The case could set precedent for hundreds of former students of the now-defunct Court Reporting Institute, which had locations in Seattle and Tacoma.

Share story

A former Seattle resident is suing the U.S. Department of Education for not forgiving student debt she incurred at a deceptive for-profit college, which she says has set her back in life.

It’s a case that could set precedent for hundreds of former students of the now-defunct Court Reporting Institute, which had locations in Seattle and Tacoma.

Christine Gold attended the Seattle school from 2001-2005, allegedly lured by promises the three-year program in legal transcription would lead to a high-paying job. But few students graduated from the program, and the school shut down in 2006 after state investigators found it used deceptive business practices.

Gold left the school with nearly $36,000 in debt she has struggled to repay, and she filed a borrower defense claim with the Department of Education in May 2016. Borrowers misled by a school are eligible for federal student-loan forgiveness.

Gold’s attorney Robyn Bitner works for the nonprofit National Student Legal Defense Network, which filed the suit in the District of Columbia last week, naming the Department of Education and DeVos, in her capacity as secretary, as defendants. The group also recently filed a separate suit against DeVos on a similar issue.

Gold, who now lives in Arizona, is one of hundreds of students allegedly deceived by the Court Reporting Institute, and Bitner said she hopes the case will set a precedent for others.

“The students who are being defrauded by these kinds of schools are often low-income students; they’re often the first in their families to go to school,” Bitner said. “Their decision to pursue higher education should have been an opportunity to improve their lives and financial situations.”

The Department of Education does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesman said.

State officials have advocated for change. In 2016, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Sen. Patty Murray began urging the Department of Education to dismiss loans owed by former students who attended the Washington locations.

Since then, DeVos has faced scrutiny from critics who say her department has been slow to process claims and too easy on for-profit colleges. The Department of Education doesn’t have a full-time employee to investigate borrowers’ complaints, according to  The New York Times, and more than 100,000 claims are pending.

The courts have overruled the department on this issue before. Ferguson and 18 other state attorneys general successfully sued the department for delaying the implementation of an Obama-era borrower defense rule, although DeVos said she will revise the rules in the future.

Gold was the sole earner in her household when she began attending the Court Reporting Institute in 2001, according to the suit. She claimed an admissions representative promised she would make $65,000 a year immediately after graduating, and that the program would take only three years to complete. After hearing about the school’s supposed perfect job-placement rate and experienced instructors, she enrolled.

What Gold and her peers didn’t know was that the school had been investigated by the state Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board for deceptive practices.

In 1999, the board, which regulates vocational schools, noted that “there is some question about whether an average student can complete the program.” Between July 1, 2000, and June 30, 2003, the school’s completion rate was only 6 percent.

The board investigated complaints through 2006 and repeatedly found the school misrepresented educational practices, instructor qualifications, graduation rates, program length, employment prospects and the amount of financial aid available, and that it did not make mandated changes.

But Gold wasn’t aware. Despite the hours and money she had invested, she never seemed to be on track to graduate. After nearly three-and-a-half years in the program, the suit stated she withdrew in 2005 with $35,750 in federal loans.

According to the suit, she’s struggled to pay and now owes around $62,000. She’s in a similar job to the one she had before enrolling. Her credit score has dropped. She’s been unable to take out loans to pursue further higher education. Her family lives paycheck to paycheck and she can’t save for retirement.