After graduating from the John D. O'Bryant School of Math and Science, an exam school in Roxbury, Amanda Kulka was struggling to get by as a single mother.
"I had just had my son, so I was doing endless jobs — braiding hair, trying to pick up little meaningless jobs,” Kulka recalled, sitting in her Dorchester apartment. “I was just trying to make ends meet."
Watching daytime television, Kulka first saw ads for the Everest Institute, which was owned Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain.
"I was home a lot because I had the young child, so I was always seeing it,” Kulka said of the ad. “It was always, like, bam in your face, 'Get off the couch. If you're not doing anything, why not go?’”
Kulka visited the campus in Brighton, where, she said, recruiters encouraged her to enroll in the medical administrator program there.
"They said I would be able to support my son, and with that, it comes with a big price,” Kulka said. “I was like, 'Oh, ok, if you think that this career would be able to legit hold me up, definitely, I'll sign up today.’”
That same day Kulka took out federal student loans totaling $10,000. Soon she realized her instructors weren't qualified.
"They gave us a whole bookbag full of books, and we only opened maybe two of them out of the whole entire curriculum,” Kulka said. “So I basically had to teach myself from that."
Kulka eventually received a certificate. She said the school promised to help her find a job, but never did.
She is one of the tens of thousands of former students — including hundreds here in Massachusetts — demanding their loans be discharged.
In 2014, the Obama administration shut off the spigot of federal funds until Corinthian and some other for-profit colleges could prove their graduation and job placement claims. Weeks later, Corinthian announced it was bankrupt and would sell or shut down scores of campuses, including the one in Brighton and another in Chelsea.
It was the largest college shutdown in American history.
Speaking in Boston in 2016, John King, Obama's education secretary, told former Corinthian students they were eligible for debt relief.
“When Americans invest their time, their money, their energy, they have a right to expect that they will graduate with a high-quality degree that will allow them to be competitive in the 21st century economy," King said.
Since then, more than 125,000 applications for debt relief have been submitted. The inspector general of the U.S. Education Department, an internal government watchdog, indicated that the Trump administration hasn't approved or denied a single one.
Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has ordered the department to stop reviewing claims, citing the potential costs to taxpayers and pledging only partial relief based on the earnings of former students.
"To pull the rug from under these people who have already been harmed in order to save taxpayer money, that's wrongheaded," said Eileen Connor, an attorney with Harvard Law School's Project on Predatory Lending who represents tens of thousands of former Corinthian students suing the department in a California court case.
"The department's own analysis show that the new method that they've come up with would reduce loan cancellation by 80 percent,” Connor said. “It's a significant change."
Under the new plan, Amanda Kulka would still have to pay 70 percent of her loans.
"It seems unfair to me,” Kulka said. “It's not like I got 30 percent of the education. I got zero percent of the education that they offered, so I shouldn't have to pay anything for it."
Kulka has a full-time job with a health insurance company in Boston. Her loans now total $12,000, and she feels stuck.
"I'm actually trying to get a house, but it's putting so many road blocks in my way I can't apply for loans,” Kulka explained. “I can't advance myself at all."
Last week, a federal judge in California ordered the Education Department to stop collecting on the loans of other former Corinthian students and continue the Obama administration policy that would completely wipe their debt off the books.
A department spokesman declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.