A group of student debt strikers will boycott a meeting scheduled for Monday with U.S. Education Department (DOE) officials, declaring: "We refuse to be the pawns of a Department that seeks to use the students' campaign to give cover to their ongoing failures."
Activists with the Debt Collective—which has helped organize a group of over 100 students from the now-shuttered Corinthian network of for-profit colleges who are refusing to pay back their loans in protest of predatory and fraudulent practices—last met with DOE officials on March 31. The group was scheduled to return to Washington, D.C. on May 4 to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to hear his response to students' demands for blanket debt cancellation.
"In the meantime, we continue to invite Corinthian students to join the ongoing debt strike, and we encourage others to support the strikers through a campaign of mass economic disobedience. We will welcome Secretary Duncan to a celebratory meeting at the moment the Department is ready to announce a class-wide discharge."
—The Debt Collective
But in advance of the meeting, organizers learned "that the Department has decided not to use its authority to provide a full discharge to everyone defrauded by Corinthian Colleges and, thus, had no intention of meeting with us in good faith," according to a Debt Collective statement.
Through "sources in Congress and the legal community," as The New Republic reports, the group heard that the DOE in fact planned to announce at that meeting an individualized defense-to-repayment process, under which students would have to prove their specific injury in order to qualify for having their loan discharged, and submit this to a third party hired by the DOE.
"The only reason the Department favors an individualized process is that it allows them to prevent as many students as possible from getting relief," the Debt Collective claims.
To make matters worse, the Collective says that former Corinthian students, whose campuses have been shutting down for months, are being shepherded "into a new debt trap."
According to Fusion, upon the news of Corinthian's closure, the DOE "published a list of 'alternative education options' for Corinthian students. While it includes many community colleges, some students and lawmakers were disappointed to find other for-profit schools on the list as well."
The New Republic reports further:
Other for-profit colleges have prowled shut-down Corinthian campuses over the last week, attempting to lure students into transferring. The Education Department essentially blessed this by listing a number of for-profit colleges on their website as “viable transfer opportunities.” Some of those for-profit colleges are themselves under investigation for similar predatory tactics. Corinthian claims to be “trying to arrange partnerships” so students could complete their education, but credit transfers are unlikely to be recognized by universities other than for-profit career colleges.
Lastly, the Debt Collective accuses Duncan and other DOE officials of "using striking Corinthian students and the Debt Collective’s name to give themselves a PR boost."
By heralding their willingness to meet with debt strikers—but not acting on their demands—"[t]hey’re using us so they can pretend to care about students," Laura Hanna, a Debt Collective organizer, told The New Republic.
In lieu of Monday's meeting with the DOE, the organizers plan to call a separate meeting in the near future:
The Corinthian 100 and the Debt Collective will invite state Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington, Senators Baldwin, Blumenthal, Boxer, Durbin, Franken, Hirono, Markey, Merkley, Murphy, Reed, Schatz, Warren and Whitehouse, Representatives Ellison, Grijalva and Waters, representatives from SEIU, AFT, Demos, Jobs with Justice, and the National Consumer Law Center, and other allies to a meeting to discuss how to move forward to win real justice for Corinthian students.
"In the meantime," the Debt Collective states, "we continue to invite Corinthian students to join the ongoing debt strike, and we encourage others to support the strikers through a campaign of mass economic disobedience. We will continue to build collective power until the Department of Education decides to take seriously its legal and moral obligation to cancel the federal student loans of defrauded students. We will welcome Secretary Duncan to a celebratory meeting at the moment the Department is ready to announce a class-wide discharge."
However, the call for student debt forgiveness stretches far beyond those who have fallen prey to for-profit education schemes.
As Campaign for America's Future co-founder Roger Hickey notes in a blog post Monday, a coalition of groups just last week delivered a petition to Congress and President Barack Obama calling for the cancellation of all student debt.
"Americans now owe $1.3 trillion in student debt," reads the petition, circulated by groups including Working Families, RH Reality Check, Roots Action, and Student Debt Crisis. "Eighty-six percent of that money is owed to the United States government. This is a crushing burden for more than 40 million Americans and their families."
The delivery of the petition bearing more than 200,000 signatures, Hickey wrote, is "the culmination of a process that started early this year. And it represents only the beginning of a campaign whose momentum is building."