ED Ended a Financial Aid Agreement With a For-Profit College. Its Students May Qualify for Loan Forgiveness.

Many current and former students of Florida Career College will likely be eligible for false certification discharge, which would erase their loan balances.
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  • Students at Florida Career College will soon no longer be able to access federal grants and loans.
  • The for-profit chain has 12 campuses that serve 5,000 students in Florida and Texas.
  • The Department of Education alleges the for-profit tampered with test results to enroll more students.

The Department of Education (ED) is cutting off Florida Career College from distributing federal grants and loans to certificate-seeking students later this year.

ED claims the for-profit college chain, which enrolls approximately 5,000 students across 12 campuses in Florida and Texas, broke the department's policy by tampering with student exams. Florida Career College (FCC) denies the allegations.

For students without a high school or GED diploma to access federal aid, they must pass an ability-to-benefit (ATB) test. FCC reportedly gave many students answers so that they could enroll, ED said.

To minimize disruptions, ED will allow current students to continue receiving aid through Sept. 30. According to the department, that would give them enough time to complete their 10-month certificate program.

FCC must, however, agree to increased oversight from ED until then. The for-profit chain had until April 18 to agree to this, or ED would cease support on April 30.

FCC Director of Communications Joseph Cockrell told BestColleges on Wednesday that the college chain agreed to the department's terms.

What Did Florida Career College Allegedly Do Wrong?

The for-profit chain of institutions reportedly tampered with testing data, according to the Department of Education.

Prospective students without a high school or GED diploma must pass an ability-to-benefit test to qualify for federal student aid like loans or grants. However, FCC allegedly skewed results so that more students would pass and enroll in the school's certificate program using federal dollars.

ED alleges FCC tampered by filling in or changing answers to tests after students submitted them. The department also alleges that test proctors affiliated with the institution gave hints during the test and broke the rules by allowing students to use calculators during exams.

FCC and its parent company International Education Corp. (IEC) allegedly encouraged this behavior by replacing test proctors with low pass rates.

A large percentage of FCC students use the ATB test to enroll.

According to ED, between 43% and 48% of FCC students enrolled at the school through ATB testing since 2018. FCC and another school owned by IEC accounted for nearly 75% of all ATB enrollments nationwide during the 2021-22 academic year.

From 2016-2021, more than half of students who enrolled through ATB testing withdrew from an FCC program before attaining a certificate, according to ED.

This means many students accrued debt without the benefit of a certificate to help them pay it off. Additionally, students can only access federal Pell Grants for a set number of semesters, so their enrollment in FCC ate into their eligibility timeline.

FCC denies the allegations.

"We are deeply disappointed in the Department of Education's myopic and misguided decision. [ED] risks harming thousands of students seeking economic stability and a better life," Cockrell said in a statement. "We intend to fight this unjust and inequitable decision vigorously on behalf of our students and the communities we serve."

Florida Career College Students Can Have Debt Erased

Many former and current FCC students may be eligible for student loan forgiveness due to the allegations against the chain.

False certification discharge is the primary avenue people can use to have their federal student loans erased. Those without a high school diploma who believe their ATB test was mismanaged can qualify for this discharge, according to Federal Student Aid.

The department said if FCC performed any of the following actions during a student's ATB test, the student might qualify for false certification discharge:

  • Allowed students to use a calculator or phone for portions of the test
  • Provided students with answers
  • Gave nonverbal assistance to students during the test
  • Provided a copy of the test beforehand
  • Changed or filled in answers after the test was submitted
  • Allowed unlimited time to complete the test
  • Allowed students to work together

ED added that students who believe FCC misled them or engaged in misconduct can file a borrower defense claim. If successful, they may have their loans forgiven this way instead.

President Joe Biden has continually used existing regulations — or amended those regulations — to put for-profit institutions under a microscope. He has forgiven billions in student debt through borrower defense claims, specifically.