In October -- the same day the students' lawsuit was filed -- Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott released scathing allegations the department skirted federal law and illegally doled out nearly $11 million in federal student aid to those schools.
Scott has threatened subpoenas.
"If the department continues to refuse to respond, the committee will then be forced to conclude that the department is purposefully frustrating Congressional oversight for reasons that are not in the best interest of the American taxpaying public," Scott wrote in a letter to DeVos.
DeVos said the department was canceling loans because of the HLC's "newly developed and improperly defined accreditation status" that has hurt students' ability to find jobs and transfer to other schools.
Eric Rothschild, litigation director with Student Defense, said the accreditor did nothing wrong. He said the lawsuit and Scott's investigation compelled the department to erase the students' debt, which should take effect immediately.
"I think the conduct that was revealed, including the way they answered questions to Congress about this, was frankly indefensible," Rothschild said. "This was a way they could avoid defending this in litigation or further hearings."
The lawsuit will continue as attorneys sort out how much debt will be canceled and whether the department also will reimburse students for payments they've already made.
Meanwhile, the students are trying to move on. Infusino transferred to a Florida-based online college. He was seeking to erase about $7,600 in debt. Dunagan is doing internships in designing. His loan debt had reached more than $11,000.
Mahone is trying to decide if it is worth starting over at another school. She has about $3,600 in loans that could be canceled.
"They stole from us, they lied to us, they manipulated us and now it's like, move along," Mahone said. "I don't want anyone else to have to go through this. It derails dreams."
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