CFPB Penalizes Bridgepoint Over Private Loans

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sanctioned Bridgepoint Education, owner of Ashford University, for "deceiving students into taking out private student loans that cost more than advertised," the federal watchdog agency said Monday.

The CFPB ordered Bridgepoint to discharge all outstanding institutional loans made to its students and to refund loan payments made by borrowers -- a total of $23.5 million in payments to 1,277 affected students. The company also must pay an $8 million civil fine. The penalties are among the largest the young agency, which the Obama administration created, has levied in higher education so far.

Beginning in 2009, Bridgepoint offered private loans to its students. The bureau said the publicly traded for-profit deceived students about the total cost of loans by telling them the wrong monthly repayment amount. The CFPB's sanctions include a requirement that Bridgepoint use a newly created financial aid disclosure tool with its students, which includes personalized financial aid information as well student outcomes data such as graduation and loan default rates, potential salaries for graduates and postgraduation budgeting.

In a written statement, Bridgepoint said the CFPB identified only one problem area with the loan program -- that employees of the company may have verbally told students that loans could be paid in installments as low as $25 per month, when the actual payments may have been higher.

"While Bridgepoint maintains that its institutions acted in good faith and provided all appropriate tools and disclosures for the loan programs," the company said, "Bridgepoint chose to negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution in order to move forward and allow its institutions to focus on students."

Pence Weighs In on ITT Tech's Collapse

Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana and Donald Trump's running mate, on Friday called on the federal government to help veterans of the U.S. military who attended the now-closed ITT Tech, Politico reported. Pence wrote to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ask for the restoration of GI Bill benefits for ITT students.

"Our veterans are being unfairly punished due to lack of flexibility in the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which does not take into account such situations, such as this recent closure, that are of no fault to the students," he wrote. "We cannot allow this to stand."

Also last week, Pence criticized the White House's stance on for-profits. "ITT Tech's situation is due in part to the Obama administration's overregulation, which is sadly killing jobs nationwide," his spokeswoman told the Indianapolis Star.

Directory of Programs to Help ITT Students

The collapse of ITT Tech has many students scrambling for programs and many colleges reaching out to these students. Chegg has created a directory of such colleges, with information about what they are offering ITT students. The database is searchable by state or by proximity to an ITT campus.

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Minnesota Looks to Close 2 For-Profit Institutions

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education revoked authorization to operate from the for-profit Globe University and the Minnesota School of Business last week, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

A judge ruled that the for-profit schools committed marketing and recruiting fraud for their criminal justice programs.

The state agency will now attempt to offer teach-out plans and options for the approximately 1,700 students enrolled on the campuses.

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Win for Ashford in Fight Over GI Bill Eligibility

Iowa's Department of Education last week dropped its opposition to a request by Ashford University for more time to resolve a challenge to the for-profit university's eligibility to receive students' Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, according to an email the company distributed to employees on Thursday. The Iowa agency will not decide whether to withdrawal Ashford's GI Bill eligibility until after a judge rules on a lawsuit the university filed to prevent that action, said Staci Hupp, a spokeswoman for the department.

The university enrolls roughly 6,250 military and veteran students. In May the Iowa agency ruled that Ashford would need to register in California, where the for-profit is now based, to continue its GI Bill eligibility. Ashford sued to block the move, citing its continuing presence in Iowa. The company also released emails from an Iowa official, which it secured as part of a lawsuit, in which the official said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and two California agencies had improperly meddled in Iowa's decision to terminate Ashford's eligibility.

Ashford's CEO, Andrew S. Clark, said in the Thursday email that the Iowa agency's decision means the university will be able to continue accepting GI Bill benefits for the "full length of time" needed to resolve the legal dispute. "We anticipate that this process, and related court proceedings, could take approximately 10 months to complete," he said.

Hupp said the goal of the agency's decision last week was to "make sure that veterans receive their tuition benefits without interuption."

ITT Tech Facing Lawsuits From Employees

ITT Technical Institutes is now facing multiple lawsuits from employees who allege they were not warned before the institution announced its closure Tuesday, according to The Indianapolis Star.

The lawsuits allege that the for-profit chain, which employed about 8,000 people, violated the federal Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification Act. That law requires a notice of 60 days before mass layoffs and affects employers with more than 100 employees and business sites with more than 50 workers.

ITT announced its closure Tuesday following the U.S. Department of Education's decision to ban the for-profit from accepting new students who receive federal student loans.

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BREAKING: All ITT Campuses Will Close

All ITT Tech campuses will be shut down, its parent company announced today.

"It is with profound regret that we must report that ITT Educational Services Inc. will discontinue academic operations at all of its ITT Technical Institutes permanently after approximately 50 years of continuous service. With what we believe is a complete disregard by the U.S. Department of Education for due process to the company, hundreds of thousands of current students and alumni and more than 8,000 employees will be negatively affected," said a statement from the company.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education prohibited ITT Educational Services, the parent company of ITT Technical Institutes, from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid. At the time, U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said that "looking at all of the risk factors, it's clear we need to increase financial protection, and it wouldn't be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds."

A few days later, the California Department of Consumer Affairs' Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education issued an emergency decision demanding ITT Educational Services stop accepting new students at its 15 California locations.

Since then, ITT Technical Institute posted a new landing page on its website that states, "We are not enrolling new students." The website also says credits earned by current students are "unlikely to transfer."

The apparent demise of ITT has had students scrambling and trying to figure out their options. The chain has about 45,000 students at 130 campuses.

In blocking new students from enrolling, the Education Department cited the actions of ITT's accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which determined that ITT "is not in compliance and is unlikely to become in compliance with [ACICS] accreditation criteria." According to the department, ACICS questioned ITT's compliance with standards such as financial stability, management, record keeping, admissions, recruitment standards, retention, job placement and institutional integrity, in an Aug. 17 letter sent to the department.

Critics of for-profit higher education have praised the Education Department's stance. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, at the time of the Education Department action, compared ITT to the Corinthian chain, which collapsed amid federal and state scrutiny. “For too long, ITT Tech and its executives have gotten rich off taxpayers while misleading and taking advantage of their students with Corinthian-style deceptive and abusive practices,” said Durbin. “Today, the Department of Education announced strong action to help prevent additional students from being harmed and more taxpayer dollars from being wasted on this company faltering under the weight of its own wrongdoing. I strongly commend Secretary King and the department. Students should be warned: ITT Tech is not a smart choice for your educational future.”

But ITT's statement today cited criticism of the department, such as a Wall Street Journal editorial that called the agency's action "a for-profit execution" that demonstrated "how to kill a company without proving a single allegation."

In a note to ITT students on the Education Department's website today, Secretary King sought to lay blame for the closure on ITT, not the department. "The school’s decisions have put its students and millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded federal student aid at risk," King wrote. "Ultimately, we made a difficult choice to pursue additional oversight in order to protect you, other students, and taxpayers from potentially worse educational and financial damage in the future if ITT was allowed to continue operating without increased oversight and assurances to better serve students."

King informed students that they have the option of seeking to have their federal loans discharged or of transferring and continuing their educations elsewhere. "Restarting or continuing your education at a high-quality, reputable institution may feel like a setback today, but odds are it will pay off in the long run," he wrote.

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Accreditation Trouble for ITT's Daniel Webster College

Daniel Webster College's regional accreditor last week told the small college, which the troubled ITT Educational Services owns, that it has reason to believe Daniel Webster may not meet accreditation standards and must "show cause" about why its approval should not be removed at a meeting later this month.

ITT, which is facing a raft of state and federal investigations as well as financial problems, recently froze all new enrollment after losing access to federal aid for new students. Roughly 45,000 students attend the for-profit chain's 130 campuses. Daniel Webster, which ITT bought in 2009 for about $40 million, enrolls 740 students at its campus in New Hampshire.

Clinton Names For-Profit Critic to Transition Team

Hillary Clinton has named Rohit Chopra, the former student loans ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to her campaign's transition team. 

Chopra brings both experience in the higher ed sector and progressive bona fides to the campaign. He was one of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's first hires at the agency, where he was a frequent opponent of the for-profit industry and student loan servicers. Politico first reported the appointment.

Since January, Chopra has served as a special adviser to Education Secretary John King, working on higher education. He worked at the Center for American Progress between stints at the CFPB and Department of Education.

Previously, Clinton adviser Ann O'Leary had been the only person named to the transition team with a background in education policy. 

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ITT Tech Halts Enrolling New Students

The California Department of Consumer Affairs' Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education issued an emergency decision last week demanding ITT Educational Services stop accepting new students at its 15 California locations. 

The decision comes after the U.S. Department of Education banned the company from enrolling new students who receive federal funding. 

Since then, ITT Technical Institute posted a new landing page on its website that states, "We are not enrolling new students." The website also details that credits earned by current students are "unlikely to transfer." 

The company also owns Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire, however, that for-profit institution was excluded from the department's ban.

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