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Toby Merrill

  • Students who got partial loan relief to see full discharge

    March 22, 2021

    Students who were defrauded by their colleges and received only partial relief from their federal loans could now see them fully canceled, the Biden administration announced Thursday, reversing a Trump administration policy. The change could lead to $1 billion in loans being canceled for 72,000 borrowers, all of whom attended for-profit schools, the Education Department said...In addition to having their loans fully canceled, students will be reimbursed for any payments made on the loans and have their eligibility for federal student aid reinstated. The department said it also would ask credit bureaus to remove any negative ratings tied to the loans. “Abandoning partial relief is a strong start for a narrow subset of borrowers, but what we need from the Education Department is an overhaul of the current borrower defense process,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, which represents former for-profit college students. "The previous administration turned borrower defense into a total sham that was rigged to deny claims without any true consideration," Merrill said. "The Biden-Harris administration must now address these failings or else perpetuate a system that is stacked against the very students they are supposed to protect.”

  • Martha Minow and Emily Broad Leib

    COVID and the law: What have we learned?

    March 17, 2021

    The effect of COVID-19 on the law has been transformative and wide-ranging, but as a Harvard Law School panel pointed out on the one-year anniversary of campus shutdown, the changes haven’t all been for the worse.

  • 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.

  • For-profit colleges brace for reckoning in Biden era

    February 3, 2021

    After years of deregulation by the Trump administration, for-profit colleges are bracing for a major reckoning as consumer advocates and lawmakers pressure the Biden administration to take action. “For four years under President Trump and Secretary DeVos, the for-profit college industry had an outsized voice and influence at the Department of Education,” Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, told Yahoo Finance. “The Trump administration repeatedly sided with this predatory industry and against the very students our government is supposed to serve. That must end.” Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos loosened several Obama-era regulations intended to hold for-profit schools accountable, including rules based on whether their graduates were able to repay their student loans and how information about colleges was presented on department’s website.

  • How Biden Wants to Trim a Mountain of Student Debt

    January 27, 2021

    Among the economic issues facing the new Biden administration is how to help alleviate the weight of $1.7 trillion in student debt, a figure that had ballooned from $1 trillion in 2012. All but about $100 billion of that money is owed to the federal government by some 43 million people. President Joe Biden has said he supports a plan for Congressto cancel as much as $10,000 in debt for federal student borrowers, in part as a response to the pandemic. It’s a proposal that’s been welcomed by some, and called both too much and too little by others...What’s the argument in favor of the debt-canceling plan? That it would reduce stress on those who borrowed for school and give the economy a boost by allowing them to spend money that otherwise would have gone back to the government. The proposed amount of $10,000 per person would also deliver concentrated economic benefit to borrowers of color, according to Toby Merrill, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School. She said there are a disproportionate number of such borrowers in the group who would have their whole debt wiped out. It would remove their risk of future default, she said, adding that, “Many of these borrowers also happen to be among those most severely impacted by the coronavirus and our current economic crisis.”

  • Can Joe Biden forgive student debt without Congress? Here’s what the experts say

    November 23, 2020

    It’s a pressing question not just for higher-education experts and legal wonks. Tens of millions of Americans have a lot riding on the answer: Can the president forgive student debt without Congress? If the president was able to cancel student debt without passing legislation, in theory borrowers could see their balances reduced or eliminated overnight. On the other hand, the chances of Congress agreeing to forgive the loans is, at best, uncertain. Generally, Republicans are not in favor of debt forgiveness. For now, it’s also an open question if President-elect Joe Biden has interest in testing his presidential power in this way...During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren vowed to forgive student loans in the first days of her administration, including with her announcement an analysis written by three legal experts, based at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, who described such a move as “lawful and permissible.” Biden, however, has not gone as far...CNBC asked Toby Merrill, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, how she’d explain to a 15-year-old why she believes it’s within the president’s power to do so. “The Constitution gave Congress the authority to control property of the government, like debts owed to it,” she wrote. And Congress, Merrill said, granted the Secretary of Education, who works for the president, “the specific and unrestricted authority to create and to cancel or modify debt owed under federal student loan programs.”

  • Should the Biden administration cancel student debt? This guide might help you decide

    November 19, 2020

    If you’ve been on Twitter lately you may have heard that there’s a possibility that President-elect Joe Biden would cancel some student debt — and you likely saw a lot of back and forth about the idea. Following a speech on the economy Monday, Biden told reporters that student-debt cancellation “does figure in my plan,” after being asked about it. Indeed, on the campaign trail, Biden proposed cancelling $10,000 in student debt as a coronavirus relief measure. Still, he stopped short Monday of saying he would cancel the debt without the help of Congress...Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren have said that cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt is something Biden can and should do immediately. Their urging is based in part on a legal memo written by lawyers at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which notes: “The Higher Education Act gives the Secretary of Education the authority to cancel student-loan debt,” said Toby Merrill, the director of the Project and one of the memo’s authors. But even among those who support broad-based student-debt cancellation, there is some concern about doing it through executive action.

  • From student-loan forgiveness to targeting for-profit colleges, the Biden administration will aim to reverse many of Betsy DeVos’s education policies

    November 16, 2020

    When Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education nearly four years ago, Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie in the Senate, making her nomination for the post one of the most controversial in recent memory. Her history of philanthropy and advocacy promoting initiatives that provide public funding for education outside of the traditional public-school system — like charter schools and voucher programs — made her a lightening rod in education policy circles. Her tenure has been no different. Over the past four years the Department, under her direction, has made changes to policies on topics ranging from racial disparity in K-12 school discipline to the process by which scammed students can be made whole when their colleges are accused of fraud... “That’s really not going to be enough just to reverse course on what the Trump administration has been up to, for our clients,” said Toby Merrill, who represents former for-profit college students in litigation as the director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Lending. “No administration has ever really wrapped its arms around the wrong that’s been done by this industry and the harm that people have carried for so, so long,” she said. Merrill said she’d like to see a Biden administration wipe out these borrowers’ invalid debt as well as eliminate “the ability of these companies to create the debt in the first place.” Biden promised on the campaign trail to make it more difficult, though not impossible, for for-profit colleges to access the federal financial-aid program. Merrill said she’s optimistic that Senator Kamala Harris’ history with the sector — she obtained a $1.1 billion settlement with Corinthian Colleges, a defunct for-profit chain, over claims the school misled students about job placement rates and other metrics — will translate into an aggressive approach. “She knows how bad it was and how much people need relief,” Merrill said of Harris. “I’m hopeful that she will be especially well-positioned to make sure that people get that relief.”

  • Education Department unveils new loan forgiveness website, expert calls it ‘a distraction’

    November 16, 2020

    The Education Department (ED) has created a new website for borrowers who are seeking debt relief after being defrauded by a college. But one expert involved in litigating these borrower defense claims said the changes were mostly cosmetic. “Throughout this administration, what we've seen is the substitution of process for substance,” Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, told Yahoo Finance. “None of the actions that the department has undertaken has been providing relief to borrowers,” she added, “and that's the only thing that they need. I think this is a distraction — this is purposeful distraction.” The new website attempts to improve the borrower defense process, which involves former students of allegedly predatory schools seeking loan forgiveness...Overall, Merrill stressed, the website doesn’t address the root of the problem. “Right now our borrower defense mechanism doesn't work at all, so I still think people should have started there,” she said. “It's hardly the form of the application that is like the source of my concern.”

  • 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.”

  • Consumer Groups Take PayPal to Task Over Student Loan Credit Line

    August 24, 2020

    Students at some for-profit career schools could find themselves paying hefty interest charges when using a credit line offered by PayPal, a group of consumer watchdog groups warned this week. More than 150 small career schools and technical programs, most of which aren’t accredited and are loosely regulated, offer students the option to pay tuition using PayPal Credit, a digital credit line marketed by PayPal Holdings and issued by Synchrony Bank, the groups found. The line, similar to a credit card but without the plastic, currently has an interest rate of about 24 percent, and is typically promoted with a six month, no-interest period. Borrowers are charged interest retroactively if the entire balance isn’t paid by the end of the promotion, a feature known as “deferred interest,” the groups said in a letter to federal regulators...How should I evaluate a technical or career program Students should vet a program before borrowing to fund educational costs. “Any loan for a program of unknown quality is a potential problem,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center. Look for a school that is licensed by the state where it operates, and is accredited by an independent authority (such as one on the list of accreditors recognized by the federal Education Department).

  • Consumer Groups Take PayPal to Task Over Student Loan Credit Line

    August 21, 2020

    Students at some for-profit career schools could find themselves paying hefty interest charges when using a credit line offered by PayPal, a group of consumer watchdog groups warned this week. ... More than 150 small career schools and technical programs, most of which aren’t accredited and are loosely regulated, offer students the option to pay tuition using PayPal Credit, a digital credit line marketed by PayPal Holdings and issued by Synchrony Bank, the groups found. ... Students should vet a program before borrowing to fund educational costs. “Any loan for a program of unknown quality is a potential problem,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center.

  • A straw hat with sunglasses on top of a pile of books on the sand, illustration of clouds, birds, and water in the background.

    Harvard Law faculty summer book recommendations

    July 30, 2020

    Looking for something to add to your summer book list? HLS faculty share what they’re reading.

  • Connections: Toby Merrill on the plight of student loan debt and predatory lending

    July 20, 2020

    Brighton graduate Toby Merrill was named to Time Magazine's list of the "100 Next." That's because Merrill has been a leader in the fight against predatory for-profit colleges and institutions. As student debt piled past one trillion dollars, Merrill launched a plan to combat what she calls the "worst-of-the-worst student debt." Merrill is the founder and director of Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Student Lending. Her team represents thousands of former students who have been fleeced and lied to, often ending up with piles of debt and worthless degrees. One of her most recent cases named Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as a defendant. We discuss the plight of student loan debt, the worst offenders, and why the industry is still so profitable. Our guest: Toby Merrill, founder and director of Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Student Lending.

  • Federal judge orders Department of Education to cancel loans for 7,200 students

    June 29, 2020

    A federal judge has ordered US Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to cancel the student loan debt of more than 7,200 Massachusetts students who attended Everest Institute, part of Corinthian Colleges’ defunct national chain of for-profit schools, capping a prolonged legal battle. In a 73-page decision, US District Judge Leo T. Sorokin ruled that the Department of Education must approve a 2015 application by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey seeking a discharge of the students’ federal loans based on allegations of widespread illegal conduct and deception by Corinthian. The order also applies to Parent Plus loans obtained on the students’ behalf. “Thousands of Massachusetts students cheated by Corinthian have finally had their day in court, and they have won,” Healey said in a statement Friday. “This landmark victory for students will cancel the federal loans for thousands of defrauded borrowers, mostly Black and Latinx students, targeted by a predatory for-profit school and abandoned by Secretary DeVos and the Trump Administration. For five years, our office and the Project on Predatory Student Lending have fought to win students the relief they deserve and today we have won decisively.” ...The ruling was issued in a case the Project on Predatory Student Lending Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School had filed on behalf of five students who had attended Everest Institute, which had campuses in Brighton and Chelsea. It went bankrupt in 2015 after running afoul of state and federal regulators. In his ruling, Sorokin granted the plaintiffs’ request for class-action status, expanding his order to include more than 7,200 students who attended the school. “This ruling is a clear and powerful statement of the rights of student borrowers, and a resounding rejection of the Department of Education’s ongoing and across-the-board refusal to recognize these rights and cancel fraudulent student loans,” said Toby Merrill, who directs the Project on Predatory Student Lending.

  • Scammed borrowers sue Betsy DeVos, alleging she illegally limited student-loan cancellation

    June 10, 2020

    Students who’ve been scammed by their schools are being illegally cheated again — this time out of the loan cancellation that they’re entitled to, a new lawsuit alleges. A group of student-loan borrowers filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday accusing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department of illegally limiting the amount of relief student-loan borrowers who were misled by their schools receive...In some cases, borrowers who the agency agrees were lured by false promises into taking on high levels of student-loan debt are having just 10% of their loan balances cancelled, the lawsuit alleges. The borrower defense rule is “supposed to be about cancelling debt and providing appropriate relief to people who have been cheated,” said Toby Merrill, the director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which is representing the students. The partial relief version of the rule that the Department of Education is currently using is “so clearly not designed for that,” Merrill said...A borrower only receives full debt relief if the median earnings of their program is in the lowest 2.5% of comparable programs. “This formula was engineered to give the least possible relief to borrowers,” Merrill said. By solely using similar programs as a basis for comparison, the rule uses as a metric the earnings of other mostly for-profit college students who may have been subject to similar harm, Merrill said. “If the truth is there was pervasive wrongdoing and misrepresentation, the fact that everyone was lied to doesn’t excuse that,” Merrill said. In addition, the rule fails to take into account other factors that would be key to determining whether a borrower was harmed by their school, including the amount they borrowed. The focus on earnings, is “trying to measure a sense of economic security or well-being,” Merrill said. “That of course depends on other things, but most obviously relevant here, is how much debt you have.”

  • Portrait of Sejal_Singh in front of rose bushes

    Sejal Singh wins the 2020 David Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award

    May 20, 2020

    Sejal Singh ’20 is the recipient of the David Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award. She was recognized for her work on the Project on Predatory Student Lending, as well as her exemplary contributions to public-interest endeavors.

  • Why did the CARES Act give more money to hair schools than to a community college?

    May 20, 2020

    After $14 billion was set aside for higher education in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Houston Community College and the Paul Mitchell Schools both got financial relief. The Houston college, a public institution with nearly 60,000 students, received $28.3 million. The for-profit hair and cosmetology schools received $30.5 million, despite serving only 20,000 students. The CARES Act money was meant to help low-income students and the schools that serve them. An NBC News analysis found, however, that for-profit schools got proportionally more money from the aid package than the nation’s community colleges, which serve the majority of the country’s low-income students, often at a much lower cost...Florida Career College, a for-profit vocational and trade school, is slated to receive more than $17.3 million in CARES Act funds. But a lawsuit filed in April accuses the school of targeting black students with high-pressure tactics that left them deeply in debt. Only one of the school’s 17 programs passes the federal measure of whether what graduates earn can cover their loans and basic needs, according to a class-action suit filed by Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending. After graduating, students able to find jobs in the area they studied earn between $9,000 and $33,000, the lawsuit claims. “I don’t think the government should be giving taxpayer dollars to companies whose business model is cheating students,” Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, said.

  • Students Call College That Got Millions In Coronavirus Relief ‘A Sham’

    May 11, 2020

    A for-profit college received millions of dollars from the federal government to help low-income students whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak, but that same school, Florida Career College (FCC), is also accused of defrauding students. A federal class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of students in April calls FCC "a sham" and alleges that, long before the pandemic, the college was targeting economically vulnerable people of color. The plaintiffs say the vocational school enticed them with false promises of career training and job placement — but spent little on instruction while charging exorbitant prices and pushing students into loans they cannot repay. The lawsuit comes as thousands of colleges across the country are receiving federal emergency relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Through the CARES Act, FCC has been allotted $17 million. The law requires that at least half of that money goes directly to students, but makes few stipulations for the rest of it...The complaint alleges that Florida Career College, along with its parent company, specifically targets economically vulnerable people of color. "They are recruiting at majority Black high schools," says Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, one of the organizations representing the plaintiffs. "They are putting up billboards in towns where the population is mostly Black. And they're doing a lot of advertising on social media where you can choose to target your ad essentially by race."

  • DeVos Reaches Settlement in Lawsuit Over Loan Relief Program

    April 13, 2020

    The U.S. Education Department is promising to process student loan forgiveness claims for nearly 170,000 borrowers within 18 months as part of a proposed settlement announced Friday in a federal lawsuit. The suit alleges that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally stalled a program known as borrower defense to repayment, which promises to forgive federal student loans for borrowers who are cheated by their colleges. When the lawsuit was filed in June 2019, it had been a year since the department issued a final decision on any claim. Most of the borrowers awaiting decisions attended for-profit colleges, and some have been waiting more than four years for a decision. Under the settlement, DeVos admits no wrongdoing but promises to issue decisions on all pending claims within 18 months, and to cancel debt for approved claims within 21 months...If the agency fails to decide a claim within 18 months, officials must cancel 30% of debt for every month they're overdue. And if the agency garnishes students' wages or takes their tax refunds while they're awaiting a decision, it must discharge 80% of the debt. “This settlement is a very important step that will allow them to finally get a decision and move forward," said said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University, which represented the plaintiffs. "The Department of Education’s refusal to cancel these loans quickly and in their entirety is a stain on the federal student loan program.”

  • University of Phoenix settlement ‘drop in the bucket’ for student debt, advocates say

    December 13, 2019

    Advocates for students and veterans lauded a record $191 million settlement reached in a case against one of the country’s largest for-profit college chains this week as an important step forward in protecting students, but said the compensation was “a drop in the bucket” compared to the total debt borrowers owe. ... Toby Merrill, the director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, said federal student loans were "by far the largest component of debt created" by for-profit schools. "Unfortunately, because such enforcement actions are directed against the school, they don't directly cancel the loan debt," she said.

  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls out new method for approving student debt relief claims

    December 11, 2019

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is doubling down on a controversial policy of granting partial debt relief to students defrauded by their colleges, despite ongoing legal challenges and a congressional inquiry...A federal judge in May 2018 blocked DeVos’s first attempt to cancel only a portion of the debt amassed by a group of former Corinthian Colleges students, ruling that the department violated federal laws in the way it used earnings data from the Social Security Administration...The Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University, a legal aid group representing the Corinthian students, has argued that any partial relief formula is illegal under the 1995 debt relief statute that entitles defrauded students to full loan cancellation. Toby Merrill, director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending, said the formula is also an arbitrary way to grant loan forgiveness. “It still has the same problem of geographic incoherence, timing incoherence,” Merrill said. “What people earn all over the country is so different, so these averages are just going to produce statistically, mathematically nonsensical results as applied to individuals, and really don’t measure the harm they’ve endured.”

  • Betsy DeVos And The High-Stakes Standoff Over Student Loan Forgiveness

    November 18, 2019

    The U.S. Department of Education agreed to hand over department records late Thursday to Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House education committee, just hours before Scott was set to subpoena Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for the records. The information relates to the Education Department’s unwillingness to fully forgive the federal student loans of borrowers who say they were defrauded by for-profit colleges, including the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. ... “Our clients aren’t asking the government for a handout or a bailout. They’re asking the government to follow the existing law,” says Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School. The group filed the lawsuit that includes Davis.

  • Betsy DeVos And The High-Stakes Standoff Over Student Loan Forgiveness

    November 15, 2019

    The U.S. Department of Education agreed to hand over department records late Thursday to Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House education committee, just hours before Scott was set to subpoena Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for the records. The information relates to the Education Department's unwillingness to fully forgive the federal student loans of borrowers who say they were defrauded by for-profit colleges, including the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. ... "Our clients aren't asking the government for a handout or a bailout. They're asking the government to follow the existing law," says Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School. The group filed the lawsuit that includes Davis.

  • Portrait of Toby Merrill

    Toby Merrill ’11 named to the TIME 100 Next list

    November 15, 2019

    Toby Merrill '11, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, has been named to the first-ever TIME 100 Next list, an expansion of the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world.

  • TIME 100 Next 2019: Toby Merrill

    November 14, 2019

    TIME named Toby Merrill, founder and Director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, to the first-ever TIME 100 Next, a new expansion of the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. The list highlights 100 rising stars who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, health, science and activism, and more. Others on the TIME 100 Next list include Pete Buttigieg, Kyrsten Sinema, Aly Raisman and more.

  • Forgiveness in an age of ‘justified resentments’

    November 8, 2019

    Dehlia Umunna remembered seeing the fear. “His eyes were dark,” Umunna recalled. “And he was close to tears. And he looked at me and said, ‘Will I be going to jail and will I be going to jail for a very long time?’” “He was shaking,” she said. “I looked over at his mom and his mom was shaking. She was nervous. She was holding the hands of her 13-year-old boy.” Umunna, a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School and deputy director of the Criminal Justice Institute, subsequently learned that the boy, who suffered from bipolar disorder and ADHD, had been surreptitiously videotaped playing video games in his living room wearing only his underwear. By the time he arrived at school the next day, the video had been posted online, where it had been seen by 300 of his peers, who proceeded to tease him. Frustrated and angry, he was heard to say, “I understand why the Parkland shooter did what he did.” ...“And as I looked over the case, I said to myself, this is exactly what [Prof.] Martha [Minow]’s book talks about,” she recalled. “This is a prime example of where we should nudge the courts and the decision-makers to exercise forgiveness.”...Umunna’s comments came during a panel discussion of “When Should Law Forgive?”, a new book by Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor and former dean of HLS. The book explores the complicated intersection of the law, justice, and forgiveness, asking whether the law should encourage people to forgive, and when courts, public officials, and specific laws should forgive. In addition to Umunna and Minow, panelists included Carol Steiker ’86, the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law and co-director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program; Toby Merrill ’11, an HLS lecturer on law and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending; and Homi K. Bhabha

  • Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor

    Forgiveness in an age of ‘justified resentments’

    November 6, 2019

    At a recent Harvard Law School Library book event, Martha Minow and panelists discussed her recent release, "When Should Law Forgive?", which explores the complicated intersection of the law, justice, and forgiveness.

  • Students Suing Dept. Of Education Over Loan Relief Win Cert.

    November 1, 2019

    Former students who say they were defrauded by now-defunct, for-profit colleges can take on the U.S. Department of Education as a class in a suit alleging the agency is slow-rolling their loan forgiveness applications, a California federal judge ruled Wednesday. U.S. District Judge William Alsup certified a class that could encompass more than 150,000 borrowers who applied for loan relief but haven't gotten a decision yet from the Education Department. ... Toby Merrill, the director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending, which is part of Harvard Law School's Legal Services Center, told Law360 on Thursday that the student borrowers his organization is representing in the case are happy with the judge's decision. "These borrowers, the vast majority of whom attended for-profit schools, were cheated by their schools, and then ignored by their government," Merrill said. "This lawsuit asks the court to force Secretary DeVos to follow existing law, to stop ignoring borrowers' rights to loan cancellation, and to allow these people to go on with their lives."

  • Collecting on debts

    October 31, 2019

    A federal judge held U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in contempt of court last week for billing thousands of students who were victims of education fraud. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim on Thursday said the Department of Education continued to collect money from former students of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges despite a May 2018 court order to stop. The San Francisco judge fined the department $100,000 and required detailed monthly reporting to verify future compliance. “The judge is sending a loud and clear message,” said Toby Merrill, director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which helped file the suit. “Students have rights under the law, and DeVos’ illegal and reckless violation of their rights will not be tolerated.”

  • Judge teaches Education Secretary Betsy DeVos a lesson

    October 28, 2019

    There are so many outrages to keep track of with the Trump administration, so many officials determined to gut the very departments they lead, that it’s hard to keep up. For example, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos still exists. Did you forget that or, like me, wish you could? This particular fox continues to guard a henhouse crammed with students battling soaring debts, a crushing burden that harms the entire economy. Luckily, the judiciary also still exists, and it is not yet completely stacked with underqualified Trump toadies. On Thursday evening, a federal judge in San Francisco held DeVos in contempt and slapped her department with a $100,000 fine for continuing to squeeze victims of shady for-profit colleges to pay back their loans after she had been ordered to stop. ... The Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School sued, and that was supposed to freeze collections. Except the department continued to put the squeeze on 16,000 students, even garnishing some of their wages and tax refunds. “They have been cheated and lied to by both the schools and the government,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project. The Department said billing the students had been an innocent mistake, and that they have returned the payments.

  • Betsy DeVos Is Held in Contempt Over Judge’s Order on Loan Collection

    October 25, 2019

    A federal judge on Thursday fined Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for contempt of court, ruling that she had violated an order to stop collecting on loans owed by students from a now-defunct for-profit chain of colleges. ...The decision stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 by the Project on Predatory Student Lending of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School and the group Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, both of which represent former Corinthian students. For more than a year, the students’ lawyers argued that Ms. DeVos had illegally punished thousands of cheated students who were owed relief from the federal government. Toby Merrill, director of the project, said that the ruling demonstrated “the extreme harm” of Ms. DeVos’s actions. “Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the law to collect for-profit college students’ debts and deny their rights, and today she has been held accountable,” she said.

  • Education Secretary Betsy Devos ‘Repeatedly and Brazenly Violated the Law,’ Held in Contempt of Court Over Student Loan Scandal

    October 25, 2019

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was held in contempt of court and the Education Department must pay a $100,000 fine after a federal judge ruled it failed to stop collecting student loans on a now-defunct college. The rare rebuke came after U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim was "astounded" to discover that DeVos and her department continued to chase more than 16,000 former students from the bankrupt Corinthian Colleges Inc. for funds allegedly owed earlier this month despite a 2018 order to stop. ...In an interview with Newsweek prior to this week's hearing, Harvard lawyer Toby Merrill said that such a finding would be inevitable as there was "no factual question" that DeVos violated the 2018 order. Merrill is the director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University who brought about the class action suit on behalf of 80,000 affected students against the Education Department. ..."Taking this rare and powerful action to hold the Secretary of Education in contempt of court shows the extreme harm Betsy DeVos' actions have caused students defrauded by for-profit colleges," she said. "Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the law to collect for-profit college students' debts and deny their rights, and today she has been held accountable.  

  • Local organization working to eliminate student debt from for-profit colleges

    October 22, 2019

    You've probably seen the ads. “They have spiffy marketing machines that are really good at drawing people in,” says Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard's Legal Services Center. “So, of course people see those ads and think that it's a good opportunity, that's what they're meant to make you think.” Merrill is talking about for-profit colleges. She warns many for-profit schools fail to deliver on the promises they advertise. “What the schools are telling people is that they're providing high quality state of the art training, often times like vocational hands on learning,” explains Merrill. “And either when students enroll they find out that's not true, or often it's even after they leave the school and find out their degree isn't valued by employers.” Merrill says graduates of for-profit colleges are often saddled with a worthless degree, and massive debt.

  • Politico Morning Edition: Students Loans

    September 20, 2019

    ... The Education Department is refunding some student loan payments made by thousands of borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges. A federal judge last year had ordered it to stop collecting on the debt amid an ongoing class action lawsuit. ... Toby Merrill, director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which represents the Corinthian borrowers in the case, blasted the Trump administration for “an illegal and unacceptable breach of a court order that students won.”

  • Student loan borrowers who say they were defrauded sue Betsy DeVos for failing to cancel their debt

    July 2, 2019

    More than 150,000 former students of for-profit colleges filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, claiming the agency is depriving them of the student debt relief to which they’re legally entitled. The plaintiffs, represented by Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending and Housing & Economic Rights Advocates, accuse the Department of Education under DeVos of failing to implement an Obama-era regulation known as “borrower defense, ” which allows students to have their federal student loans cancelled if their school misled them or engaged in other misconduct. “The law is clear: Students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place,” said Toby Merrill, director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

  • Betsy DeVos strikes out — in court

    March 22, 2019

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempts to swiftly roll back major Obama-era policies at her agency are hitting a roadblock: federal courts. Judges have rebuffed DeVos’ attempts to change Obama policies dealing with everything from student loan forgiveness to mandatory arbitration agreements to racial disparities in special education programs. ... “It speaks to the Department of Education’s unwillingness or inability to follow the basic law around how federal agencies conduct themselves,” said Toby Merrill, who directs the Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which has brought some of the lawsuits against DeVos. Every administration has wins and losses in court, Merrill said, but most have done better at making sure they follow the legal rules of the road for rulemaking. “At the very least, they cross their Ts and dot their Is and therefore are less vulnerable to some of the procedural challenges that have been the undoing of so many of this Department of Education’s policies,” she said.

  • What happens to students when private colleges close in Arizona?

    January 7, 2019

    Marta Villanueva enrolled in a culinary program at the Art Institute of Phoenix as a way to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety after leaving the Army.  She used GI Bill benefits to pay for classes, which began in mid-2017. She dreamed of opening a business one day. But the school closed in December, leaving Villanueva out the time and money, and unsure how, or if, she’ll get her GI Bill benefits reinstated. ...But the contraction in private, mostly for-profit colleges isn't only a recent phenomenon, said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School. There's a long-term, boom-and-bust cycle that runs counter to unemployment numbers, Merrill said.

  • Former ITT Tech students get $600M in debt relief from bankruptcy judge

    December 13, 2018

    While the bankruptcy fight over failed for-profit educator ITT Educational Services continues, the biggest group involved in the legal battle has scored a big victory. In late November, a federal bankruptcy judge in Indianapolis gave final approval to a $600 million settlement that will affect about 750,000 former students of ITT Technical Institute. ... The group of students filed their claims against ITT in bankruptcy court in January 2017. They were represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School and the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP. ...“This settlement has done more for the cheated students of predatory for-profit colleges than [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos has done in her entire administration,” Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill said in a written statement. “At a time when students are being ignored by their government, ITT students stood up to this predatory college themselves and secured the relief they are owed. Now it’s time for Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to do the right thing and cancel the billions of dollars in remaining fraudulent federal loans.”

  • For-profit college closes operations, surprising students

    December 6, 2018

    One of the nation's largest for-profit college chains announced Wednesday that it was abruptly closing in dozens of locations nationwide, after its accrediting agency suspended approval. Birmingham, Alabama-based Education Corp. of America said it was closing schools operating as Virginia College, Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute and Golf Academy of America in more than 70 locations in 21 states. The company said in October that it had more than 20,000 students, although more recent documents indicate the number may be closer to 15,000...Toby Merrill, who directs the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, said students can ask the U.S. Department of Education to cancel loans if a school closes. However, that opportunity doesn't apply if a student transfers credits or if a school hires a successor to offer students classes to complete their programs.

  • ITT Tech students score victory in bankruptcy settlement

    November 29, 2018

    As creditors of ITT Educational Services fight over the remaining assets of the defunct for-profit college operator, one group has secured a significant victory in the bankruptcy proceedings: former students...In the meantime, ITT’s estate has notified students who are eligible for the debt cancellation, according to the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, a legal aid group that worked with the law firm Jenner & Block to represent the students. “This settlement does more for the cheated students of predatory for-profit colleges than [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos has done in her entire administration,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending. “At a time when students are being ignored by their government, ITT students stood up to this predatory college themselves and secured the relief they are owed.”

  • Borrowers Face Hazy Path as Program to Forgive Student Loans Stalls Under Betsy DeVos

    November 13, 2018

    The students attended institutions with pragmatic names like the Minnesota School of Business and others whose branding evoked ivy-draped buildings and leafy quads, like Corinthian Colleges. Tens of thousands of them say they are alike in one respect: They were victims of fraud, left with useless degrees and crushing debts. Now the government program meant to forgive the federal loans of cheated students has all but stopped functioning...“This rule is only as good as the administration’s intent to implement it,” said Toby Merrill, the director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which has represented dozens of borrowers in lawsuits against schools and the Education Department.

  • Defrauded Students Win Class Certification in Lawsuit Against DeVos

    October 16, 2018

    More than 100,000 students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges can team up to sue Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for rolling back Obama-era rules that provided full debt forgiveness, a federal judge ruled Monday. U.S. District Judge Sallie Kim certified a nationwide class of approximately 110,000 students who claim the Education Department improperly used their private data to create a new Average Earnings rule that forces students to pay off at least some loan debt. “It’s a recognition by the court that in fact this whole group of people was affected in the same way,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Toby Merrill, with the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

  • Defrauded students inch closer to victory in DeVos lawsuit

    September 19, 2018

    A federal judge has ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ move to ease protections for former students of for-profit colleges should be reversed, handing a victory to those who said they were defrauded by their schools...Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University, which is representing the students, hailed the decision. “Students are continuing to push back and win against the department’s unfair and corrupt policies,” Merrill said. “We are one step closer to these important provisions taking effect.”

  • Defrauded student loan borrowers in limbo in wake of judge’s ruling

    September 17, 2018

    A tug-of-war between student borrowers hoping to get tens of thousands of dollars in loans they took out for their education discharged and the government may be a step closer to resolution. A federal judge ruled this week that repeated delays by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of an Obama administration plan to provide debt relief to defrauded borrowers was unlawful..."We think this is an incredibly important ruling both for cheated student loan borrowers and anyone who cares about the government under the rule of law instead of under the thumb of a predatory, for-profit college industry," said Toby Merrill, director of the Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Student Lending.

  • Federal court rules against DeVos in for-profit fraud case

    September 14, 2018

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ move to delay Obama-era protections for students defrauded by for-profit colleges was dealt a setback when a federal judge found her actions to be “arbitrary and capricious.”...Toby Merrill, a litigator at Harvard University’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which represents defrauded students, hailed the decision as “a huge a rebuke to the department. It’s a really big deal, it’s an incredibly important win for student borrowers and really for anyone who cares about having a government that operates under the rule of law as opposed to as a pawn of industry,” Merrill said.

  • Judge strikes down DeVos attempt to weaken rule for scammed student loan borrowers

    September 14, 2018

    The efforts by Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education to stymie an Obama-era rule surrounding for-profit colleges just hit a major roadblock. A district court judge ruled Wednesday evening that the multiple attempts by the Department to delay the regulation, known as the borrower defense rule, don’t have basis in law. The decision came as part of litigation brought on behalf of borrowers by Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization and Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending. The ruling also addresses similar litigation brought by 19 states attorneys general challenging the Department’s efforts to slow implementation of the rule. “This is not the first time, but it’s a really, really important time that we’ve gotten the Department’s illegal attempts to deny people their rights struck down,” said Toby Merrill, the director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending.