“I discovered my passion for consumer justice — and eventually higher education justice — through my work as a legal aid attorney and the incredible NCLC, legal aid, and state law enforcement attorneys who have inspired me. I attended my first NCLC conference in 1996, when I worked at the Legal Aid Foundation of Hawaii. There I learned about the tools I used to obtain a federal student loan discharge for my first client who had been defrauded by a for-profit trucking school (yes, trucking in Hawaii!).
As a deputy at the California Attorney General’s office, I led the investigation of Corinthian Colleges that led to the 2007 stipulated judgment regarding its use of inflated job placement rates to prey on low-income students. This was a preview to the widespread fraud Corinthian committed in subsequent years, leading to its 2014 implosion. However, because I missed representing student loan borrowers as a legal aid attorney, I had returned to legal services by the time of its implosion. I also began doing student loan work with NCLC as Of Counsel. Since that time, I have worked to obtain debt relief for Corinthian and other low-income borrowers harmed by for-profit fraud on a case-by-case basis and through impact litigation and policy work.
Over my 25 years working in this area, student loan debt and for-profit school fraud has exploded, making access to quality, affordable higher education increasingly out of reach for poor Americans. The original purpose of our higher education system — to serve students and society — has been subsumed into the larger goal of sustaining the existence of billion-dollar industries (servicers, debt collectors, lenders including the federal government, schools, online education companies, etc.). While these businesses can use federal funds to hire lawyers, impose mandatory arbitration, sue borrowers for unpaid debts, lobby Congress, and write laws, the legal services organizations to which borrowers desperately need access are severely underfunded and prohibited from bringing class actions, grassroots organizing, and using federal or other funds to lobby for change. Large, fraudulent for-profit institutions steal billions of dollars from taxpayers, pay the profits to their owners, then seek the protection of bankruptcy, but federal law makes a bankruptcy discharge of student debt impossible for the vast majority of borrowers.
But higher education is not just about economic opportunity — it is about growing as a person, becoming an active member of civil society, and finding one’s true vocation. Higher education has made an enormous difference my own life, and I continue to be outraged that so many people are denied similar opportunities and are demoralized by a punitive higher education debt system just because they are poor. I am fortunate to be able to work as a legal aid attorney and with NCLC to continue to challenge this unjust system and seek justice person-by-person.”