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Senate Overturns DeVos Rule Limiting Debt Relief for Defrauded Students

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  • The Senate has voted to overturn a Trump administration rule that would make it harder for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges to have their loans forgiven or reduced. 
  • Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ changes require applicants to individually prove a school knowingly misled them and that they were financially harmed by the deception, among other difficult measures aimed at limiting who gets assistance. 
  • The legislation will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for him to decide whether or not to uphold the rule with a veto or side with Congress against his own education secretary.

What Is DeVos’ Rule? 

The Senate voted Wednesday to overturn a Trump administration rule that would limit debt relief for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges. 

In a 53-42 vote, 10 Republicans joined Democrats to pass the resolution, which has already been approved by the House. This decision is a bipartisan rebuke of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rule, aimed at weakening an Obama-era policy. 

The Obama-era-updated “borrower defense” rule allowed for students who attended schools that committed serious fraud to request that their loan debt be forgiven. It was meant to regulate the for-profit sector and protect students whose colleges engaged in misconduct. It was updated in the wake of the collapse of schools like ITT Tech and Corinthian. 

But DeVos made changes that raised the bar for borrowers’ relief claims. Her adjustments made it so that applicants had to individually prove a school knowingly misled them and that they were financially harmed by the deception. It also set a three-year deadline on claims.

According to the New York Times, the education department later adopted a complicated formula for calculating relief that limits nearly all applicants to only partial relief and required the majority to repay most of their loans. 

Arguments For and Against It 

The rule change is scheduled to take effect in July and the Education Department argues that it protects community colleges, historically back colleges, and taxpayers “from undue harm from the poorly written Obama-era regulation.”

DeVos has slammed the debt-relief system as a “free money” giveaway and told members of Congress last year that her rule would protect taxpayers from people trying to scam the system by applying for debt relief when they suffered no harm. At the time, she said those students who were defrauded would still be eligible for loan forgiveness. 

But critics of the rule said this would effectively kill the department’s loan forgiveness program by setting requirements that almost no borrowers would be able to meet. “The burden of proof for these students is so absurdly unrealistic,” said Representative Susie Lee, Democrat of Nevada, who sponsored a companion resolution in the House.

“We don’t believe your life should be ruined because some school lied to you about the education they were promising, the loans you were taking out. We believe that you deserve a second chance in life,” said Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who sponsored the legislation.

Democrats also stressed that the original loan forgiveness law, which has been around since 1995, was rarely used until for-profit chains started falling apart in 2014. 

So far, the Education Department has approved 51,000 loan-relief applications. Nearly all of them were approved during the Obama administration and the department has eliminated some $535 million in debt. Under DeVos, the department stopped processing the applications while the rewrite was challenged in court. There are currently about 170,000 pending applications.

The American Legion and dozens of other veterans groups also backed the effort to overturn the rewritten rules. The focus on veterans attracted much Republican support because veterans have long been targetted with predatory recruitment tactics thanks to their lucrative G.I. Bill benefits. 

The benefits are particularly attractive to for-profit schools because federal law requires those schools to obtain at least 10% of their revenue from sources other than Education Department-backed student loans.

Trump Has Veto Power 

After the decision, Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito said, “It’s disappointing to see so many in Congress fooled by misinformation from the Left and the fake news narrative about our efforts to protect students from fraud.” 

“Students, including veterans, who are defrauded by their school and suffer financial harm as a result deserve relief, and our rule provides them relief,” she added.

The legislation will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for him to decide whether or not to uphold the rule with a veto or side with Congress against his own education secretary. The White House has already threatened a veto but several outlets reported that Trump told Senate Republicans on Tuesday that he is “neutral” on repealing the rule.

“I have sort of a neutral position,” Trump allegedly said according to people in the room. “I’m in between.”

The White House did not dispute those reports but instead pointed to a statement from the administration released in February. That statement said Trump’s advisors would recommend he veto the resolution and defended DeVos’ plan, saying it “restores due process, the rule of law and student choice.”

A source close to the president told The New York Times that DeVos called Trump after his “neutral” comment. They said Trump supports finding a solution to the loan problem but doesn’t feel strongly about DeVos’ approach. However, Politico reported that after speaking over the phone, Trump indicated that he would vote in favor of DeVos’ regulations. 

So at this time, it’s unclear what Trump will decide, but a veto wouldn’t be unlikely. At a news conference on the resolution Wednesday, Durbin said he will work hard to get the votes needed for a veto override if the president rejects the measure.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Politico) 


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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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