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For some ex-Corinthian Colleges students, loan forgiveness not enough

Officials at WyoTech, a Corinthian Colleges campus, talk to students on the day their campus shut down.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
Officials at WyoTech, a Corinthian Colleges campus, talk to students on the day their campus shut down in April.

Former students of the shuttered Corinthian College chain welcomed the U.S. Department of Education's announcement that they won't have to pay back federal loans, but some said that wasn’t enough.

“Discharging loans is a start. I don’t think they really truly understand how we feel as students,” said Isaac Barragan, who enrolled last year in an 18-month criminal justice program at Everest College in Ontario, one of the campuses run by Corinthian.

Barragan said he accumulated $20,000 in outstanding loans while attending Everest. When he started, his wife returned to work as a nurse, sometimes pulling 16-hour shifts to free him to attend classes and study, he said. It created a hardship with “a lot of sacrifice, a lot of headaches, a lot of tears” that he said went down the drain because he didn’t complete his degree.

Barragan is one of about 10,000 California students who were shut out of their campuses last April when for-profit, Santa Ana-based Corinthian Colleges closed more than two dozen schools. The company then filed for bankruptcy last month.

The bankruptcy followed action taken by federal officials to fine Corinthian $30 million for misrepresenting job placement data, one of the key pieces of information that makes a college attractive to students.

According to information on the Department of Education's website, students may be eligible for loan forgiveness if:

• They attended a Corinthian school that shut down on April 27, 2015.

• If students believe they were defrauded by their Corinthian school or that the school “otherwise engaged in actions that violated applicable state law — regardless of whether that school closed.”

Legal advocates hailed the federal loan forgiveness announcement, but they also criticized it for not going further.

“It’s good news both for the closed school students and it’s good news for many of the students who attended Heald Colleges,” said Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation lawyer Robyn Smith. “There are still thousands and thousands of students in California and throughout the country who were subjected to years of systemic, deceptive practices at Corinthian Colleges.”

Barragan’s dreams of higher education and his family’s sacrifices are not uncommon, Smith said. 

“I would like to see widespread, automatic federal loan discharges for all Corinthian students who were harmed by Corinthian’s fraud and I would like the federal government to take a harder look and do a better job of overseeing for-profit school institutions,” she said.

In an ongoing case, California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed charges against Corinthian Colleges alleging the company misrepresented job placement numbers and used illegal debt collection practices.

As the turmoil over his former college unfolds, Barragan has learned some lessons.

“I feel that I pretty much need to ask more questions, not really be too gullible about things,” he said.

He’s also learned that community college can be a place where he can fulfill his hope for a college education. He plans on signing up for classes at Rancho Cucamonga community college soon.

What Corinthian Students Need to Know

​• U.S. Department of Education: On Debt Relief

 California Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education: Updates for Corinthian Colleges students