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Eileen Connor

  • ITT Technical Institute sign

    Project on Predatory Student Lending commemorates five years fighting the for-profit college industry

    August 12, 2021

    Since 2016, the Project on Predatory Student Lending has represented more than a one million borrowers and brought about the cancellation of over $2.5 billion in fraudulent debts.

  • A DeVos System Allowed 12 Minutes to Decide Student Loan Forgiveness

    March 25, 2021

    Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made no secret of her disdain for a program intended to forgive the federal student loans of borrowers who were ripped off by schools that defrauded their students...Nearly 95 percent of the borrowers in the case whose claims were decided were rejected, according to court filings. Most — if not all — of the claims that were approved involved applications that the agency was compelled to grant because of precedents created before Ms. DeVos took office... Reviewers were under significant pressure to quickly process claims, the new documents show. To clear its backlog, the agency hired dozens of employees and contract lawyers. Their assigned goal was to review at least five cases per hour. Those who did more could earn extra cash and time off. Those who did less were placed on “heightened monitoring” by their managers and subject to remedial action, including termination. Officially, that system remains in place, said Eileen Connor, the director of litigation for the Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which represents the borrowers in the class-action case. Applicants will have no hope of prevailing until the department dismantles its assembly-line approach and gives applications the consideration they deserve, she said. “There was this whole infrastructure set up to process claims without really contending with them,” Ms. Connor said.

  • Biden wants to go big on the economy but go small on student-debt reform

    February 18, 2021

    President Joe Biden has a $1.9 trillion plan and a $1.7 trillion problem. He wants to go big on the former, but, unlike several prominent Democrats, more conservative on the latter. The $1.9 trillion, of course, is the stimulus plan that Biden was touting in last night's CNN town hall in Wisconsin. But when asked about proposals to cut into the $1.7 trillion in outstanding student-loan debt (as of the third quarter of 2020), the president expressed caution. Democratic lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called on Biden to use his executive power to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per person...In addition, a letter to Warren from from the legal director Eileen Connor of Harvard Law School's Legal Services Center, as well as attorney Deanne Loonin, and Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, says the secretary of Education has full authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel student debt. In fact, Biden used the Act to extend the pause on student loan payments, and Democrats in the Senate and House, such as Ocasio-Cortez, are pushing for him to do the same with student debt cancelation.

  • Student Loan Cancellation Sets Up Clash Between Biden and the Left

    December 11, 2020

    President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is facing pressure from congressional Democrats to cancel student loan debt on a vast scale, quickly and by executive action, a campaign that will be one of the first tests of his relationship with the liberal wing of his party. Mr. Biden has endorsed canceling $10,000 in federal student debt per borrower through legislation, and insisted that chipping away at the $1.7 trillion in loan debt held by more than 43 million borrowers is integral to his economic plan. But Democratic leaders, backed by the party’s left flank, are pressing for up to $50,000 of debt relief per borrower, executed on Day 1 of his presidency...The “benefit of outright cancellation is simplicity,” said Eileen Connor, the legal director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, which represents thousands of students defrauded by their colleges and mired in legal fights with the Education Department over loan forgiveness. “We are facing an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, and we need to use every tool readily available to keep families and the economy afloat,” Ms. Connor said.

  • ‘This Feels Like the Closest We’ve Ever Been.’ Why Growing Demands for Student Debt Forgiveness Could Be Joe Biden’s First Presidential Test

    November 30, 2020

    Roughly two months out from Inauguration Day, Joe Biden is already facing a brewing political storm among his ideologically-diverse base of supporters, who disagree over the issue of student loan forgiveness. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge—while federal economic protections for student loans, evictions, and expanded unemployment expire in December—a powerful coalition of Democrats, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, is pushing Biden to use executive action to cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per person as a form of economic stimulus. Meanwhile, some Democratic voters, joined by moderate Republicans who helped Biden win in key swing states, are looking on in horror. They argue that offering significant relief to people with existing student debt relief is deeply regressive: it excludes a population of blue-collar workers who never earned a college degree but are bearing the brunt of this economic downturn...Eileen Connor, Legal Director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending out of Harvard Law School, which has supported Warren in advocating for the policy fix, says the power to cancel debt is clear. “The language in the HEA is broad, has been there from the beginning, and has not been narrowed,” she says, “even as Congress has put other cancellation authority into the HEA and limited the compromise authority of other agencies in different ways.”

  • Judge slams DeVos for rejecting 94% of loan relief claims

    October 22, 2020

    Months after vowing to process a backlog of 160,000 requests for loan forgiveness from students who say they were defrauded by their schools, the U.S. Education Department has rejected 94% of claims it has reviewed, according to a federal judge who is demanding justification for the “blistering pace” of denials. In a biting decision issued Monday in California, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said the department has been denying claims using template letters that are “alarmingly curt." Alsup threatened to suspend the agency from rejecting further requests, saying its approach “hangs borrowers out to dry.” He said that although Education Secretary Betsy DeVos blamed the backlog on the hard work that goes into processing claims, she has now “charged out of the gate, issuing perfunctory denial notices utterly devoid of meaningful explanation at a blistering pace.” The Education Department said it is studying the ruling...Rejections were delivered through standardized letters that included information on how to appeal the decision, but Alsup said the letters fail to explain the decision. It leaves borrowers in a “disturbingly Kafkaesque" situation, he wrote. Alsup said he is considering whether to forbid the department from issuing any further rejections until the case is decided. He has asked both sides to submit arguments around the question. Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Student Lending, which represents borrowers in the suit, said it looks forward to deposing agency officials to get an explanation for their actions. “The class members in this case have suffered harm at every turn, but in this court order they are finally seeing a change in the tides after years of waiting for justice,” said Eileen Connor, the group's legal director.

  • Federal Judge Considers Stopping Rejection of Borrower-Defense Claims

    October 21, 2020

    In a strongly worded order, a federal judge in California is signaling that he may put a stop to the Education Department’s nearly universal denials of requests by those who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges to have their student debts canceled. Attorneys representing more than 200,000 borrowers sued the U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last year, saying that the department stopped processing the claims between June 2018 and December 2019, leaving some in limbo for as long as four years. The sides seemed to reach an agreement in May, when the department agreed to process the remaining claims within a year and a half. But since then, attorneys representing the borrowers said, the department has denied 89 percent of the claims as of last August, sending borrowers a curt form letter with no explanation of why it was issuing a denial. In comparison, the department under the Obama administration had granted 99.2 percent of the requests, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup noted. Saying the borrowers had likely not intended for the department to process the waiting claims by denying them, Alsup on Monday denied approval of the May settlement. Instead, he ordered attorneys representing the borrowers to depose department officials to learn to what extent it has been denying the claims of those defrauded by for-profits found by the department to have acted improperly and whether the form denials are different from how the Obama administration handled rejections...Eileen Connor, legal director at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which is representing the borrowers, took heart in the order. “The class members in this case have suffered harm at every turn, but in this court order they are finally seeing a change in the tides after years of waiting for justice,” she said in a statement.

  • 35,000 former ITT Tech students could see $330 million in private loans erased with new settlement

    September 16, 2020

    A new settlement related to the now-defunct for-profit school ITT Technical Institute would erase $330 million in privately-held student loan debt owed by around 35,000 former ITT students. The nationwide settlement, announced on Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and state attorneys general from 47 states and the District of Columbia, hopes to erase debt owed by former ITT students to a Deutsche Bank-funded program called “PEAKS Trust.” ITT Technical Institute filed for bankruptcy and shut down all campuses in 2016, affecting 149 locations and roughly 40,000 students, amid lawsuits and investigations over alleged predatory lending practices. “This settlement brings long-awaited justice to former ITT students who were pushed into predatory student loans that ITT and its collaborators predicted they would never be able to repay,” Eileen Connor, legal director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center, which represents some ITT former students, told Yahoo Finance in a statement. “All debt from ITT should be cancelled, including federal student loans,” Connor added. The settlement stated that PEAKS will not only discharge the loans but also stop collecting on them and will ask credit reporting agencies to “delete information relating to PEAKS loans.” Borrowers will also get a notice that their debt has been discharged.

  • Attacking the Concept of Debt

    September 10, 2020

    Only a few years ago, Douglas Jones, who worked night shifts as a security guard at a nursing home in Roxbury, was hesitant to spend even $10 more than his typical budget allowed. Payments on his student loan debt were being withdrawn directly from his bank account. If the balance was short—for instance, if Jones hadn’t managed to get 40 hours at his job that week—the bank charged an overdraft fee...Along with millions of other Americans, Jones had fallen prey to the for-profit college industry, which is in essence a two-pronged system—federal loans at one end and for-profit schools designed to access those loans at the other...In 2016, Jones stumbled across an advertisement for the Project on Predatory Student Lending (PPSL) at Harvard Law School (HLS), and lawyers there helped him cancel his debt on the grounds that the Everest Institute had violated federal guidelines...Since its inception in 2012, PPSL has helped eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars of student-loan debt. HLS lecturer Toby Merrill, J.D. ’11, founded the project after seeing similarities between predatory-lending practices in subprime mortgages and for-profit colleges. She hoped tactics like those that lawyers used against the subprime mortgage industry—“litigating on behalf of individuals against underlying bad actors”—could be used against for-profit schools. PPSL does individual casework, but also pursues more systemic change: its “mission is to make it so that these schools can’t exist, that they can’t continue to perpetuate these predatory practices on students,” says Victoria Roytenberg, a senior attorney at PPSL. “We do that first and foremost with litigation; we do that in our work with policymakers and elected officials.” ...The for-profit college industry, explains Eileen Connor, PPSL’s legal director, preys on low-income and minority individuals, as well as single parents and veterans, for many of whom higher education seems like a distant dream. It is a relationship ripe for abuse, she says. When meeting with a for-profit college recruiter, few people realize they are dealing with a salesperson working on commission and thus are likely being taken advantage of, “because they’ve been conditioned over their entire lives to think education is something good and public-minded.”

  • For-Profit Colleges, Long Troubled, See Surge Amid Pandemic

    June 18, 2020

    In March, as colleges and universities shuttered campuses under a nationwide lockdown, Strayer University updated its website with a simple message: “Great things can happen at home.” Capella University, owned by the same company as Strayer, has run ads promoting its flexibility in “uncertain times” and promising would-be transfer students that they can earn a bachelor’s degree in as little as a year. Online for-profit colleges like these have seen an opportunity to increase enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic. Their flexible programs may be newly attractive to the many workers who have lost their jobs, to college students whose campuses are closed, and to those now seeking to change careers. The colleges’ parent companies often have substantial cash reserves that they can pump into tuition discounts and marketing at a time when public universities and nonprofit colleges are seeing their budgets disintegrate...Eileen Connor, the legal director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, said she was worried by the prospect of a resurgence for online, for-profit schools. “In times of economic downturn, that’s when the for-profit colleges start to thrive,” she said. Online colleges “have a running start, especially now, when there’s an economic downturn keeping people in their homes,” she added. “That is a perfect storm for the thing that they’re trying to do.” These schools often attract low-income, nontraditional college students who tend to have lower completion rates than those who enroll straight from high school and attend full time. Many have family pressures that interfere with study.

  • Muddied Picture for Defrauded Borrowers

    January 22, 2020

    Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives were able to pass a measure last week expressing opposition to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s borrower-defense rule. But because of politics and both ongoing and upcoming legal battles, the vote did little to clear up what will happen to students who are asking for their loans to be discharged because they were defrauded by colleges. Hardly clear are two questions: how to deal with the backlog of more than 200,000 borrowers, most of whom attended for-profit institutions, who’ve been waiting for the Education Department to process their requests for debt forgiveness. Also uncertain is how cases will be handled in the future. A new rule proposed by DeVos that would make it harder for borrowers to get relief is set to go into effect in July, but it will likely be challenged in the courts before then...Eileen Connor, legal director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, told The New York Times when the new proposal was announced that it would file a legal challenge. Meanwhile, a previous attempt by the Trump administration, in December 2017, to begin giving only partial relief was temporarily blocked in 2019 by a federal court, which ruled that the borrowers' privacy rights were violated because the department used their federal earnings data from the Social Security Administration. That case is still continuing, however.

  • Canceling student debt is easier than it sounds

    January 15, 2020

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has pledged to cancel up to $50,000 of debt for 95% of student loan borrowers if she is elected president. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., has proposed an even more generous plan if he's elected. Both are bold, controversial pitches that would have a hard time making it through a divided Congress. But on Tuesday, Warren announced she would use a little-known shortcut, and wouldn't need Congress. As president, she says, she could cancel the debts of tens of millions of student borrowers all on her own. It turns out, she's probably right...43 million student borrowers owe the U.S. government $1.5 trillion, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And until now, the department has only offered student loan forgiveness or cancellation to borrowers who meet certain criteria. "Maybe it's because they've been working in a public service position or because they become disabled or because they're saying that their school fundamentally cheated them," says Eileen Connor, legal director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. "Those pathways exist. And I think what Sen. Warren's proposal is pointing out is that there's also this freestanding power that the secretary of education has to cancel debts, not for those reasons, but really for any reason at all."

  • DeVos Tries Again to Cut Debt Relief for Students Who Were Misled

    December 11, 2019

    Thousands of students who took out federal loans to attend schools that lured them with fraudulent claims will still have to repay a portion of their debts, the Education Department said Tuesday — a new attempt to water down a loan-forgiveness program that the department’s leader has long deplored. The change creates a complicated sliding scale on which defrauded students’ relief is calculated using group earnings data. Debts will be fully forgiven only if students in a particular program earned far less than those from similar programs at other schools...An advocacy group that has represented borrowers in lawsuits against the Education Department said it would fight the new policy in court. “Under law, cheated students have the right to have their loans fully canceled,” said Eileen Connor, the legal director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

  • DeVos: Defrauded students may only get partial loan relief

    December 11, 2019

    Students who are cheated by their colleges will receive full loan forgiveness only if they end up earning far less than their peers, while others will receive relief between 25% and 75% of their debt under new rules unveiled Tuesday by the U.S. Education Department. The policy is a departure from the Obama administration, which provided full loan forgiveness in cases of fraud, and it marks the second time the Trump administration has attempted to provide only partial loan relief...The Project on Predatory Student Lending, a legal advocacy group based at Harvard University, said cheated students are entitled to full relief. “This partial denial scheme will force thousands of families to pay fraudulent debts that never should have existed in the first place. It shows that the Department of Education will stop at nothing to try to extract payments on invalid debts and deny students their rights under law,” said Eileen Connor, the group’s legal director.

  • Column: In Corinthian Colleges fiasco, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ actions define ‘contempt’

    November 1, 2019

    As is true of many legal concepts, “contempt of court” can be inexact in its definitions or implications. But that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her department’s treatment of thousands of students defrauded by the for-profit company Corinthian Colleges. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim in San Francisco on Oct. 24 slapped DeVos and her agency with a $100,000 sanction for civil contempt. ... “The sector feels like they’ve never had a better friend in the federal government than Betsy DeVos,” says Eileen Connor of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, who represents plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the Corinthian settlement.

  • DeVos tightens rules for forgiving student loans

    September 3, 2019

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday finalized rules that make it more difficult for federal student loan borrowers to cancel their debt on the grounds that their college defrauded them, scaling back an Obama-era policy aimed at abuses by for-profit colleges. The rules, which the Trump administration weighed for more than a year, set a more stringent standard for when the Education Department will wipe out the debt of borrowers who claim they were misled or deceived by their respective colleges...Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending — whose successful lawsuit last year forced DeVos to implement the Obama-era rules — vowed on Friday to bring a new legal challenge “in the coming days” to stop the latest regulations from taking effect. “If Betsy DeVos won’t do her job and stand up for students, then we will fill that void,” the organization’s legal director, Eileen Connor, said in a statement. “That is why we will be filing a suit challenge these harmful new regulations that give a green light to for-profit colleges to continue scamming students.”

  • Ed Dept. Wants Pause In Student Loan Suit To Stay In Place

    August 5, 2019

    The Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos are urging a California federal court not to lift a stay in a proposed class action over collection of student loans from former students of Corinthian College, saying the court should wait for the Ninth Circuit to decide on the government's appeal of an injunction order in the case...Eileen M. Connor of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, representing the students, said they are not swayed by the department's arguments. "The filing confirms that the department has repeatedly violated the court's injunction by putting student accounts back into repayment," Connor told Law360 on Tuesday. "This causes significant confusion and distress for former Corinthian students, who were told years ago that they are entitled to have their loans fully canceled. We are interested in proceeding as quickly as possible to resolve their legal claims."

  • At the US Education Department, applications for loan forgiveness languish

    August 5, 2019

    A federal judge ruled last year that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ delays of an Obama-era regulation aimed at forgiving the student debt of defrauded students were illegal. Still, advocates say, the department continues to neglect the applications of those like Marler. More than 180,000 claims for student debt forgiveness remain “pending” and no borrower has had their request approved or denied in more than a year.“The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos is just ignoring the claims,” said Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which is currently suing DeVos. “These people can’t plan for the future. “They’re losing faith in the government.” Nearly 900 former for-profit school students recently described the consequences of their education to the Project in written testimonies. Their stories make clear that a few years at a bad school can cast a shadow over the rest of someone’s life.