed their doors,” Herring said, in a statement. “If you think you might be eligible, keep an eye on your inbox and contact us or contact the Department of Education directly if you have any questions.”

Herring’s office plans to email students in the next few weeks informing them of their eligibility. Only loans made directly by the federal government are eligible, not those originated through the government’s old bank-based lending program, unless they are consolidated. That distinction has led to disappointment for people such as Jessica King, who graduated in 2008 with a medical assistant certificate from Everest in Newport News.

King, 34, said her defense claim for $13,000 was recently denied because her federal loans were made through the bank program, known as the Federal Family Education Loan program. Her claim fell outside of the scope of the government investigation, but King thought she had a good chance of succeeding because of the circumstances of her case.

Two years ago, King learned that she owed $30,000 for the eight-month certificate program at Everest, after trying to enroll at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Va. She recalls signing up for only one $1,200 loan, but remembers being pressured to sign all sorts of documents during her time at Everest.

Much of the debt King accrued came from Corinthian’s Genesis program, an in-house operation that lent money at interest rates as high as 15 percent. King’s Genesis loans were canceled through ECMC Group’s acquisition of Corinthian campuses, but she is still on the hook for $13,000.

“All of this debt should be forgiven because of what Corinthian did,” King said. “I just want to be able to go back to school, but at this point I don’t even know if I can. I have to worry about putting my 15-year-old through college in a couple of years.”

Want to learn more about Corinthian, check out these stories:

A year after the student debt strike policymakers are battling over the way forward

Are Corinthian Colleges’ former schools on the mend?

The government has appointed a monitor for its student debt forgiveness program

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