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Q&A: Debt Collective co-founder talks financial burden of for-profit schools

By Sierra deSousa

April 13, 2015 5:05 a.m.

An activist who is calling for the abolition of student debt visited the UCLA School of Law Thursday for a panel discussion on student debt.

Laura Hanna co-founded the Debt Collective, which seeks to organize those with high debt to fight their student loans. The collective focuses its work on combating practices at the Corinthian Colleges, Inc., the parent company that owns a chain of three for-profit colleges – Everest, Heald College and WyoTech.

The company says it aims to prepare those without college education for a professional career, but many accuse it of misleading the people it says it serves, such as single mothers and people of color. For example, the company has been accused of persuading clients to take out high-interest loans.

The company sold off some of its campuses and closed its operations at others last July after the Department of Education ceased giving funding to it.

Hanna talked to the Daily Bruin last week about why she and her organization are calling for not paying student debt.

Daily Bruin: Why did you start this organization?

Laura Hanna: There’s a lot of hand-wringing in progressive circles about inequality, but not much action. This organization is an effort to take action, to challenge the way that we think about indebtedness, austerity and capitalism as an existence in the United States.

DB: What is your organization’s goal?

LH: We are fighting against structural racism. The Corinthian Colleges say that they’re doing a public service because these people would not normally have access to education, but it’s really just a predatory lending scheme. We want a complete discharge of all private and federal loans to the (Corinthian) students.

DB: How has the Department of Education responded to your initiative?

LH: We brought protesters to one of the DOE’s hearings and demanded discharge of these debts. The DOE reduced the debt burden (of Corinthian students) by about 40 percent, but they have agreed to a second meeting to discuss removal of the other 60 percent.

DB: What happens when students don’t pay their debt?

LH: The banks are required to keep their records clear, so when a payment is delayed beyond a certain amount of time, they write off the debt to clear their books. Then they turn around and sell that debt to a debt buyer, who buys a whole portfolio of debt at a fraction of the price and sells it for pennies on the dollar.

DB: What are the risks involved in boycotting student debt?

LH: The risks are tax and wage seizure, garnishment of disability tax, increased interest rates of other loans, tarnished credit score and subprime auto loans. There is no possibility of arrest, but some states with outdated draconian laws are threatening (the) removal of drivers’ licenses and removal of certification. I’ve talked to people, and there’s a lot of work being done to remove those draconian laws.

DB: Are those who step up and join the Debt Collective aware of the risks?

LH: Yes, it would be a grave oversight for us to not educate those who join. Part of the financial literacy organizing that we do is walking people through legal aid clinics, (educating people about) alternative forms of repayment and the repercussions of boycotting their debt.

DB: How far are people in the organization willing to go with this boycott?

LH: It depends on the situation. That is a decision for both the individuals and the group as a whole. For now, they feel that they have been effective and they want to continue to be on strike.

Compiled by Sierra deSousa, Bruin contributor.

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Sierra deSousa | News reporter
Sierra deSousa is currently a news reporter covering Westwood, transportation and Los Angeles. She has also covered the University of California.
Sierra deSousa is currently a news reporter covering Westwood, transportation and Los Angeles. She has also covered the University of California.
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