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  • New Jersey Attorney General seeks to partner with Department of Education on for-profit investigations

    State Issues

    On May 17, the New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, sent a letter to the Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, regarding concerns that the Department of Education (Department) is no longer investigating fraudulent activities at for-profit colleges. Grubir cited work that State Attorneys General did with the Department during the previous administration regarding these investigations and noted that the cooperation between his office and the Department has “ground to a halt.” The letter concludes with Grubir requesting the Department continue several investigations that are in progress and offers to assist in sharing information and supplementing resources or, if the Department chooses not to pursue the investigations, to allow the New Jersey Attorney General to “pick up where [the Department] leave[s] off.”

    State Issues State Attorney General Department of Education For-Profit College Student Lending

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  • Court orders Department of Education to cease collection efforts on student loans used for defunct for-profit school

    Courts

    On May 25, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. Department of Education (Department) from continuing collection efforts on student loans used for programs at a now defunct for-profit college. The for-profit school closed in 2015 after a federal fraud investigation by the Department. The decision results from a December 2017 putative class action filed by former students of the school against the Department. The complaint alleged the Department violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the Privacy Act of 1974 by its December 2017 announcement that it would use an “average earnings” metric to determine what to charge students for the value of the education they received at the college. According to the former students, the previous policy—which measured the job placement rate of graduates—would have provided full loan forgiveness for the federal student loans used for the defunct school. In response to the students’ motion for a preliminary injunction, the court granted the students’ request to prevent the Department from using the “average earnings” metric, but denied the motion to require the Department to use the previous job placement metric. Additionally, among other things, the judge denied the students’ request to order the Department to remove all negative credit reporting but did order the Department to cease collection efforts on the loans.

    Courts Department of Education Debt Collection Student Lending Lending Consumer Finance

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  • Department of Education plans to use servicers, not private debt collectors, to assist delinquent borrowers

    Federal Issues

    On May 23, the Department of Education (Department) affirmed plans to begin using “‘enhanced servicers’ to assist delinquent borrowers prior to default” instead of private debt collection agencies. The affirmation was made in a reply brief supporting the Department’s motion to dismiss an action filed by collection agencies in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that challenged the Department’s decision to award contracts to two private debt collectors. The Department argues in the reply brief that the challenge is moot because the Department cancelled the solicitation under which the contracts were awarded to pursue a new collection plan using “enhanced servicers.” According to the brief, the new collection approach will “place a greater emphasis on customer service and early outreach to address delinquencies with a full range of early options for borrowers.”

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending Debt Collection Servicing Consumer Finance

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  • Department of Education, Veterans Affairs team up to simplify student loan discharge process for disabled veterans

    Lending

    On April 16, the U.S. Department of Education announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify disabled student loan borrowers who qualify for debt forgiveness. Eligible veterans with federal student loans or aid through the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant Program that are identified as a match on the National Student Loan Data System and the VA database will be notified of their potential eligibility in the mail and will receive a Total and Permanent Disability Discharge application.

    Lending Student Lending Department of Education Department of Veterans Affairs Debt Cancellation

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  • Department of Education restores accreditor’s federal recognition pending review of its 2016 petition

    Federal Issues

    On April 3, Department of Education (Department) Secretary, Betsey DeVos restored the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ (ACICS) status as a federally recognized accrediting agency, effective as of December 12, 2016. The order follows the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia’s March 23, 2018 remand of the former Secretary’s December 2016 decision withdrawing recognition. The order states that while federal recognition is restored, the Department will review ACICS’ January 2016 petition to determine whether continued recognition is warranted. As previously covered by InfoBytes, a coalition of state Attorneys General urged the Department to reject ACICS’ application to regain recognition, citing to what the Attorneys General called “ACICS’ systemic accreditation failures.”

    Federal Issues Student Lending Department of Education State Attorney General

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  • Student loan servicer seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to resolve dispute concerning preemption of state law

    Courts

    On April 4, a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicer (servicer) that services federal student loans on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education (Department) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Connecticut Department of Banking and its banking commissioner (together, the Connecticut Defendants), and the Department, seeking a judicial determination that the federal Privacy Act of 1974 (Privacy Act) preempts Connecticut law requiring the servicer to disclose certain records containing confidential information about its student loan borrowers to the state, along with data related to borrower complaints, or risk revocation of its state servicer’s license. In addition, the servicer seeks injunctive relief against the Connecticut Defendants to prevent the enforcement of state law in contravention of the Privacy Act and revocation of the servicer’s license.

    In support of the injunctive relief sought, the servicer cites several irreparable harms, including (i) the potential termination of its federal loan servicing contract; (ii) the revocation of its license to service, which would adversely affect approximately 100,000 student borrowers in the state, and (iii) the potential impact on loan servicing arrangements that the servicer has with “dozens of private lenders doing business in Connecticut.”

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, on March 12 Department Secretary Betsy DeVos published an Interpretation that asserted the position that state “regulation of the servicing of Direct Loans” is preempted because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of loan under the Federal Family Education Loan Program “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.” However, last month—as discussed in InfoBytes—a bipartisan coalition of 30 state Attorneys General released a letter urging Congress to reject Section 493E(d) of the Higher Education Act reauthorization—H.R. 4508, known as the “PROSPER Act”—which would prohibit states from “overseeing, licensing, or addressing certain state law violations by companies that originate, service, or collect on student loans.” The states expressed a concern that, if enacted, the law would preempt state consumer protection laws for student borrowers and constitute “an all-out assault on states’ rights and basic principles of federalism.”

    Courts Department of Education Student Lending State Issues Preemption Congress Federal Legislation

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  • Bipartisan group of state Attorneys General denounce potential limitations on state oversight of student loan industry

    State Issues

    On March 15, a bipartisan group of 30 state Attorneys General released a letter urging Congress to reject Section 493E(d) of the Higher Education Act reauthorization – H.R. 4508, known as the “PROSPER Act” – which would prohibit states from “overseeing, licensing, or addressing certain state law violations by companies that originate, service, or collect on student loans.” Led by the New York and Colorado Attorneys General, the letter characterizes Section 493E(d) as an “an all-out assault on states’ rights and basic principles of federalism.” According to the letter, if enacted, parts of the student loan industry would be immunized from state-level enforcement, placing a larger consumer protection role on the Department of Education for which the agency is not equipped to handle. The Attorneys General assert that the states have the legal capacity and track record to enforce against abuses in the student loan market; citing to a statistic which estimates $1.38 trillion in student loan debt, the letter highlights previous state enforcement actions and emphasizes the need for states and the federal government to work together to protect U.S. borrowers.

    In addition to Section 493E(d) of the PROSPER Act, the Department of Education recently published an interpretation in the Federal Register which takes the position that state regulation of certain federal student loan programs is preempted by federal law, previously covered by InfoBytes here

    State Issues State Attorney General Student Lending Enforcement Department of Education State Legislation

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  • Department of Education: states do not have the authority to regulate student loan servicers

    Federal Issues

    On March 12, the U.S. Department of Education published an Interpretation in the Federal Register, which takes the position that state regulation of servicers of loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program (Direct Loans) and the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL Program Loans) is preempted by Federal law. Specifically, the Department noted that state “regulation of the servicing of Direct Loans” is preempted because it “impedes uniquely Federal interests,” and state regulation of the servicing of FFEL Program Loans “is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.” The Interpretation was issued in response to several states having recently enacted regulatory regimes, or sought to apply existing consumer protection statutes, imposing additional requirements on such student loan servicers. The Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Representative Bobby Scott, D-VA, issued a statement following the notice of publication on March 9, disagreeing with the Department’s Interpretation: “Congress has not given the Secretary the authority to preempt state consumer protection law for student borrowers. . . . I urge the Secretary to reverse this egregious overreach of Federal authority to rescind states’ ability to protect student borrowers and hold unscrupulous servicers accountable.”

    Federal Issues Department of Education Student Lending Preemption Federal Register

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  • Superior Court denies student loan servicer’s motion to dismiss Massachusetts Attorney General’s lawsuit

    Lending

    On February 28, a Suffolk County Superior Court denied a Pennsylvania-based student loan servicing agency’s (defendant) motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General, which alleged the defendant overcharged borrowers and improperly processed claims for public service loan forgiveness. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) According to the court, the loan servicer’s argument that it is “an arm of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and therefore entitled to sovereign immunity from lawsuits was not convincing; it noted that not only had the defendant failed to qualify as a state entity but it demonstrated “substantial financial and operational independence” from the state.

    Furthermore, the court also rejected the defendant’s arguments that the action was not permitted because the Department of Education is an indispensable party to the suit and that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s claims “are preempted ‘to the extent’ that they ‘conflict with the requirements of federal law.’” The judge opined that the Department of Education is not an indispensable party even though some of the injunctive relief sought may conflict with the Department of Education’s rights under its loan servicing contract or regulatory requirements. 

    Lending State Attorney General Department of Education Student Lending UDAP

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  • Coalition of state attorneys general urge Department of Education to reject accreditor’s application

    State Issues

    On February 20, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, along with 20 other state attorneys general and the Executive Director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, issued a letter to U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Betsy DeVos in opposition to an application submitted by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) to regain its status as a nationally recognized accreditor. According to Healey’s letter, which was submitted in response to the DOE’s January request for comments concerning ACICS’ application, “ACICS’ systemic accreditation failures and refusal to fulfill its obligations to students and taxpayers have enabled predatory schools to ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of students. . . . Given the gravity of these failures, the Department should not grant any application for recognition made by ACICS without verifying that ACICS has corrected every deficiency and complied with all Departmental requirements effectively and consistently.” As previously covered in InfoBytes, this is not the first time that state attorneys general have reached out to the DOE concerning ACICS’ actions. The DOE upheld the decision to terminate ACICS’ recognition in December 2016.

    State Issues Student Lending NYDFS State Attorney General Department of Education

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