Former Argosy student died from cancer but wins case for debt relief

‘Rob did not get to witness justice, but the result shows that he was right all along’

Washington Post
Saturday 22 May 2021 00:39
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<p>Argosy University shut its doors in 2019</p>

Argosy University shut its doors in 2019

While battling advanced colon cancer, Robert Armour never wavered in his legal fight for student loan cancellation after the abrupt closure of his school, Argosy University-Schaumburg in Illinois.

His effort paid off. Nearly one and a half years after suing the Education Department and former education secretary Betsy DeVos, Mr Armour succeeded. Before leaving office in early January, the Donald Trump administration agreed to settle the case, which wrapped up this month.

But Mr Armour never got to enjoy his victory. He died last October as the case was making its way through the courts.

“Rob was my hero,” said Laura Armour, Robert’s widow. “He always knew what was right, and was unwilling to give up. He would be so proud today. I know I am.”

The Education Department agreed to discharge the $100,000 (£70,000) in federal loans Mr Armour borrowed to pursue a doctorate in psychology and refund the $34,169 (£24,000) he paid toward that debt. Mr Armour had struggled to pay more than $1,000 (£700) a month on his loans, but was approved to have his payments postponed while he underwent treatment.

In 2019, Robert Armour sued the Trump administration to reverse the denial of his application for a closed-school discharge, a form of loan forgiveness provided to college students whose schools shut down. Students are eligible if they were enrolled when a school closed, were on an approved leave of absence or had withdrawn within four months of the school closing.

After learning that his colon cancer had metastasised to his liver, Mr Armour took an extended leave of absence from school toward the end of the 2018 spring semester to undergo treatment. While on leave, his campus became part of the first wave of Argosy locations to cease operation. And when the for-profit chain shuttered, Mr Armour applied for a discharge of his debt.

The Education Department initially sent Mr Armour a letter stating that he appeared to meet the criteria and that his application was under final review. But the agency ultimately denied his request, claiming that he had withdrawn from the school more than four months before closing - outside the period for loan forgiveness.

There is nothing in the application that says a leave of absence may not exceed six months in a single year, yet the Trump administration tried unsuccessfully in court to use the time limit against Mr Armour. In rejecting the department’s attempt to dismiss the case, a federal judge agreed in November that Mr Armour had a valid claim and the denial was arbitrary.

“The Department of Education fought for more than a year to deny Rob the relief he was entitled to, and did not relent until we defeated their attempt to throw out his case in federal court,” said Alex Elson, senior counsel and co-founder of the National Student Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit representing Mr Armour. “Rob did not get to witness justice, but the result shows that he was right all along.”

Mr Armour, who worked as a corrections officer, had planned to use his doctorate to become a staff psychologist for the Illinois Department of Corrections. Each penny of his student loans was the result of seeking that one degree. And like thousands of other Argosy students, Mr Armour was devastated when the school shuttered before he could obtain the credential.

Argosy folded after the Education Department cut off federal student aid in February 2019 upon learning that the school used more than $13 million (£9 million) owed to students to cover payroll and other expenses.

Dream Centre, which owned Argosy, the Art Institutes and South University, was in a financial tailspin at the time. The Los Angeles nonprofit entity spent months trying to close and sell campuses to meet financial obligations but entered into a form of bankruptcy.

Without revenue from federal student aid, Dream Centre had little chance of keeping the schools open. Within a week of the Education Department’s decision, Argosy’s remaining chain of 22 career schools stretching from Virginia to California closed. Dream Center Education Holdings has since dissolved.

Mr Armour never understood why the Trump administration continued to fight his request for relief, according to his attorney. In an interview with The Washington Post in 2019, Mr Armour said the closure of Argosy was devastating enough without the federal government ratcheting up the pain.

“When a giant college fails and destroys thousands of lives, one would hope the government is there to help pick up the pieces, not to pile on to the damage,” Mr Armour said.

He worried about the outcome of the case but remained determined to see it through even as his health declined, according to his attorney.

“I was sad that [Rob] had to fight this case for so many years, and I am sad that he is not here today to share in his victory,” Laura Armour said.

The Washington Post

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