Florida Coastal Law School Sues Feds, Alleging 'False Narrative' For Denying Student Aid

Jul 21, 2021

The Florida Coastal School of Law announced Wednesday it is suing the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

The Jacksonville law school is fighting back after the DOE denied the school access to the federal student loan program.

The DOE said in May that said the school failed to meet fiduciary standards, denying Coastal Law’s application for reinstatement of student federal aid programs.

The Jacksonville law school claims in its federal suit that the DOE has abused its authority based on what it calls a “false narrative.” Coastal Law alleges the DOE is “bent on destroying the school at any cost.”

The law school said before the DOE pulled the school's federal student aid it was projecting a fall class with 126 new students. 

If it doesn’t get emergency relief, the law school says it will likely be forced to close down at the end of this month.

"Too often, we see for-profit schools that try to take advantage of students, misuse taxpayer dollars, and skirt the rules to participate in federal student aid programs,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in an email sent to WJCT News after the May decision was announced. 

At the time, the DOE told WJCT News: “Florida Coastal School of Law failed to meet these standards because its financial composite score for the past two fiscal years was -1.0, the lowest possible score. The institution carried significant debt due to a declining student population and issues surrounding the closure of two other schools that were also under the same ownership: Charlotte School of Law in Charlotte, North Carolina and Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix, Arizona.”

Coastal Law counters in its suit that it underwent an ownership change and that the “former owner’s exit should have removed any obstacle to participation in the Title IV [student loan] program.”

Coastal Law said Wednesday if the DOE’s decision is allowed to stand “it foists an unwarranted burden upon students, causes loss of employment for faculty and staff, deprives the community of a valuable resource, and nullifies the dean’s and faculty’s hard work to secure an acquisition by a nonprofit university.”

Coastal Law previously tried to convert its business to a nonprofit, but the American Bar Association denied the application in 2019, according to WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Jacksonville attorney David Frakt has been critical of Coastal Law’s admissions practices for years now. “There was a time when they were admitting large numbers of students who didn’t have an aptitude for the study of law, and I felt that they were exploiting them for their money,” Frakt told WJCT News in May.

According to more recent statistics provided by a spokesperson for Florida Coastal, as of 2020, about 9.5% of graduates are currently unemployed, well below the national rate for law school grads. The spokesperson also highlighted Coastal Law’s commitment to addressing the lack of diversity in the law profession: 40% of its students are people of color, compared to 13% of law students nationwide, and 60% of Florida Coastal students are female, compared to 36% nationwide. 

- WJCT News’ Sydney Boles contributed to this story

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.