Florida Coastal seeks to reinstate access to federal student loan money

Florida Coastal School of Law finds itself in familiar territory — just not the envious kind. Once again, the U.S. Department of Education won’t allow the Jacksonville, Fla., school access to federal financial student aid, which is what the vast majority of its students rely on to pay for their educations.

It had a similar problem in 2019 when it did not meet the Department of Education’s fiscal responsibility standards. It was resolved when the for-profit school — which has seen its share of problems with the American Bar Association as well — submitted a letter of credit.

This time, it’s been ordered to file a teach-out plan to the ABA, a situation that appears considerably more perilous.

However, Peter Goplerud, the law school’s president and dean, said the current predicament is the result of a “procedural issue.”

“We submitted our application for reinstatement on Wednesday [April 7], and we provided the department with all the documentation necessary to support reinstatement,” he said.

The Department of Education has a new policy requiring an investment signature, according to news reports.

The school still has to move forward with formulating a teach-out plan, regardless of its position that this is just a technicality. Goplerud said students have sufficient funds for the semester.

“The next draw of Title IV funds would be in early May,” he said.

The school is owned by The InfiLaw System, which is part of the private equity firm, Sterling Capital Partners. InfiLaw used to operate three for-profit law schools, but two of them — Arizona Summit School of Law in Phoenix and Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina — have closed.

Both had run afoul of the ABA for a number of transgressions, particularly when it came to enrolling students with poor academic credentials. Charlotte School of Law had its access to federal student loan funding cut-off before closing. It had been put on probation by the ABA before that. Arizona Summit had also been put on probation by the ABA, as well.

The InfiLaw website is no longer working, but Goplerud said the company remains in business. It continues its role with the school, he said. 

“Infilaw has always been one of the parties signing [as investor]. It intends to sign upon reinstatement,” he said.

Florida Coastal has 194 students, according to its ABA 509 report. Most need that student aid. According to U.S. News & World Report, 86% of student from the 2020 class incurred debt, with most doing so via federal loans. The average amount was $145,245.

The school was one of only two law schools to fail an initial Department of Education report that measures graduate’s debt-to-income ratios.

Derek Muller, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law, in a post on his blog, Excess of Democracy, broke down the most recent Department of Education debt-to-income ratio figures.

Florida Coastal finished next to last, with graduates having a median debt of $204,226 and a median income of $41,280. Only Whittier Law School is Costa Mesa, Calif., fared worst. It is now closed.

Florida Coastal had been seeking to become a nonprofit institution, but the request to do so had been turned down by the ABA. It had reapplied soon afterward. The school has had a testy relationship with the ABA. It had sued  the ABA over how it decided whether schools were in compliance.

That suit was dropped after Florida Coastal began improving. It had shrunk class size to accept more qualified students. Key measures, such as average LSAT scores, improved.

Still, Florida Coastal was one of 10 schools that did meet a new ABA requirement that 75% of a class pass the bar within two years of graduation. However, it soon met that threshold, ending that scare.

 

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