ITT victims deserve help; public is seeking answers

Some 40,000 students attend- ing ITT Technical Institute across the country no doubt entered the institution with grand dreams of earning a life-changing higher education degree. Today, many of those dreams have shattered into nightmares, and many of those students have received little more than the boot.

Earlier this week, administrators at ITT, one of America’s largest networks of for-profit colleges, shuttered their doors at their 130 campuses in 39 states, including the Mahoning Valley campus on Meridian Road in Austintown. In addition to the tens of thousands of students who were harmed, more than 8,000 ITT employees now find themselves in unemployment lines.

In this immediate aftermath of the ITT closing, all energies must be channeled toward assisting the primary victims – the students. In the long term, oversight of such money-making institutions ought to be strengthened and broadened to avoid a repeat of the calamity that befell many helpless students just as the new academic year was to begin.

As Vindicator reporter Kalea Hall outlined in a front-page story Thursday, jolted ITT students have various avenues of short- and long-term rescue at their disposal. They should aggressively grab any and all deserved assistance and compensation.

For its part, the federal government is offering to discharge or forgive millions of dollars in student loans to ITT or transfer those funds to other more stable and reputable institutions.

Eastern Gateway

In addition, Eastern Gateway Community College, like other community colleges in the nation, is actively reaching out. EGCC says it is making “special efforts to accommodate students transferring from ITT Tech in order to ease some of their stress regarding the future.”

To be sure, the now shuttered ITT must itself work to lessen the incredible stress and pain that it inflicted on its students. If Arthur Daly, director of career services at the Youngstown campus of ITT, is sincere in his statement that “We love our students,” then he and other administrators there and elsewhere will cooperate fully with students in their transitions. That means they must refund tuitions, release academic records, assist in transferring credit hours and award degrees to those who completed their degree requirements just this month.

Of course, the seemingly sudden turn of events that led to the closing of the ITT nationwide did not unfold totally under the radar. Over the past two years, federal investigators had been actively and publicly pursuing numerous allegations of fraud, deceptive marketing and practices that sunk large numbers of students into the black hole of outrageous predatory-loan debt. In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led by former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, had sued the chain for pushing many of its students into borrowing from irreputable private sources that ended in defaults.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education banned ITT from enrolling any students who use federal aid. The handwriting was then clearly on the wall for its disintegration. After all, the bulk of its $850 million in 2015 revenue came from U.S. taxpayers in the form of federal student aid. As a result, many argue that greed – not public service – stood as the for-profit institution’s primary motivator. Some bachelor-degree programs there could cost in excess of $80,000, several times higher than similar accredited programs at other more reputable public, private and for-profit colleges.

In short, the demise of ITT Technical Institute vividly illustrates the need for enhanced scrutiny, transparency and accountability among profit-making institutions of higher education and vocational training.

To its credit, the Obama administration has tightened its grip over for-profit colleges after the similar shutdown last year of the Corinthian College network. In that case, investigators found evidence of falsifying data to create misleading recruitment drives.

The federal government, however, cannot alone root out such deception and fraud. The Education Department has renewed its appeal for state governments to more actively police such institutions. Ohio and other states should answer that appeal.

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