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Updated on May 26, 2023
Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, set in Barbados, has drawn students with dreams of a medical career. But some faced hurdles in completing their clinical rotations.
The students, believing the university misrepresented critical aspects of their education, sought loan forgiveness through the Borrower Defense to Repayment provision.
Despite years of stagnation and pushback during the Trump administration, relief finally came under President Biden.
Notably, a 2022 settlement provided automatic debt forgiveness to nearly 200,000 borrowers from 151 schools, with expedited procedures for around 100,000 more.
As of Apr. 11, the government reported that 78,000 initial borrowers had received loan discharges, marking significant progress in addressing this long-standing issue.
Ahead, we’ll discuss the Borrower Defense to Repayment Program, how the settlement affects RUSM and RUVM students, and other forgiveness options.
What Is the Borrower Defense Program?
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has had a provision in place since 1995 to protect students who believe their educational institutions deceived them. This program, known as the “Borrower Defense to Repayment”, provides a safety net for borrowers:
It grants them the right to have their government education loans discharged if they can prove they were defrauded.
This can occur if a school’s aggressive recruitment practices mislead them.
It can also happen if they were subjected to false promises about a program’s admissions selectivity or job prospects upon graduation.
But despite its potential benefits, the BDR program remained largely dormant until recent years, when it saw a resurgence due to a surge of applications.
Ross University students apply for relief
The Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine is one of the institutions that has gotten a lot of press because of the BDR program:
Ross University is a school in the Caribbean that is run by DeVry Education Group, which changed its name to Adtalem Global Education in 2017.
It sends out more American vets into the world than any other school.
The U.S. Department of Education named Ross as one of over 150 schools that have shown “substantial misconduct.”
The high number of BDR applications from Ross grads and the serious accusations have put this school in the spotlight and helped greatly with the recent resurgence of the BDR program.
What Allegations Were Made Against Ross University?
Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine has found itself at the center of controversy, with many of its graduates claiming the institution defrauded them. These allegations stem from various sources, with an extensive Reddit discussion thread playing a pivotal role. The main grievances presented by the graduates include:
Deceptive marketing practices: The graduates claim that Ross University provided inflated statistics regarding the success rate of their program and post-graduate job placement, thereby enticing students to enroll.
Insufficient academic support: Students allege a lack of necessary academic resources and guidance, which they believe negatively impacted their academic progress and subsequent career prospects.
Predatory lending schemes: Some graduates argue that the university encouraged them to take on substantial student loan debts, assuring them that their post-graduate earnings would comfortably cover the repayment.
Contrasting these serious allegations, Ross University officials deny any wrongdoing, asserting that all disclosed information was accurate and the program’s quality is of a high standard. They attribute the graduates’ struggles to isolated incidents rather than systemic issues.
This ongoing conflict has drawn attention from federal authorities, prompting a broader review of student loan forgiveness programs and sparking further investigations into the allegations against Ross University.
How Did Former Students Gather Evidence of Wrongdoing?
Numerous accounts from the Reddit discussion thread support the allegations against Ross University. The thread provides evidence, each pointing towards systematic issues at the institution:
Corroborative independent accounts: Numerous individual stories with striking similarities lend credibility to the possibility of systematic misconduct.
Gap between promised and actual outcomes: The graduates’ shared experiences highlight a significant disparity between the program’s advertised success and the reality they faced upon enrollment.
Lack of academic support: Graduates frequently mention insufficient academic resources and guidance, leading to struggles that impede academic progress and negatively affect career prospects.
Indication of predatory lending: The graduates’ testimonies suggest that the university might have led students into excessive debt, promising easy repayment from high-earning jobs that many did not secure.
While these are individual testimonies and not proven facts, their consistency and the sheer number of similar stories suggest a potentially troubling pattern at Ross University. This pattern has caught the attention of federal authorities and legal teams, igniting calls for a thorough investigation and fair compensation if the allegations prove valid.
What Kind of Relief is Available for Defrauded Borrowers?
A key development in the history of the BDR program occurred on Jun. 22, 2022:
The U.S. Department of Education and Class Plaintiffs in the Sweet v. Cardona class action proposed a settlement.
Under this settlement, the ED would cancel billions in student loans for hundreds of thousands of borrowers for certain schools, including Ross.
This announcement triggered a rush among Ross graduates and other eligible borrowers to file their applications before the deadline, hoping to benefit from the potentially substantial debt relief on offer.
The proposed settlement has significant implications for Ross Medical School graduates.
The lawsuit and subsequent settlement arose from accusations of substantial misconduct by more than 150 institutions, including Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.
These misconduct allegations pertain to aggressive recruitment practices, false promises about program admissions selectivity or job prospects upon graduation, and other acts or omissions violating state law related to federal student loans or the educational services for which the loan was provided.
Who is Eligible for Relief Under the Settlement?
A significant landmark in student loan history was the Sweet v. Cardona settlement, impacting borrower defense applications filed on or before Nov. 15, 2022.
Class Members are borrowers whose applications were pending as of Jun. 22, 2022.
Post-Class Applicants submitted applications between Jun. 23 and Nov. 15, 2022.
Conditions for Class Members and Post-Class Applicants
The settlement resulted in:
Full Settlement Relief for Class Members whose loans relate to attendance at any school listed in Exhibit C of the settlement agreement. This includes loan discharge, refund of paid amounts, and deletion of the loan from the borrower’s credit report.
Class Members whose loans aren’t associated with a listed school will receive a decision according to a timeline running until July 2025. Late decisions result in Full Settlement Relief.
Post-Class Applicants’ applications will be reviewed under the 2016 Borrower Defense Regulation. No decision by Jan. 28, 2026, means Full Settlement Relief.
Crucially, the ED won’t collect defaulted loan debt associated with a borrower defense application while it’s pending or while the borrower awaits relief.
How the settlement affects pending applications
The settlement significantly affects pending applications:
If an application isn’t initially approved, ED provides resubmission instructions. Final decisions are issued within six months of resubmission.
Denials issued in December 2019 or later are voided, and applications are reviewed under the settlement terms.
Which Schools Appealed the Decision and Why?
Three schools — American National University, Everglades College, Inc., and Lincoln Educational Services — appealed the settlement, attempting to block its implementation. Their claim centered around the unfairness of the agreement and its process, arguing that inclusion in the settlement agreement appendix was damaging to their reputations. A federal district court judge dismissed these objections.
And in another significant victory for students, last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request from the three intervening schools for a stay of the settlement pending their appeals. This ruling paves the way for the Education Department to proceed with relief for students of these institutions and, indeed, all class members.
What Does the Settlement Mean for Ross University Graduates?
Ross University School of Medicine graduates, colloquially known as ‘Ross Med,’ who applied for Borrower Defense to Repayment before the Nov. 3 deadline, are eligible for a federal student loan discharge under the Sweet v. Cardona class-action settlement.
This applies to students who borrowed from the U.S. government to attend any institution of higher education, including Caribbean medical schools like Ross, which is accredited by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine (CAAM-HP).
If the borrower’s loans are associated with Ross, a medical school with campuses in Dominica and Miramar, Miami, they will receive Full Settlement Relief.
This entails the discharge of federal student loan(s) linked to their attendance at the school, refund of any amounts paid to the Education Department on those loans, and deletion of the credit tradeline for those loans from the borrower’s credit report.
This is significant for Ross Med students, who typically spend a significant amount of USD to complete their medical degree program.
How the Education Department reviews applications
The Education Department will use a streamlined review process to make decisions on these applications, using the 2016 Borrower Defense Regulation. The department won’t require evidence outside of the written application, proof of reliance, or apply any statute of limitations.
If an application is not initially approved, the department will provide instructions for resubmission, and borrowers will have six months to resubmit their application for review.
Process For Post-Class Applicants
For borrowers who applied for BDR relief after Jun. 22, 2022, but before the final approval of the settlement, their applications will be reviewed using the 2016 Borrower Defense Regulation.
The Educaiton Department is required to issue a decision on these applications no later than Jan. 28, 2026. If it doesn’t, the borrowers will receive full settlement relief.
While this settlement provides potential relief, it does not denote wrongdoing by the listed institutions, including Ross. The settlement does not influence Ross’s acceptance rate, its basic and medical sciences curriculum rigor, or the hands-on clinical training that Ross prides itself on.
Are There Other Options for Relief Apart from Borrower Defense?
For Ross University School of Medicine graduates, alternative options to the Borrower Defense Rule can provide significant student loan relief, potentially aiding in the transition into medical careers.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness: For Ross graduates working in the public sector, including roles at public hospitals or non-profit organizations, PSLF offers the benefit of forgiving remaining loan balances after 120 qualifying payments while in qualifying employment.
Income-Driven Repayment Plan Forgiveness: Tailored to your income, these repayment plans offer an affordable monthly payment option. The remaining loan balance could be forgiven after 20-25 years of qualifying payments based on your specific IDR plan.
IDR Waiver: This recent adjustment benefits Ross graduates by counting at least three additional years towards loan forgiveness. This could bring many graduates significantly closer to loan forgiveness or even achieve automatic forgiveness if loans have been in repayment for at least 20 or 25 years, regardless of their current plan.
Student Loan Bankruptcy: While this option is rarely recommended due to strict requirements, Ross graduates experiencing severe financial hardship might find relief through the discharge of student loans via bankruptcy.
Could RUSM Students Potentially Submit Borrower Defense Claims?
With a relatively high dropout rate of about 20%, the Ross University School of Medicine is criticized for how it helps its students do well in school. Critics say that Ross lets in students who are having trouble in school, which leads to more students dropping out. Since more than 900 new students start every year, giving each RUSM student individualized academic help may be hard.
Despite these challenges, Ross offers the Medical Education Readiness Program (MERP), a 15-week program to better prepare lower-achieving applicants. But the attrition rate and criticisms suggest that students might feel misled, which could lead to borrower defense claims.
Aspiring doctors considering Ross should carefully review the admissions requirements, including MCAT scores and GPA. For more information, visit medical.rossu.edu or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Prospective students should also consider pass rates of USMLE Step exams when choosing a med school.
Significant changes to student loan relief options offer hope for many borrowers, including Ross University graduates. Even if you cannot benefit from the Borrower Defense program, you can explore relief under the PSLF Program and the IDR Waiver.
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