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Shattered: Faces of the For-Profit College Crisis

'I Had to Look at My Wife and Tell Her They Just Took Our Home'

The U.S. Department of Education is re-evaluating rules about student debt relief when schools close, as part of negotiated rulemaking.

Kendrick Harrison — a disabled combat veteran who served more than 16 months in Iraq — used his G.I. Bill to attend Argosy University. (Alexander Shebanow)

When Kendrick Harrison used his G.I. Bill to attend Argosy University, he received a stipend for living expenses — until suddenly, he didn’t. The school put him off for months, and he juggled creditors until finally, a school official told him Argosy was in court-appointed receivership. The school had mismanaged over $13 million in student funds and could not locate the money. By then, Harrison and his family were already evicted from their home.

Before 2018, students like Harrison had recourse to get federal loan debt relief through rules made by the U.S. Department of Education. However, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos loosened the rules on borrower defense and closed school discharges, making it easier for predatory colleges to saddle students with debt, even if they close.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Cardona is conducting negotiated rulemaking, or NegReg — an opportunity to reform the rules around student debt relief. This week, the Department will hold hearings on the 90/10 rule, which had made students on the G.I. Bill targets for predatory colleges.

Read Harrison’s story to see what happens to students when closing predatory colleges are able to keep student loan money including from the G.I. Bill, a situation that can be prevented via this season's negotiated rulemaking.

This portrait is one in a series produced by Student Defense and filmmaker/photographer Alexander Shebanow.

What Is NegReg? And Why Does It Matter?

On Oct. 4, the U.S. Department of Education began negotiated rulemaking, where it makes regulations to clarify any ambiguities in higher education lawmaking. Within the policy community, it is also called “NegReg.”

The 2016 negotiated rulemaking sessions established several rules that barred some schools from getting class-action waivers (to keep groups of students from suing) and from having pre-dispute arbitration agreements when students sue. It also made it easier for students to get debt relief (borrower defense to repayment) when they are cheated by unscrupulous schools.

During the 2018 rulemaking sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reversed many of the rules made in 2016, to the benefit of predatory colleges and to the detriment of student borrowers.

The current negotiated rulemaking sessions, now under Secretary Miguel Cardona, have the potential to restore and improve upon the 2016 rules, increasing accountability for colleges and aiding students in debt relief.

It was a Monday, Kendrick Harrison remembers. Harrison — a disabled combat veteran who served more than 16 months in Iraq — opened his front door to find the eviction notice. In that moment Harrison grasped the depths of the damage Argosy University had done to the life he was building for himself and his family.

Harrison grew up in Oakland, California. The son of a single mother, Harrison was a high school All-American athlete who received scholarship offers to play football in college. But Harrison felt a higher calling and decided to enlist in the Army after finishing high school. He promised himself and his family that he would go to college after serving.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 struck less than a week before Harrison was scheduled to ship out. He remembers his mother waking him to the sight of the towers falling on TV and feeling even more committed to serving his country.

Harrison served overseas in Korea and then was deployed to Iraq during the invasion. After a mortar attack left him physically disabled, Harrison was honorably discharged from the Army. Back in the United States, he got married, raised his family, and worked to support them. But Harrison still dreamed of going to college and fulfilling the promise he made before enlisting.

By 2016, Harrison and his wife had started a nonprofit in Las Vegas, Nevada, running sports programs for disadvantaged youth. It was the perfect time to go to back to school and earn a business degree to help him better manage the budding organization.

One day, Harrison went online and typed in “low-cost colleges” on Google and was immediately flooded with advertisements and links for Argosy University, a for-profit college. The school was advertising tuition assistance and flexible online class scheduling. To Harrison , a busy father of six children, that sounded like a dream come true.

Harrison gave Argosy his contact information, and in just a few hours he was on the phone with a recruiter from the school. “The minute they saw that I had all my military benefits and hadn’t attended college before, they got even more excited,” Harrison told Student Defense. “They would call and email me all the time.”

The aggressive sales pitch and some troubling online reviews gave Harrison pause, but the recruiter quickly dismissed them. Harrison was making the right decision for his family, she promised. “She was very encouraging,” Harrison says, recalling how often the recruiter would bring up his family during their phone conversations.

Harrison discusses the negative reviews he found online and raising it with his recruiter:

Eventually Argosy’s hard sell worked. The school promised him a student veteran tuition discount and convinced him to stop working so he could attend school full-time. His financial aid and G.I. Bill benefits would not only cover his tuition, but also provide a stipend to help cover living expenses, they promised. “It was all inclusive, and they were helping me every step of the way. It all happened so quickly,” Harrison explained. He signed up.

Harrison enrolled in good faith:

To Harrison, being a college student felt like he was “on the road to success.”

“I was finally following my dream of going to college, and it was powerful being an example for my kids,” Harrison says. Once classes started, though, so did the problems with the stipend Argosy had promised. The first late stipend came just two months into the school year. By that point, Harrison had stopped working. The stipend was supposed to cover his family’s living expenses. By 2017, the stipend delays — sometimes lasting more than a month — were frequent. Each time Harrison would contact school officials, and each time they would promise to fix the problem, only for it to return.

Eventually Harrison escalated the issue to Argosy’s senior leaders and even threatened to involve the V.A. That seemed to work. For a year, Harrison’s stipend arrived on time. Until it didn’t — with life-altering consequences.

At the end of 2018, Kendrick and his wife were preparing to pay their bills when his stipend didn’t arrive. The school offered plausible excuses. It would be two weeks, they promised. Then another two weeks. Kendrick and his wife arranged for extra time to pay their creditors and landlord.

But by early February, Harrison and his wife knew something was wrong. Harrison called Argosy again. This time, a school official explained that Argosy was now in a court-appointed receivership. Harrison would need to ask the receiver to release his funds. Harrison remembers rushing to research online how receivership works. When he learned it was akin to bankruptcy, “[his] heart sunk.”

The receiver told Harrison they were working around the clock to resolve his issue. But everything came crashing down at the end of February. Still without his stipend, Harrison received an email from the receiver announcing that Argosy and its parent company, the Dream Center, had mismanaged over $13 million in student funds and were unable to locate the money. “That was the nail in the coffin. That was our eviction.”

By that point, it was too late for Harrison to buy more time on his past-due rent. On March 8, 2019, Argosy University was officially shut down. A few days later, Harrison found the eviction notice on his front door. He was one semester away from graduating.

Harrison recalling the day of his family’s eviction hearing:

“[Argosy] put me and my family in a situation that no family should be put into. No family should suffer that fate. No student. No soldier. No one,” Harrison explained. “My family was robbed. How brazen do you have to be to steal from anyone, let alone students?”

Harrison , his wife, and their six children moved out of their home and into a motel until they finally found a small apartment they could afford. Harrison was able to transfer some of his credits to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he is working to finish his degree and rebuild the life his family once had.

Thousands of former students are now suing Argosy University’s parent company, The Dream Center, and the U.S. Department of Education for the for-profit’s mismanagement of federal financial aid funds and the sudden closures of campuses across the United States.

Harrison is a client of Student Defense. You can read about our ongoing litigation here.


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