In Speech On Senate Floor, Durbin Calls For Group Discharge Of Student Loans For Those Defrauded By Westwood College

Following the Department of Education’s group discharge for those who attended Corinthian Colleges, Durbin calls for the Department to forgive the remaining loans of students defrauded by the predatory, for-profit Westwood College

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to the Senate floor to deliver a speech calling on the Department of Education to finally forgive the outstanding federal student loans of borrowers who were enrolled in Westwood College’s fraudulent criminal justice program. Durbin’s call to action comes after the Department wiped away $5.8 billion in student debt for borrowers who attended any campus owned by Corinthian Colleges, regardless if they applied for relief.

“Westwood College is one of those fraudulent for-profit colleges.  It operated 15 campuses in five different states – including my state of Illinois… Like Corinthian Colleges, Westwood used high-pressure sales and marketing tactics and outright lies to pressure students to take on huge amounts of student loan debt,” Durbin said.

Durbin shared the story of Illinois constituent Victoria Vences, who attended Westwood College in hopes of earning a degree that would secure her a steady, well-paying job. Like many Westwood College students, she was left with a near useless degree and mountains of debt.

“Victoria Vences is one of the thousands of Illinois students who heard those lies and is paying the price for them. Victoria is the first person in her family ever to attend college… Victoria enrolled in the criminal justice program at Westwood College in 2007, believing that it would help her land a job as a probation officer or maybe with the immigration service. After three years juggling a full-time job and going to school full-time, Victoria was shocked to learn that a Westwood degree would not pay off at all. At that time, Victoria owed $50,000 in student loans. Not wanting to take out more loans for a useless degree, she dropped out. She started applying for law enforcement jobs, showing them the certificate from Westwood. They told her, ‘that’s worthless.’ Victoria now works for the Illinois Domestic Violence hotline. She likes her job, and she helps a lot of people. But she has never earned enough income to make the monthly payments on her student loans… She just doesn’t believe that she should have to pay back $50,000 in loans because of the deception. I agree,” Durbin said.

In a letter sent last week to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Durbin urged the Department to cancel former Westwood students’ loans, which have destroyed their attendees’ credit scores and made it difficult for them to find a job in their field, afford a home, or buy a car. Durbin called for wide-ranging forgiveness, mirroring the relief just issued to Corinthian College students.

“We’ve known for more than a decade that Westwood used misleading marketing tactics… The Education Department should grant automatic loan forgiveness for all [of] the approximately 3,100 Illinois students who are still burdened with Westwood’s criminal justice program’s deception,” Durbin continued.

Durbin concluded his speech by highlighting an additional solution to the student debt crisis: once again allowing student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy. In August 2021, Durbin introduced the bipartisan FRESH START Through Bankruptcy Act, which would restore the ability for struggling borrowers to seek a bankruptcy discharge for federal student loans after a waiting period of ten years.

“There are more than three million student loan borrowers who owe more than $100,000 in student loans. But we decided these would be nondischargeable in bankruptcy…This situation is unsustainable. Many student debtors have nowhere to turn. Senator Cornyn and I have introduced a bipartisan bill to change it and make sure the bankruptcy code gives students a break. I will continue working with stakeholders to move this legislation forward,” Durbin said.

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

In 2012, then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against Westwood College for using deceptive marketing to lure students into its criminal justice programs in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.  The Obama Administration began working on Westwood relief, but did not make a final determination before leaving office.  Then the Trump Administration and Betsy DeVos allowed nearly 230,000 borrower defense claims to pile up and avoided providing loan discharges to deserving students under borrower defense.

In December 2016, Durbin wrote to then-Education Secretary John King to urge him to work with Illinois to provide relief to Westwood students covered by Attorney General Madigan’s evidence.   AG Madigan asked the Department to provide borrower defense discharges of the relevant loans in this case and provided the underlying evidence in November 2016. Current Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul resubmitted Illinois’ claim on June 3, 2019.