Get Out of Debt Guy - Steve Rhode

The Art Institute Forced Me Out of School and Left Me in Debt – Rachael

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Question:

Dear Steve,

I attended the Art Institute of San Francisco and during my senior year, the market crashed and student loan borrowers changed the minimum credit score rating for individual borrowers from 720 to 750. I was told in order to continue receiving loans for school I needed a co-signer, which is something I never had nor could do.

I worked very hard for my 720 credit score, so to be asked while a full time student for a co-signer when I had a 720 credit score was devastating, especially since I could not get a co-signer. I was on my own.

I had to leave the Art Institute and find a college that would somehow take credits from a private school so that I could graduate. After 6 months of research, I found Westwood College, based out of Colorado, that would allow me to complete my degree via online while taking 1/2 the credits I earned at AI, which was much more than any other school was willing to do. I graduated in 2013 from Westwood with my Bachelor of Science for Interior Design. Recently, I found out that Westwood has now closed.

First, is my degree even valid at this point? I was $75,000 in debt with AI loans alone without receiving a degree after basically being forced out of schooling and then with having to retake 1/2 my classes with Westwood plus what classes remained, I’m currently at $146,000 in debt. One for a school that is being sued for stealing money out of students pockets for profit and one for a school that no longer has credibility because it is closed. Is this something that can be forgiven? Do I need to start over with my schooling? I’m very concerned that I’m paying loan debt for a degree that isn’t valid. Any and all help and advise would be greatly appreciated.

Rachel

Answer:

Dear Rachel,

I can certainly understand how you would feel the anger and frustration you do. It sounds to me as if you have all or a majority of your loans are private student loans. If my assumption is incorrect, please let me know in the comments section below.

But it would be difficult to label your degree any more or less worthless today since you graduated and received the degree you were pursuing. The fact the school closed is not really material to the value of the degree. For profit schools close regularly and if the most important consideration for the value of your degree was if the school remained open, then a public university would have been a better choice. State schools rarely close.

The issue about the cosigner requirement is what makes me believe these were private student loans. It is true that private lenders did radically change the reliance on cosigners and went to a system where most student loans required someone else to guarantee the loan. The fact they changed the criteria isn’t really a fraudulent issue since lenders are free to change their lending underwriting requirements at will.

I suppose it’s a good thing you did not go the cosigner route. It would have left someone else on the hook for those loans and dragged their credit down as well.

I can sympathize with the fact you feel like a victim here because the end result is not the outcome you were hoping for but besides picking a school with a less than amazing track record, like The Art Institute in San Francisco, it would be hard to say you received anything less than any for profit school would have offered at the time.

Schools are not required to make favorable financing available. Financing is coordinated so schools can sell students into seats, not because it is a good move for the student. The fact the schools lender changed the underwriting is not really a “forced you out of school” issue. It’s more of a “the lender changed their criteria” issue.

According to ProPublica’s Debt by Degrees project, AI has a 63% nonpayment rate when it comes to federal student loans. These are students who have been unable to reduce the debt they owe, at all, within three years of attendance. And according to the CollegeScoreCard that is much lower than the national average of students. Westwood College didn’t fair much better.

Now please don’t assume I am blaming you for this mess. I’m just trying to help future readers understand why this all happened and what they need to watch out for.

At this point, if the private lender is not willing to negotiate a new repayment plan you can afford, and it is impossible to repay the private student loans, then you need to look at more drastic options like the Top 10 Reasons You Should Stop Paying Your Unaffordable Private Student Loan.


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