Date: October 27, 2015

Earlier this month Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill, AB 573, which would have given desperately needed legal aid to the students who attended one of the Heald, WyoTech, and Everest campuses owned by the for-profit Corinthian Colleges, Inc. These 13,000 students – overwhelmingly low-income, students of color, and first generation college attendees – fell victim to the for-profit institution’s predatory practices, and were left with nothing when the school unexpectedly and abruptly shut down earlier this year. With the veto, the difficult challenges already facing these students got worse.
In his veto statement, the Governor said that although he was sympathetic to the students, he believed it was “premature to create an attorney grant program.”  This assertion is astounding, considering the fact that Corinthian closed nearly six months ago, and the number of students seeking assistance from has completely overwhelmed legal aid clinics statewide. An attorney at Legal Services of Northern California explained, “Our offices are overwhelmed with demand that greatly outstrips our ability to serve. We turn away 4-5 out of 10 people asking for service because of these limitations.” And at the Veterans Legal Clinic at USD School of Law an attorney explained that they are “currently running a waitlist for services due to the additional Corinthian cases. We have adjusted to prioritize the Corinthian cases, which means that other veterans with non-education related matters are being waitlisted at this time.”

Clearly a need exists, and it’s urgent.  It is especially disappointing that Governor Brown chose not to sign a bill helping the Corinthian students, given his personal knowledge of Corinthian’s long history of fraud and abuse. In 2007, then-Attorney General Jerry Brown oversaw the $6.5 million settlement of a lawsuit against Corinthian Colleges  – which at the time had annual revenues of approximately $1.6 billion.  The lawsuit stemmed from charges that the institution blatantly lied to prospective students about the company’s record of placing graduates into jobs. At the time, Governor Brown stated, “Corinthian students fully expected that their tuition payments would result in the glowing job opportunities the company promised. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed as many of the students ended up unemployed and deep in debt.”  Sadly, the same is true of students who were enrolled at these campuses at or near the point of closure, who are now unable to complete the programs they borrowed money to attend.

Even though the Federal Department of Education has taken steps to simplify the process, the application for a Defense to Repayment (DTR) claim is difficult and complex. Students seeking a loan discharge on the grounds that Corinthian violated state law face a particularly arduous application process; one which the Attorneys General of 11 states have agreed would “require an understanding of contract, tort, or unfair practices statutes.” Unfortunately, because AB 573 was vetoed, there are thousands of students in California who will be unable to get the legal assistance necessary to complete the application properly, and who will suffer further injustice for want of legal aid. It is disappointing that this is the choice the Governor has made, but Public Advocates will continue to advocate on behalf of these students, and will continue to seek justice for all students in California.

The victims of Corinthian Colleges may not have the support of the Governor, but they do have options. Both the California Attorney General and the Federal Department of Education have put together resources to help students get access to help locally, and students can reach out to their local legal aid officefor more information. The California Attorney General is continuing to pursue the case against Corinthian Colleges even now, and remains committed to bring Corinthian to justice. As we head into the next legislative session, Public Advocates will continue to advocate on behalf of the Corinthian College victims, and for increased protections and assistance for students harmed by fraudulent practices among for-profit higher education institutions.

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