Second year college student, Valerie Hacker, has lost more than 200 course credits that she will never get back. Her hopes for a brighter future vanished last April after Corinthian Colleges, Inc. abruptly announced it would close all remaining Everest Institute locations across the country.
"I had to leave school early on a Tuesday because my father had fallen down and died of a heart attack while I was in class. Saturday I get the email saying that Everest is closing, so I’m like, 'You gotta be kidding me!'" says Hacker.
The 53-year-old mother of two was just 10 weeks shy of graduation. She had racked up more than $30,000 in loans to pay for an insurance billing course that would allow her to work from home and take care of her mother.
Teachers and more than 16,000 students had been occupying the school's 28 remaining campuses when word of the closure went public. They were left with nothing but uncertainty from Corinthian, and a pile of debt. Students who opted to continue their education were told they could transfer their credits to comparable programs at other community colleges.
Vague news reports stemmed from a federal government announcement in June, which led many Everest students to believe that they would be granted a full discharge of their loan debts.
They were mistaken, explains Maggie Robb, staff attorney at the Empire Justice Center.
"The student loans for Rochester, New York students were not forgiven. The federal government was announcing a program that they are offering mostly to the California students. We are still waiting to see what the federal government is going to unravel for the non-California students."
The reason why California students were singled out was because in 2014 the Department of Education found that many programs at a California subsidiary of Corinthian Colleges, known as Heald College, were "misrepresented'' to students. So any student enrolled in the school between 2010 and 2015 qualified for relief.
In a statement on its website, Corinthian College Chief Executive Officer, Jack Massimino, says the closure was “forced” and that the schools did a “good job for the students they served.”
On Thursday nights, Valerie Hacker meets with dozens of others whom also attended the Everest campus in Rochester, New York. They are supporting each other while they each apply for a Closed School Discharge through the federal government. Carlos Santana, a Community Builder from the non-profit Action for a Better Community, joins the students each week to help find the resources they need throughout the process.
Members of the group have made countless attempts to transfer to programs at schools like Bryant & Stratton College and Monroe Community College, but have failed. The schools have rejected many of the credits they earned at Everest, and in the case of some students, transferring would add extra years to their studies.
"We've asked the Department of Education, we've asked the loan service officers, 'What is a comparable program?' If they don't qualify we would like to tell [our clients] right away," says Maggie Robb.
So far, it appears the students who attempt to finish their degree elsewhere are the ones having difficulty getting their loans discharged. Hacker and a few others have already been approved.
Carlos Santana says he wonders if the students can be reimbursed their previously awarded New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and Pell grants.
"Some of these students don’t have the extra money to pay for their expenses and some of these grants really helped them survive," says Santana.