He earned an associate’s degree and now owes more than $100,000

Matt Saintsing
March 13, 2019 - 12:22 pm
Navy Veteran Eric Luongo owes more than $100,000 after earning an associate's degree from DeVry University

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It’s well known that some for-profit colleges target vulnerable populations in search of seemingly never-ending profits—one of those are veterans. 

Eric Luongo, a disabled veteran who left the Navy in 2003, testified to a House panel this week about how he was blindsided and left with more than $100,000 in student loans after earning an associate’s degree from DeVry University. 

He was led to believe all he needed was his G.I. Bill educational benefits and some grants to fully fund his education in web graphics design. 

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“I was told by the DeVry representative their graduates were making $80,000 and more a year working in the field of web graphics design,” said Luongo.

Luongo was initially thrilled when DeVry officials said his courses would all be covered. So, he was surprised when DeVry had him fill out a “master promissory note.”

“I thought it was very strange that it said I was signing for a loan since I was told I would be going to school for free,” said Luongo. 

“When I told the DeVry representative I thought I wasn’t going to have to pay for this, I was told that I wasn’t because I fell under a veterans program.” 

That led him to believe that he wasn’t, in fact, taking out any loans. He was wrong. 

Luongo kept filling out similar paperwork at the request of DeVry every year in which he enrolled. 

After he graduated in June 2011, he found out he owed over $101,000, including interest, for an associate’s degree.

“I had no idea I had these loans because I had used my G.I. Bill and the Pell grants,” he said. 

“The interest keeps accruing, I was never able to find a job working in web graphics design, I spent over a year looking for a job.” 

After not being able to find work in the field for which he studied, he now works for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, under the Department of Homeland Security. 
“I never did end up working in web graphics design,” he added.  

In an email to ConnectingVets, DeVry Spokeswoman Donna Shaults said, "While DeVry cannot comment on an individual student situation due to privacy concerns, we assure you the experience described by Mr. Luongo does not reflect DeVry’s practices, nor our commitment to our students." 

She added that "we encourage all students to borrow only what they need, and we have established initial award limits based on historical information to encourage responsible borrowing, unless the student requests additional funding."  

Today, he’s enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program for business administration at Medaille College, but due to what happened with DeVry, he’s not eligible for federal financial aid. 

Luongo is only able to afford classes thanks to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.  

Some lawmakers say more education is needed for veterans on how to go about attending college before leaving military service.

“It should have been very easy for you,” said Rep. Andy Harris (D-Md.) “We should have made it easy for you to figure out if you were being told the truth by DeVry University.” 
“We owe that to our veterans, but I hear it all the time,” he continued. 

“That we just don’t educate our veterans enough upon separation about what their benefits are and how to get them, and how to avoid being taken advantage of.”  

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked another witness, Director of Higher Education Excellence at The Century Foundation Robert Shireman if there’s any recourse for students who fall into a trap as Luongo did. 

Shireman said that the Department of Education does have programs but they require specific documentation for students. With Luongo, he only has phone conversations and the memories of DeVry officials—neither of which help him. 

“I never thought I would be the subject of such predatory acts,” said Luongo. “As far as I know, it leaves me on the hook for $101,000 that, quite frankly, I’ll never be able to pay off.” 

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