Recently, the Baltimore Sun ran an op-ed penned by Sens. Paul Pinsky and Joan Carter-Conway that misled Maryland citizens about the steps Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) have taken to support and safeguard students attending higher education institutions in our state. As the Secretary of Higher Education, I can categorically affirm that the governor, MHEC, has worked diligently to protect the former students of the bankrupt ITT Technical Institute and put in place common sense regulations to ensure that students facing similar circumstances will have even greater protections going forward. Most importantly, we accomplished this without imposing a fee on students, such as the proposal put forth by Senator Pinsky would have done.
ITT closed its doors to students on Sept. 6, 2016, and filed for bankruptcy 10 days later. Approximately 711 students were attending ITT’s two Maryland campuses at the time of closure. Immediately following the closure, MHEC staff diligently sought to recover student records, reach out to affected students, and broker teach-out agreements with other institutions of higher education in the state so that ITT students could complete their studies as seamlessly as possible.
Under the Governor’s leadership, and with MHEC’s efforts and the assistance of numerous Maryland colleges, universities, and community colleges, approximately 562 out of the 711 former students have either received loan forgiveness through the federal government or have pursued teach-out options to complete their studies. In addition to reaching out to the students, MHEC obtained the transcript data of all former students to protect that information for future use by students, and also helped lead a multi-state effort in the U.S. bankruptcy court to ensure that former students have permanent access to their academic records.
While Senator Paul Pinsky recognized MHEC’s service and dedication to former ITT students, stating during a public briefing, “Let me be clear. Your efforts on behalf of the ITT students I really appreciate. I do,” regrettably, he now portrays a false narrative that MHEC’s assistance to ITT students was inadequate, which simply is not the case.
The fact is, Senator Pinsky urged MHEC to draft regulations that would impose a fee on all for-profit institution students in March 2017. This was prompted by a 2016 bill (HB741), which established the requirement for a guarantee fund to reimburse students if a for-profit institution closed without prior notice. In response, MHEC drafted regulations creating the mandated guarantee fund, allowing for-profit institutions to either pay directly into the fund or provide a financial guarantee, such as a performance or surety bond. These regulations put the burden on the institutions to ensure that students are fully protected without charging them any new fees. The regulations are also in line with how other states are ensuring these protections. MHEC voted unanimously last week to adopt these regulations to ensure that protections are put in place immediately without any delay.
Protecting Maryland’s students is paramount to Governor Hogan, the Maryland Higher Education Commission, and the Maryland General Assembly. Moving forward, rather than make completely false and unfounded accusations, I hope members of the General Assembly will work collaboratively and productively with MHEC and the Hogan administration, which is ultimately in the best interest of Maryland’s higher education students.
James D. Fielder Jr., Baltimore
The writer is Maryland’s Secretary of Higher Education.
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