Feds sue for-profit college network of predatory lending, phony career services

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT

Posted Sept. 21, 2014, at 10:40 a.m.

It’s likely that only a small percentage of Maine’s college-age students have even heard of Everest University, Heald College and WyoTech. The three schools are operated for profit by Corinthian Colleges Inc (CCI). None is in Maine; the two closest campuses are in the Boston area.

Still, a lawsuit filed last week by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau against CCI should be of interest to students who have taken out private student loans to pay for their education. The suit charges Corinthian with predatory lending, persuading students to take out the higher-cost private loans by advertising phony job prospects and career services.

In announcing the lawsuit, the director of CFPB did not mince words. “We believe Corinthian lured in consumers with lies about their job prospects upon graduation, sold high-cost loans to pay for that false hope, and then harassed students for overdue debts while they were still in school,” Richard Cordray said in remarks prepared for a reporter telephone briefing.

Cordray cited “egregious” examples of alleged misdeeds by CCI employees. One school apparently paid legitimate employers to hire graduates just long enough to count them as “employed” (CCI apparently defined a “career” as a job lasting only one day).

Although it touted ongoing career services, students often got generic Craigslist job postings. Often they could not contact any CCI personnel in the various career services offices.

Once they signed up, students faced high-cost tuition. In 2013, CFPB says tuition and fees for an associate degree ran between $33,000 and $43,000; for a bachelor’s degree, the range was $60,000-$75,000.

Tuition was higher than the federal loan limit, so many students were forced to take out private student loans. Corinthian offered its own “Genesis loans” costing more than twice as much as federal student loans.

The CFPB investigation found that three of every five students were likely to fall behind on Genesis loan payments within the first three years. Investigators said CCI did not share that reality with students; rather, it said the students “had no idea they were being set up to fail.”

Corinthian set an unusual policy of requiring students to start paying back those Genesis loans as soon as their classes began. If they fell behind on the payments, they faced what the CFPB director called “harassing and bullying debt-collection methods.” If they dropped out of school, they had all the debt and no degree.

A statement on Corinthian Colleges’ website strongly disputes allegations in the suit. It says the CFPB “wrongly disparages the career services assistance that we offer our graduates and mischaracterizes both the purpose and practices of the ‘Genesis’ lending program.” The company says it discloses details about its loan program before students enroll, calling that process “clear and extensive.”

It also says that a number of the problems CFPB identified were brought to the agency’s attention by the company, and that Corinthian is working on improvements. CFPB is looking for full redress of all Genesis loans made since July 21, 2011, including those that have been paid off.

The future of the 100-plus campuses across the country is uncertain. The company entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education in July to sell or close a number of its campuses.

Meanwhile, a bill pending in the U.S. Senate would allow 25 million Americans to renegotiate their student loans at today’s lower interest rates. It would also cap undergrad loans below 4 percent; federal Stafford loans top out at 9 percent, while some private loans can exceed 14 percent.

You can read the “Downeaster Common Sense Guide to Student Loans” at http://www.maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit/publications.htm.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visithttps://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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