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'Corinthian 100' raises new light to issue of student debt

<p>Photo Illustration | The “Corinthian 100,” a movement named for Corinthian College, a collapsed chain of for-profit schools, is lashing out against predatory lending practices with students refusing to pay back their federal student loan debt.</p>

Photo Illustration | The “Corinthian 100,” a movement named for Corinthian College, a collapsed chain of for-profit schools, is lashing out against predatory lending practices with students refusing to pay back their federal student loan debt.

Former students in the "Corinthian 100" risk losing wages, lowering their credit score and limiting their access to a home or car loan.

But members of the organization say it is worth it to refuse paying their federal student loan debt as a measure of civil disobedience against an unjust college system, according to The New York Times.

The "Corinthian 100" is named for Corinthian College, a collapsed chain of for-profit schools under investigation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for predatory lending practices.

More than 100 of their former students are asking the Department of Education (DOE) to release them from federal student loan debt, in addition to private loan debt that has already been released.

The group met with the DOE on March 31 to discuss their grievances, according to NPR.

Roughly 600 people have filed complaints with the Department of Education against their loan practices, yet they continue to loan money to for-profit students and fund for-profit schools, said Susan Minor, an organizer with The Debt Collective, which coordinated the "Corinthian 100."

“The point of this debt collective is to empower the debtor through collective association,” she said.

One common motto of the Debt Collective is “If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, the bank owns you. If you owe the bank a trillion dollars, you own the bank.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated total federal student loan debt topped $1.2 trillion in May 2013.

The Debt Collective and its organizers are no stranger to banking and finance. 

Rolling Jubilee, its parent organization, was founded from the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

Minor has a personal connection to the project — her daughter graduated with $40,000 in debt, yet is working as a server.

She believes education should be a free service, like health care, to those who cannot afford it.

“People should not be doomed to a life of indenture,” she said.

She has run into others who similarly are looking for jobs with their college degree. Even those who attended graduate school attempting to get ahead find themselves jobless, but with more debt.

Degrees from for-profit colleges can have even worse consequences. Many target vulnerable groups, like single mothers and veterans, and leave them with $60,000 in debt for an associate’s degree, she said.

In the past, Rolling Jubilee focused its attention on buying loans secondhand with donated money and forgiving the debt, abolishing $31 million in student loan and medical debt, according to NPR.

But the organization hopes that its recent initiative with "Corinthian 100" will have more effect by changing the policy for millions of indebted former students of for-profit colleges.

They argue that defense to repayment, which protects debtors from owing money based on false advertising, should apply to former students in this situation.

Minor said they are in the process of recruiting students from non-profit colleges as well. Still, she acknowledged the risk of refusing to pay loans.

“People (in "Corinthian 100") are knowledgeable about what their risks are,” she said. “Most of them are already in default, one is near homelessness.”

Chris Hicks, a Debt Free Future campaign organizer, said debt not only negatively affects individuals but the economy as well. He cited nursing and teaching as professions that can be harmed by the amount of student debt of the workers.

Out of the 40 to 43 million Americans with debt, about eight million are in default, meaning they cannot make payments on their loans and can have their wages garnished.

In several states, defaulting on student loan debt can lead the person to lose their driver’s license, he said. In others, it can cost them their job, such as when 42 nurses lost their license to practice in Tennessee because of student loan debt.

Considering that high costs are the reason for these issues, Hicks would like to see better financing of higher education.

“Even students should be pushing for free higher education,” he said.

Minor agreed, advising students to keep fighting for more state and federal government funding, but starting a conversation with universities could help as well.

She pointed to the example of Cooper Union, which announced it would begin charging tuition at a traditionally tuition-free school. Students protested and ended up with a voice in the board of trustees.

“There are ways to fight back and be more empowered in your education,” she said.

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