In a landmark move, the Biden administration has announced the forgiveness of over $6.1 billion in student debt for 317,000 former students of The Art Institutes. This decision comes after years of scrutiny over the once giant chain of for-profit schools and its parent company, the Education Management Corporation (EDMC). The U.S. Department of Education, following evidence presented by the attorneys general of Iowa, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, found that The Art Institutes engaged in “pervasive and substantial” misrepresentations to students regarding post-graduation employment rates, salaries, and career services.

Protecting Borrowers

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona expressed outrage at the situation, stating, “For more than a decade, hundreds of thousands of hopeful students borrowed billions to attend The Art Institutes and got little but lies in return.” This forgiveness of debt aims to protect borrowers from predatory institutions and move towards a higher education system that is affordable for both students and taxpayers. The Education Department revealed that The Art Institutes falsified average salaries among graduates, with shocking examples like including professional tennis player Serena Williams’ income to inflate potential program salaries.

Eligible borrowers who attended The Art Institutes between January 1, 2004, and October 16, 2017, will receive forgiveness automatically, bypassing the formal process for loan relief for defrauded borrowers. Despite the sale of the remaining Art Institute campuses in October 2017 and the subsequent closure of all schools under separate ownership in September 2023, the impact of the predatory practices continues to linger. EDMC’s bankruptcy filing in 2018 further highlights the consequences of unethical behavior in the for-profit education sector, with even major financial institutions like Goldman Sachs being involved at one point.

The forgiveness of $6.1 billion in student debt for former Art Institutes students serves as a stark reminder of the importance of transparency and accountability in the higher education landscape. It underscores the need for robust oversight to prevent similar incidents of exploitation in the future. As the Biden administration takes decisive action to address the aftermath of predatory practices, it signals a step towards a fairer and more equitable educational system for all. The impact of this forgiveness extends beyond financial relief, embodying a commitment to justice and integrity in education.

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