Toby Merrill ’11, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, 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. 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. The full list and related tributes appear in the November 25, 2019 issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, November 15, and now at time.com/next.
TIME 100 Next says of Merrill: “Years before student debt would be widely considered a national crisis—Americans now owe a combined $1.6 trillion—Toby Merrill started using litigation to fight what she calls the ‘worst-of-the-worst student debt,’ the kind incurred by students who enrolled in predatory for-profit colleges that burdened them with debt and provided them with worthless degrees.”
Merrill has been a fierce advocate for students cheated by for-profit colleges since she founded the Project on Predatory Student Lending in 2012, and has since led the Project’s team of attorneys in winning groundbreaking court victories in landmark cases, protecting and advancing the rights of defrauded students—restoring critical Borrower Defense rights and, most recently, holding Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education in contempt for illegally collecting on students’ invalid loans in violation of a court order in one of the Project’s cases.
“It is an honor to be included on the TIME 100 Next with so many inspiring leaders and advocates,” Merrill said. “This recognition is really a testament to the hard work and bravery of so many student borrowers who have been willing to stand up for their rights and fight back, despite being repeatedly cheated and let down by their schools and their government. Our team and our clients will make student debt from predatory for-profit colleges history.”
Of the list, TIME editor in chief and CEO Edward Felsenthal writes, “When we first published our TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people 15 years ago, it was dominated by individuals who rose through traditional power structures: heads of state, CEOs of public companies, actors from big-budget blockbusters, leaders of global foundations. What has been striking about more recent editions is the growing number of individuals who did not need an establishment to command international attention—people like the Parkland, Fla., students (in 2018) and Greta Thunberg (in 2019). TIME has always been a barometer of influence—and the nature of influence is changing.”
The Project on Predatory Student Lending represents over one million former for-profit college students across the country. The Project, which is part of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, has cases against for-profit college companies, and against the Department of Education for enabling and supporting this predatory industry. Many of the Project’s clients are people of color, veterans, and immigrants. Most are the first in their family to attend college. The Project’s work supports its broader goals of economic justice and racial equality.