Dept. Of Education Offers Online Service For Students Stranded By ITT Shutdown

Thousands of students affected by the abrupt shutdown of all 130 ITT Tech campuses received a lifeline of sorts from the government this week, as it unveiled additional resources to help displaced students understand their new reality and to continue their education or receive federal loan discharges.

The Dept. of Education has partnered with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and Beyond 12 to provide students with a new online platform that aims to personalize their steps forward.

The resources, which are available at NextStepsEdu.org, match students with financial aid and academic counselors throughout the country who can provide critical guidance as they determine how best to continue their studies.

The advisors will respond to questions from students, by email, phone, and text message; related to academic, financial aid, and federal loan discharge options.

All advisors are professionals working in the field of education and will be pre-screened and trained before being matched with students, the Dept. of Education said in a statement.

The Dept. also announced Monday that it has partnered with the Labor and Veterans Affairs departments to raise awareness of the student options.

Reps for the VA assisted the Dept. of Education in hosting webinars for displaced students, while the Dept. of Labor provides information to students and former employees of the closed schools at nearly 2,500 American Job Centers.

Since the closure of ITT Tech schools, the Dept. of Education has hosted a slew of webinars, released online resources, and personally contacted more than 35,000 students, the agency said.

Still, the options for students can be confusing. For example, all students who were currently attending the schools — or withdrew after May 6, 2016 are eligible for closed school discharges of their federal loans. However, private student loans are not covered by this option.

Additionally, if a student were to choose to transfer their credits and attend another school, they would not be eligible for a discharge.

Despite the Dept. of Education’s efforts to assist students, a group of senators are calling on the agency to do more.

In a letter [PDF] sent to Education Secretary John King, 23 senators urged the Dept. to extend the closed school discharge window to on or before March 1, 2014, when ITT began to receive scrutiny from federal and state regulators.

“By discharging the debt held by ITT Tech’s many non-completers, the Department also prevents the exceptionally high risk of default faced by this group of borrowers,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that the Dept. should stop collections on recent ITT Tech borrowers who are in default but would fall within the expanded discharge timeline.

In addition to addressing the need for loan forgiveness, the senators asked the Dept. to take steps to ensure students aren’t lured by other for-profit colleges facing investigations or lawsuits.

“Postsecondary education should be a pathway to the middle class, and predatory colleges that damage these dreams by targeting and exploiting our neediest students must be held accountable,” the letter states.