Department of Education Cuts Student Loan Access to Florida College: NPR

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The US Department of Education, under Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, has moved to deny student loan access to Florida Vocational College.

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Mandel Negan/AFP/Getty

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The US Department of Education, under Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, has moved to deny student loan access to Florida Vocational College.

Mandel Negan/AFP/Getty

A private, for-profit college chain of dozens of universities across Florida and Texas will lose access to federal student aid. The move comes after an investigation by the US Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) found that the Florida chain of Career Colleges violated federal rules and failed to meet basic standards required to receive federal loans and grants.

“Federal Student Aid holds Florida Career College (FCC) accountable for benefiting some of its most vulnerable students,” FSA Chief Operating Officer Richard Cordray said in a statement.

Unless a court steps in, the move leaves the FCC, which enrolled about 5,000 students late last year, facing an uncertain financial future. The vast majority of its students depend on federal aid to attend. According to the college scorecardFor example, 97% of students on the FCC’s Tampa campus have access to federal loans; 97% also received a federal Pell Grant for being low-income.

The FCC rejected the department’s conclusions in a statement to NPR.

“We are deeply disappointed by the Department of Education’s short-sighted and misguided decision,” wrote Joe Cockrell, a spokesman for the FCC. “The Department of Education risks harming thousands of students who seek economic stability and a better life. For more than 40 years, our sole focus has been high-quality apprenticeship programs that meet or exceed all state and federal regulations so that people can find a good job in their chosen career path.” We intend to vigorously fight this unjust and unfair decision on behalf of our students and the communities we serve.”

Government issue

FCC’s business model is based on offering short-term certificate programs in fields such as HVAC, automotive technician, and dental assistant—often to students who have not completed high school. And this appears to be where the FCC conflicted with federal guidelines.

In order for a student to receive federal student aid to help pay for a post-secondary degree program without first graduating from high school, they must take a test known as the ATB (“ability to benefit”) test. This test is intended to “determine whether a student who does not have a high school diploma can benefit from a post-secondary education,” according to Circle release. “Among other things, this protects students from ending up with debts they can’t handle.”

According to the Department of Education, since 2018, nearly half of FCC students have had to pass the ATB exam before qualifying for federal aid. But this testing process, according to the oath, has often been a sham.

Federal investigators found that test officials “routinely” broke the rules to help students succeed, “including filling out or changing answers after students finish their tests, assisting students during or giving them tests, and allowing students to use calculators in violation of test rules” .

The department’s Office of Federal Student Aid also found evidence that “employees of the FCC and employees of its parent company, International Education Corporation (IEC), knew about and encouraged violations of the ATB testing process to influence test results.”

As a result of these efforts, helping students pass the test they might otherwise have failed, the department found that “the FCC and another IEC-owned school accounted for approximately 75% of all ATB enrollments nationwide during the 2021 award year.” -22.”

In a statement, the FCC insists that it “consistently meets and exceeds requirements set by accreditors and federal and state regulators” and that it is “routinely commended by accreditors for its exceptional student service offerings including career services, placement, volunteer opportunities, and access to Additional community and government resources.

The Department of Education found that making it easier for students without a high school diploma to get federal aid and attend the FCC ultimately hurt many of them. Between 2016 and 2021, more than half of the students who entered the FCC via this test ended up dropping out, and many had student debt.

According to the College Scorecard, the average annual cost for the largest program on FCC’s Tampa campus is more than $35,000; The midpoint for all degree schools is less than half that, about $16,000.

Research has shown that those most affected by student debt are those who borrow but do not end up with a degree or certificate.

What borrowers should know

If the FCC quickly agrees to meet several of the pause criteria, the Education Department says, students currently enrolled in short-term programs will be allowed to keep their federal aid through Sept. 30 and potentially complete their degrees. If the chain does not agree to meet these criteria, access to federal student aid will be cut off by the end of April.

Students and former students with federal loan debt may qualify for what is known as a “false release” for their loans if they believe they benefited from misconduct about administering the ATB test, including if they were allowed to use a cell phone to answer questions or if the test proctor provided Any way help during the test itself. The Office of Federal Student Aid has provided Frequently Asked Questions for students here.

The department’s findings come on top of allegations made in a federal class action lawsuit filed against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) three years ago. In this lawsuit, plaintiffs argued that the school targeted people of economically vulnerable skin, making false promises of apprenticeships and job placement while driving students to take out loans they could not repay. At the time, the FCC called the suit “legally and factually without merit.” Last month, in a process known as individual arbitration, an arbitrator issued an award to a Florida Career College, according to Cockrell, the FCC spokesperson. The specific details of the award are confidential.

Cutting off a school’s access to federal student aid is a dramatic and relatively unusual move by the Department of Education. According to federal data, the FCC is the first school in 2023 that has been consistently denied access to federal student aid. Four schools are denied access in 2022.