In the fall of 2013, Mallory Heiney returned from a mission trip to Guinea with a plan to go into health care. She enrolled in classes at a for-profit college called Everest Institute, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, expecting to graduate with a degree that would help her become a nurse. But, after less than a year, she said, her instructors stopped showing up. Corinthian Colleges, the company that owned Everest, had admitted that its finances were in trouble, and that it expected to go out of business; it later said it would shut down several campuses, including the one in Grand Rapids. Heiney graduated but felt she had learned very little. When she tells people where she went, she told me, she gets sympathetic looks. She said, “You go to school so they look at you and think, ‘Wow, this person must be educated’—not so they look at you and think, ‘Oh, this person went to Everest. They must be trash.’ ” Heiney’s student debts include more than ten thousand dollars owed to the federal government and more than ten thousand dollars in private loans; that’s what remains after she repaid some of the interest on her debts while she was in college, in part by selling her own plasma.
On Monday, Heiney and fourteen other people who took out loans to attend Corinthian announced that they are going on a “debt strike,” and will stop repaying their loans. They believe that they have both ethical and legal grounds for what appears to be an unprecedented collective action against the debt charged to students who attended Corinthian schools, and they are also making a broader statement about the trillion dollars of student debt owed throughout the country.