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The Biden administration announced late Wednesday that it will wipe out $5.8 billion in federal loan debt held by half a million borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit education business that shut down in 2015 after defrauding students across the country.
The victory for an estimated 560,000 borrowers is a product of seven years of relentless campaigning and organizing by the Corinthian 15, a group of debtors who teamed up in 2015 and refused to pay off their loans as a protest against the federal government’s inaction—and, in the case of the Trump administration, brazen efforts to block avenues toward relief.
“The strike and the continued organizing has achieved a lot more than people gave us credit for, and we’re just getting started.”
The 15 former Corinthian students, some of whom were saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and worthless degrees, joined forces with the Debt Collective, the nation’s first debtors’ union, to pursue justice for thousands of defrauded students. Their efforts helped set off a nationwide debt cancellation movement spanning three administrations, as The American Prospect‘s David Dayen explains in a detailed account of the Corinthian 15’s work.
“It was these students who started to remake the world,” Thomas Gokey, a founder of the Debt Collective, said of the Corinthian 15. “The strike and the continued organizing has achieved a lot more than people gave us credit for, and we’re just getting started.”
The loan forgiveness that the Education Department announced Wednesday will be automatic, and indebted former Corinthian students will soon receive a letter in the mail notifying them that their balance is being eliminated. The department said the move represents the “largest single loan discharge” in its history.
“As of today, every student deceived, defrauded, and driven into debt by Corinthian Colleges can rest assured that the Biden-Harris administration has their back and will discharge their federal student loans,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.
“For far too long,” he added, “Corinthian engaged in the wholesale financial exploitation of students, misleading them into taking on more and more debt to pay for promises they would never keep.”
While hailing the department’s decision as a major victory, former Corinthian students and the Debt Collective made clear that they have no plans to stop pushing the Biden administration to cancel all outstanding federal student loan debt, which currently stands at around $1.7 trillion.
“We weren’t just fighting for Corinthian. We’re fighting for everybody,” said Latonya Suggs, one of the original Corinthian 15. “There’s one victory down and a lot more to go.”
Ann Bowers, another member of the Corinthian 15, told The American Prospect that “we’re looking for more.”
“I was taught when I was a child, education is the shortest route to success,” Bowers added. “This doesn’t feel like success!”
Astra Taylor, a writer and documentary filmmaker who helped found the Debt Collective, echoed those sentiments on Twitter:
Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration is currently planning to unilaterally cancel $10,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower, a far cry from the total cancellation that the Debt Collective and others are demanding.
According to the Education Data Initiative, the average federal student loan debt balance is just over $37,000.
“Fifteen students formed a debtors union started a debt strike, now 560,000 will be getting 100% of their federal student loans canceled,” the Debt Collective wrote in a social media post late Wednesday. “You deserve a union too. If we all strike together, we can cancel $1.7 trillion for 45 million people. Debtors have power.”