In the twilight of his final term, President Obama is expected to issue several pardons as a final gesture of mercy. At the same time, though, tens of thousands of innocent people may lose their last hope of reprieve, remaining trapped in debt—and their only crime was pursuing an education.
It’s perversely fitting that Obama’s successor is a real-estate billionaire who has himself been scandalized by his own for-profit education venture—a pre-packaged “investment” program, notorious for scamming naive aspiring entrepreneurs.
Donald Trump’s election marks a tragic coda to Pamela Hunt’s debt saga. She tried to pursue a criminal-justice degree and fell into a junk program at the for-profit college chain Corinthian. Today the single mother of six, mired in more than $50,000 in education debt, has watched her career aspirations dissolve while suffering financial ruin, homelessness, and medical crisis. She made one final appeal this month for a bail out of debt purgatory.
“It’s not fair, it’s not right, it’s not even legal,” Hunt pleads in a video testimonial, calling on the Obama administration—“the government I voted for”—to take action before Trump takes over the Department of Education. “This is like our last chance to get the justice we deserve.”
If his past business ventures are any indication, Trump may run the White House as for-profit colleges run their programs: preying on people’s naïveté to raid public coffers and exploit their dreams. Any remaining prospects for relief may vanish under Trump’s appointee for education chief, Betsy DeVos, a longtime friend of the Wall Street–philanthropic world that has helped shape the finance-driven higher education infrastructure, girded by swelling costs and broken financial policies.
Though it has not overhauled the student debt system, the Obama administration has waged regulatory crackdowns on proprietary schools, driving some toward bankruptcy. But the Department of Education has still failed to make whole many debt-crushed victims.
The Debt Collective, the Occupy-inspired movement that’s leading an unprecedented nationwide debt strike movement with Hunt and other student-activists, has focused on expanding Defense to Repayment, an obscure policy that can be invoked to fast-track debt cancellation for students due to their schools’ financial fraud or failure. Although the activists have pressed the administration for a more transparent process, and even constructed a web-based system for processing petitions, they say relief has been outrageously delayed for months.