Two Massachusetts lawmakers are calling on the federal government to help students who “were misled or defrauded” by Bay State College in Boston.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley sent a letter Thursday to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona asking him to hold the for-profit college accountable for taxpayer losses.
The lawmakers want to ensure that students will be eligible for “borrower defense to loan repayment,” which discharges federal student loan debt for students who have been misled by colleges. They also call on the Education Department to hold Bay State executives “personally liable” for the “college’s misconduct,” of “defrauding students.”
“If the department does not exert its authority to hold Bay State College and Ambow Education owners and executives personally liable for Bay State’s failure, Bay State students and the federal government would be at risk of shouldering the financial burden of the college’s misconduct,” they wrote.
Last month, the New England Commission of Higher Education said it would withdraw Bay State’s accreditation on Aug. 31 after monitoring the college for several months. The college has reported steep enrollment declines and revenue losses in recent years, which prompted layoffs and program cuts last year.
Bay State has appealed the decision, NECHE President Larry Schall said Wednesday.
“It is essential that the Department of Education work with us to ensure that Bay State college students are made whole through the department’s borrower defense programs,” Pressley said in a statement to the Globe. “These policies exist to protect students in situations like what has unfolded at Bay State, and we don’t want students left in the lurch because this higher education institution failed them.”
Warren and Pressley, who previously encouraged NECHE to “carefully scrutinize” Bay State’s accreditation, now are asking the Department of Education to “be prepared to act quickly” if the accreditation loss stands. Students enrolled in non-accredited programs often have trouble transferring to other colleges to continue their education, they added.
“Accreditation loss almost always leads to bankruptcy and abrupt school closures,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
Warren and Pressley asked the Education Department to “provide an explanation of how it plans to support students and alumni” if the appeal is denied and the school loses accreditation.
In December, the department placed Bay State on a list of colleges facing heightened scrutiny, which means the Back Bay college has to make financial aid payments to students from its own institutional funds and then request reimbursement from the department.
In August, the Department of Education shared new actions to hold accountable colleges that have contributed to the student debt crisis.
“To build off this success, we encourage the department to support the students who were victims of Bay State’s predatory behavior,” Warren and Pressley wrote.
A Bay State spokesperson said in an e-mail to the Globe that it has secured $3.9 million from its investors to support students and operations until June 2024.
Schall, with NECHE, said Thursday that the commission and the state Department of Higher Education have been in “regular touch” with Bay State. He added that regulators have told the college what needs to be done to ensure that students either finish their degrees at the college or transfer to other schools to finish.
Hilary Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Hilarysburns.