Back in Washington after seven weeks off, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown hosted a conference call with reporters on what options are available to students attending for-profit technical university ITT Technical Institutes.

On Tuesday ITT said it was permanently close all its campuses nationwide, including nine in Ohio. It’s blamed its shuttering on the recent action taken by the U.S. Education Department to ban the for-profit college operator from using federal financial aid to enroll new students.

Brown said he wished the Senate had better spent portions of the seven weeks off dealing with funding for the Zika virus or holding hearings on Merrick Garland, the supreme nominee from President Obama who Republicans have said no to, hoping for a nominee more to their liking next year from a possible President Donald Trump.

Sen. Brown was joined by Under Secretary of Education, Ted Mitchell, to discuss the outreach program by federal officials to alert the approximately 35,000 ITT students nationwide of their options going forward following the shuttering of ITT today. The first option is to decide to continue their education, then applying to transfer their credits to the many Ohio schools scrambling to make way for the some of the 3,200 ITT students in Ohio who may come their way soon.

Ohio’s share of the nationwide student debt for ITT students, based on the per capita share for all 35,000, amounts to about $45 million taxpayers might be liable for if all students choose to relieve their student debt load at once. Mr. Mitchell believes that will not happen.

In a direct reference to the scandals taking place in Ohio in the for-profit charter school industry, that have made Ohio the butt of national jokes on what a corrupt state system looks like, Sen. Brown said Ohioans know better than most states about the process that helps students get “filched” for education they pay for but don’t receive. Brown called what students were duped into buying as “worthless degrees..with limited job prospects..and lots of debt.” The action by the federal department of education, he said, will send a clear signal that fraudulent practices like this won’t be tolerated.

The effort now is to reach out to current students who have done nothing wrong, and instruct them on how to transfer their credits to Ohio schools, or apply to have their federal student loans discharged, for those who choose not to transfer to a similar or allied program. The options are left up to students to make, he said, emphasizing that ITT was a bad actor in the higher education industry that preyed on students, forcing them into bad jobs and a mountain of debt. One in eight higher education students, Mr. Mitchell said, attend for profit colleges. Ohio’s senior senator wants the officials of these institutional to be held personally accountable.

Mr. Mitchell said student credits can easily be redirected into similar or aligned programs, and based on his description of the feedback from a conference call that included Buckeye State institutions looking to capture some of these orphaned students and state officials. The second option is to apply to have their student debt relieved, a simple matter that only takes moments, Mitchell said, advertising the ease with which students can decide on a course of action and pursue it. All ITT students nationwide have been contacted and webinars will be offered at various times to ease the transition to an alternate life course. Mitchell said the response so far to reaching out to college officials has been “extraordinary positive…overwhelming.” Concerns about the flexibility of creditors were downplayed in light of a letter sent by the Higher Learning Commission, outlining the flexibility those institutions.

Mitchell said ITT will offer access to all student records, a requirement made by state authorizing agencies, and has been cooperative. Mitchell said the risk to students and others was so high that the decision was made to launch the outreach effort now instead of midterm, when ITT shuttering would have made students’ situations even worse. Mitchell said a delay of one or two months would have been far worse for students with the term already started. The undersecretary said profit and nonprofit schools close on a regular basis, emphasizing that the department intends to aggressively pursue bad actors. Brown said all borderline bad actors should heed what’s happened to ITT.

Mr. Mitchell said ITT federal student loan debt is about $500 million nationwide. Of that nationwide total, the debt level held by Ohio’s 3,200 ITT students totals approximately $45 million.

ITT posted a letter of credit for $90 million, Mitchell told reporters, but that probably won’t cover the total liability to taxpayers if all students applied to relief their federal student loan debt. Above and beyond what their assurrety calls for, to further reduce the burden on taxpayers, Mitchell said ITT resources would be applied to the debt gap. Ted Mitchell said he hopes not all students will decide not to continue their education by transferring to another institution of higher education.

Per the Dayton Daily News, current and former ITTTech students can find more information about continuing their education, applying for closed school loan discharges, retrieving student records at: studentaid.gov/ITT and by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID. U.S. Department of Education seminars for students are scheduled forWednesday at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Eastern time.

 

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