Thursday, December 31, 2015

These few, these happy few, this band of brothers and sisters: Going into bankruptcy court without lawyers, a few intrepid souls obtained relief from oppressive student-loan debt


And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . .


Henry V
William Shakespeare

More than 20 million people have college loans they can't pay back. For most of them, their oppressive debt grows larger every day, as interest continues to accrue. It is now common for people to owe more than three times the amount of money they borrowed for postsecondary education due to interest, penalties and fees that were tacked on to their original loans.

Had these suffering souls borrowed money to purchase a pizza franchise or buy a house, they could discharge their debt in bankruptcy. Likewise, if they were financially crushed by catastrophic medical expenses or a divorce, they could wipe away their debt through the bankruptcy process.

But because they borrowed money to acquire an education, student-loan debtors cannot discharge their debt in bankruptcy unless they meet the "undue hardship" standard set forth in the Bankruptcy Code--a difficult standard to meet.

In fact, most people are so convinced that it is impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy that they don't even try.  Jason Iuliano, in a 2012 law review article, researched bankruptcy court records and found that almost a quarter of a million people with student-loan debt filed for bankruptcy in 2007, but less than 300 of them even attempted to discharge their student loans.

And indeed, discharging student loans in bankruptcy is daunting. Debtors are forced to file an adversary action--in essence, a law suit, against their student-loan creditors. 

Because people in bankruptcy generally have no money, they can't afford to hire an attorney to represent them in an adversary proceeding. In contrast. their debtors--the Department of Education, Sallie Mae, or debt collection agencies like Educational Credit Management Corporation--have lots of experienced lawyers to defend their interests.

Nevertheless, a few intrepid student-loan debtors have filed adversary actions in bankruptcy court and have been successful, and many of them proceeded without lawyers. 

Here are three examples:

Alexandra Acosta-Conniff, an Alabama school teacher and single mother of two, filed an adversary proceeding to discharge $112,000 in student-loan debt. On March 25, 2015, a bankruptcy court ruled in her favor, discharging all her student-loan obligations. Acosta-Conniff won her case without a lawyer.

George and Melanie Johnson, a married couple in their thirties with two school-age children, filed for bankruptcy in Kansas, seeking relief from $83,000 in student loans. In February 2015, a bankruptcy court ruled in their favor. Like Acosta-Conniff, the Johnsons won their case without a lawyer.

Educational Credit Management Corporation, perhaps the nation's most ruthless student-loan creditor, was a defendant in both  cases, and ECMC appealed both rulings. But the bankruptcy judges in both cases wrote persuasive and well-researched decisions,and Acosta-Conniff and the Johnsons have good prospects for prevailing on appeal.

Finally, we have Michael Abney, a single father of two, who borrowed $25,000 to pursue an undergraduate degree he never obtained, and was living on less than $1200 a month. He went to bankruptcy court without an attorney and defeated the Department of Education. Abney's case was decided in November of this year. 

These few, these happy few . . . Let us salute the courage of these brave individuals, who went to bankruptcy court without lawyers and were victorious. And let us salute the bankruptcy judges who rose to their duty to give honest but unfortunate debtors a fresh start--which is the very purpose of the American bankruptcy courts. 

References

Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, 540 B.R. 681 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015).

Acosta-Conniff v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, No. 12-31-448-WRS, 2015 Bankr. LEXIS 937 (Bankr. M.D. Ala. March 25, 2015).

Johnson v. Sallie Mae & Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 11-23108, Adv. No. 11-6250, 2015 Bankr. LEXIS 525 (Bankr. D. Kan. Feb. 19, 2015).






Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Department of Education's Lynn Mahaffie wrote a disingenuous letter outlining when the Department of Education will not oppose bankruptcy discharge for student-loan debtors under the Undue Hardship rule

The Department of Education's Lynn Mahaffie issued a letter last July outlining when DOE and its debt collectors will not oppose bankruptcy discharge for student-loan debtors.  In fact, Mahaffie's letter is disingenuous.

Reading Mahaffie's letter, you might think DOE and its debt-collecting lackeys would not oppose a bankruptcy discharge for student-loan debtors who are in truly distressing circumstances or when it would be pointless to try to collect the debt. But you would be wrong.

In fact, DOE and its debt collectors oppose bankruptcy discharge for nearly everyone.

Here are some examples:

In Myhre v. Department of Education, DOE opposed bankruptcy discharge for a quadriplegic student-loan debtor who was working almost full time but could not make enough money to pay his living expenses, including the cost of a full-time caregiver.

In Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, ECMC, perhaps DOE's most ruthless debt collector, opposed a bankruptcy discharge for a 68-year-old woman with chronic health issues who was living on a Social Security check of less than $800 a month.

In Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, decided after Mahaffie's letter was issued, DOE opposed a bankruptcy discharge for a man living on less than $1200 a month and who rode a bicycle to work because he couldn't afford a car.  This poor guy was making child-support payments that almost equaled his take-home pay and had lost his home to foreclosure. In fact, this man's situation was so desperate that he lived for a time in the cab of of one of his employer's trucks. And DOE demanded that he be put in a 25-year repayment plan!

Mahaffie's letter listed several factors for determining when to oppose a student-loan debtor's bankruptcy discharge, including the debtor's age and health status. But DOE is garnishing the Social Security checks of 150,000 elderly people and fights bankruptcy relief without regard to a student-loan debtor's health status. Hey, if DOE fights bankruptcy discharge for a quadriplegic, it fights it for everyone.

And Mayaffie also indicated that DOE and student-loan creditors wouldn't fight bankruptcy discharge if litigation costs outweighed the likely benefits. But in Kelly v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, ECMC chased a student-loan debtor through the federal courts for seven years!

Frankly, Mahaffie's letter is insincere. Contrary to the representations in her letter, the Department of Education and Educational Credit Management Corporation fight nearly every student-loan bankruptcy with almost desperate ferocity.  It knows that millions of people are entitled to bankruptcy relief from their student-loan debt under standards being laid down by compassionate bankruptcy courts. And it knows if student-loan debtors start getting the relief to which they are entitled under basic principles of fairness and justice, the student loan program will collapse.


Picture of Lynn Mahaffie, Deputy Assistant Secy for Policy, Planning and Innovation, U.S. Dept of Education
Lynn Mahaffie, J.D.
DOE's Deputy Assistant Secretary wrote a disingenous letter

References

Lynn Mahaffie, Undue Hardship Discharge of Title IV Loans in Bankruptcy Adversary Proceedings. CL ID: GEN 15-13, July 7, 2015. 

Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (Bakr. W.D. Wis. 2013).

Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Harvard Economist N. Gregory Mankiw Provides a Lazy and Self-Serving Answer to Why College Costs So Much

Harvard Professor N. Gregory Mankiw wrote a lazy and self-serving op ed essay in the New York Times today, in which he purported to explain why college costs so much.

Like most of higher education's shills (Sandy Baum, Susan Dynarski, Catharine Hill, etc.), Professor Mankiw began his pitch by assuring us that college is still a good investment. The median wage for a college graduate, Mankiw reminds his readers, is about twice as much as the median wage for a worker with only a high school education.

Of course it is true that college graduates generally make more money than people with only a high school education, but that fact doesn't justify skyrocketing costs across almost all sectors of higher education. Nor does it justify the ever-increasing amount of money people are borrowing in order to attend college.

Mankiw then goes on to give three explanations for why college costs are going up--all bogus:

First, Professor Mankiw instructs us, we have "Baumol's cost disease."  According to Mankiw, Baumol recognized that as wages rise across all sectors of society, salaries rise even for services that have seen no increase in productivity.

Of course everyone knows that. It costs more for a haircut today than it did a generation ago, even though barbers haven't grown more efficient. Likewise, the cost of higher education has gone up. We used to call that phenomenon inflation, but Professor Mankiw prefers to call it Baumol's cost disease.

But of course this blather does not explain why the cost of higher education has gone up three times the rate of inflation over the past 30 years.

Second, Mankiw argues, higher education seems more expensive due to rising inequalities in society as a whole.  Here I'll let Mankiw explain this argument in his own words:
Educational institutions hire a lot of skilled workers: It takes educated people to produce the next generation of educated people. Thus, rising inequality has increased not only the benefit of education but also the cost of it.
OK, Professor Mankiw, what you say may be true. But again, how does that argument explain why college costs have risen much faster than inflation?

Finally, Mankiw explains, college costs haven't gone up as much as the public thinks because most students aren't paying the sticker price.  Colleges engage in "price discrimination," with only the suckers paying full price. And of course this is true. On average, private liberal art colleges are only collecting about 60 percent of the sticker price because they give discounts in the forms of grants and scholarships to preferred students.

In other words, Professor Mankiw is trying to assure Mr. and Mrs. America that when their children go to college, they'll probably get some sort of brother-in-law deal and won't be paying full price.

All this is pure horse manure. At bottom, Professor Mankiw is merely defending the status quo in higher education, just as Vassar's Catharine Hill did a couple of weeks ago in the Times when she argued against free college education. In fact, when you read Professor Mankiw's essay closely, which he hopes you won't do, he really isn't saying anything at all.

The reality is this: the cost of higher education has gone up for a variety of reasons, and many of those reasons are tied to greed and laziness.  At the elite universities, tenured professors are teaching fewer classes--ostensibly to have more time to do more important things.  College costs could go down if every professor taught the typical teaching load of 30 years ago.  I would be surprised, for example, if Professor Mankiw teaches more than three courses a year.

Moreover, the cost of attending for-profit colleges is especially high, much higher than a comparable educational experience at a community college or public university.  Students who attend these rapacious institutions borrow more money than students who go to public schools. and their student-loan default rates are shocking. According to the Brookings Institution, the five-year loan default rate in the for-profit sector is nearly 50 percent.  But of course, Professor Mankiw didn't even mention the for-profit colleges.

College costs have also gone up because the number of ancillary employees has increased. For example, Harvard was recently ridiculed for printing special placemats that contained instructions to students about how to answer their parents' embarrassing questions when they went home for the holidays.  As if Harvard students are too stupid to know how to talk to their parents or to have their own opinions.

How much, do you suppose, Harvard is paying the person who dreamed up and printed those embarrassing placemats? Well--whatever it is, that amount adds to the cost of Harvard's tuition.

In truth, the cost of postsecondary education is out of control for multiple reasons, and the problem varies in its seriousness across higher education's many sectors. For-profit colleges charge too much; almost all objective commentators agree. Professional education is far too expensive. In particular, the law schools have jacked up tuition prices and are producing about twice as many lawyers as the nation needs. Administrators' salaries have gone up faster than professors' salaries, and numerous frills--fitness centers, luxury student housing, recreational facilities like LSU's "Lazy River"--all this has contributed to the spiraling cost of higher education.

About all these issues, Professor Mankiw had nothing to say.

Personally, I found Professor Mankiw's essay offensive. Millions of people can't pay back their student loans, and most can't discharge those loans in bankruptcy.  Meanwhile, the Department of Education and the policy wonks are urging the expansion of long-term repayment plans that will force Americans to pay on their student loans for 20 or 25 years. In short, the student loan program is a mess, and Professor Mankiw prattles on about Baumol's cost disease!

Professor Mankiw's op essay in the Times was nothing  more than a lazy and self-serving defense of the status quo--a status quo than benefits people like Professor Mankiw.
Professor N. Gregory Mankiw: He likes the status quo.









Friday, December 18, 2015

Deeper into the abyss: Obama introduces REPAYE, yet another income-based student-loan repayment plan designed to turn students into sharecroppers

This week, the Obama administration introduced REPAYE, a new student-loan repayment plan.  Like PAYE ("Pay As You Earn"), REPAYE allows borrowers to pay back their student loans over a 20 year period and to make monthly payments no larger than 10 percent of their discretionary income.  REPAY, however, is available to borrowers who were not eligible for PAYE.

What is the significance of this new development?

It's complicated.  First of all, REPAYE is the federal government's fourth income-based repayment plan. We now have:

  • ICR Plan (Income-Contingent Repayment Plan)
  • IBR Plan (Income-Based Repayment Plan
  • PAYE (Pay  As You Earn Repayment Plan
  • REPAYE (Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan)

Not all borrowers are eligible for all plans, and some plans are more favorable to debtors than others. DOE issued a 26-page set of guidelines called "Income-Driven Repayment Plans: Questions and Answers," but the guidelines are complicated.

Here is a sample passage:
The REPAYE, PAYE, and IBR plans offer an interest benefit if your monthly payment doesn't cover the full amount of interest that accrues on your loans each month. Under the three plans, the government will pay the difference between your monthly payment amount and the remaining interest that accrues on your subsidized loans for up to three consecutive years from the date you begin repaying the loans under the plan. Under the REPAYE Plan, the government will pay half the difference on your subsidized loans after this three-year period, and will pay half the difference on your unsubsidized loans during all periods.
Millions of people are already confused by their student loans. Some don't know if they have private loans or federal loans, some don't know how many loans they have, some don't know how much they borrowed or what they now owe, and some people don't even know that they took out a student loan.

For the 20 million people who aren't able to make loan payments under a standard 10-year repayment plan, REPAYE is not going to offer much relief.  It's just another level of bureaucracy and administrative regulations.

REPAYE is a new sign of desperation. Second, REPAYE is just another sign of the federal government's desperation about the federal student loan program. As the New York Times noted a few weeks ago, 10 million people have either defaulted on their student loans or are delinquent in their payments.  About 4 million are making payments under the government's first three income-based repayment plans; and most are not making payments large enough to cover accruing interest.  And a bunch more have gotten some kind of deferment from making loan payments based on economic hardship.

The government's response to all this chaos and misery is to roll out ever more generous long-term repayment plans.  But this strategy hides the fact that millions of people on these plans will never pay back the principle on their loans and for all practical purposes are in default.

REPAYE is really just a program for turning college students into sharecroppers for the federal government.  But the real problem with REPAYE, with PAYE and with IBR and ICR are that these plans force millions of people to make payments to the federal government for a majority of their working lives in return for the privilege of attending college.  In effect, the government is turning our nation's young people into a generation of sharecroppers.

And remember, for most people, these 20- and 25-year repayment plans don't begin when students graduate from college. Often former students struggle for five years or more with their student loans before they finally sign up for a long-term repayment plan.  And that's when the long-term repayment plan starts.  Thus a person who graduated in 2010 and joins an income-based repayment plan this year, will not be free of student loan debt until 25 or 30 years after first enrolling in college.

President Obama, Arne Duncan, the Brookings Institution, and higher education leaders like Vassar's Catharine Hill hail long-term repayment plans as a solution to the growing student-loan crisis. But of course, these plans are not a solution at all. They're a strategy for turning Americans into indentured servants.

Image result for sharecroppers images
Go to college and become a sharcropper!


Image result for catharine hill vassar
Vassar's Catharine Hill: What the kiddies need is a nice long-term repayment plan!



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interest, fees and penalties are burying millions of student-loan debtors--not the amount these poor people borrowed to go to college

Sometimes, huge problems can be analyzed best by simply boiling down the complexity of a situation into a simple phrase.  For example, "It's the economy, stupid," crafted by Democratic political strategist James Carville, summarized a central theme of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.

Likewise, we can summarize at least one huge element of the student-loan crisis by focusing on one core fact: accrued interest, penalties and fees are burying millions of student-loan debtors, not the amount of money these poor people borrowed to attend college.

For example, I have a friend on the East Coast who borrowed a total of about $55,000 to obtain a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree; and he paid nearly $14,000 on those loans.  Unfortunately, my friend suffered a series of unfortunate life events--health issues, divorce, and job loss.  Now at age 67, he is living entirely on Social Security and a small pension. The Department of Education is garnishing his meager retirement income, and he is living on only $1200 a month.

A few weeks ago, my friend filed an adversary complaint in bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge his student-loan debt based on the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" provision. Guess how much the government says he owes? $120,000--including accrued interest and $23,000 in collection costs. That's more than twice the amount my friend borrowed.

And this case is not atypical. In Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, Stephen Halverson borrowed about $132,000 to obtain two master's degrees. Just as with my East Coast friend, life happened for Mr. Halverson: a job loss, serious health issues, a divorce, medical expenses for a child, and expenses incurred to care for an aging parent.

At times, Mr. Halverson was unable to make payments on his student loans, but he obtained a series of economic hardship deferment, and he was never in default.  Nevertheless, when Halverson was in his 60s, it was clear he could never pay back his student loan debt. By the time he filed for bankruptcy, his total deb had ballooned to almost $300,000--more than twice the amount he had borrowed. And Mr. Halverson's job at that time only paid $13.50 an hour.

Various public-policy analysts have argued that there is no student-loan crisis because most people borrow relatively modest amounts of money--typically about the amount of a car loan. But these analysts ignore two key facts:

1) Even a small student loan is a huge burden for someone who doesn't have a job or who has a low-income job.

2) People who are unable to make their monthly loan payments must obtain an economic hardship deferments or enter a long-term repayment plan in order to avoid default. And both options mean that the debtor's loan balance goes up due to accruing interest.

Thus we see people like Liz Kelly, featured in a recent New York Times article, who owes $410,000 on her student loans, far more than she borrowed to attend college and graduate school. Today, at age 48, the annual interest cost on her indebtedness is more than the entire amount she borrowed to obtain her bachelor's degree!

And I know a man in California who borrowed around $70,000 to finance his education, and paid back about $40,000. Now the Department of Education claims he owes more than $300,000, including a one-time penalty assessed in the amount of $59,000! That one penalty is more than 80 percent of the entire amount he borrowed!

Surely it should be apparent to everyone--even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama and Congress--that adding interest, fees and penalties to people's student-loan debt only increases the likelihood of default.

The higher education industry and the Department of Education have embraced economic-hardship deferments and long-term repayment plans because both programs hide the fact that millions of people can't pay off their student loans.

Does anyone think, for example, that Liz Kelly, who was unable to pay back the $25,000 she borrowed to get an undergraduate degree, will ever pay back the $410,000 she currently owes.? Does anyone think my East Coast friend, who is living on about $1,200 a month, will ever pay back $120,000?

Like a seething volcano about to erupt, pressure is building on the federal student loan program. Currently, about 41 million Americans owe a total of $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. Let's face it: at least half that amount will never be paid back.



References

Kevin Carey. (2015, November 29). Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist. New York Times, Sunday Business Section, 1. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/upshot/student-debt-in-america-lend-with-a-smile-collect-with-a-fist.html?_r=0


Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Racist hiring at the University of Louisville: Does it matter?

 The University of Louisville got caught this week by openly doing what most universities are doing surreptitiously: hiring faculty member based on race.  Through some incredible slip up at the University's human resources office, the Department of Physics and Astronomy posted a job that contained this language:
The Department of Physics and Astronomy announces a tenure-track assistant professor position that will be filled by an African-American, Hispanic American or a Native American Indian [sic].
 Let's give the University of Louisville credit for at least being honest. Most American universities, both public and private, now take race into account when hiring faculty and admitting students. In fact, in Gratz v. Bollinger, one of the Supreme Court's seminal opinions on affirmative action, Justice Ruth Ginsburg argued in a dissenting opinion that the courts should allow universities to admit students based on race because they will do it anyway, even if the Supreme Court rules that it is a constitutional violation. Let them do it openly, Ginsburg counseled, rather than force them do it with winks and subterfuge.

So what difference does it make if the University of Louisville decides that whites and Asians are not eligible for a faculty position in the Physics Department? On one level, it's no big deal.

Twenty-five years go, when I was a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, it was well known that only minority students would be admitted to the staff of the Harvard Educational Review. In fact, one faculty member told me candidly that the Harvard Educational Review was "a racial ghetto."  I applied, and I was not selected.

But being rejected by the Harvard Educational Review had no major impact on my life. I feel quite confident that I have published more scholarly work than all the students in my HGSE doctoral cohort put together--certainly more than all the students who were on the Harvard Educational Review when I was at Harvard.

Likewise, the whites and Asians who won't be hired for a Physics professor's position at the University of Louisville will probably find other jobs.

And certainly, greater diversity on America's college campuses is good thing.  We need more African American and Hispanic professors, and we need more minority students.

But here's the thing. Academia's obsession with race, gender and sexual orientation has diminished higher education as a moral enterprise.

First of all, most racial and gender preferences are done dishonestly. The University of Louisville goofed when it said in print that whites and Asians would not be considered for a particular faculty position. In fact, a university spokesperson said the job advertisement was an "error" and muttered some gobbledygook about the university's commitment to diversity. But in fact, at least some people at the University of Louisville wanted to make a hiring decision based on race. You can call that diversity if you want, but that's racism.

And this dishonesty has permeated every aspect of American higher education. The universities are dishonest about their racism, dishonest about their tuition prices, and many are dishonest about the employment prospects of their graduates.

Moreover, this morbid obsession with race is eroding the rigor of higher education. Just last year, students at three prestigious law schools--Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown-- asked to postpone their examinations because they were so upset about the racially charged shooting death of an African American in Ferguson, Missouri that they couldn't study for their exams.
Think about that. People trained at our top law schools are so sensitive that they can't do their school work because they are upset by current events. Who would want to hire a lawyer who gets the vapors from reading the morning newspaper?

And occasionally, racial fixations at our elite universities have become downright embarrassing. Awhile back, Harvard Law School claimed to have a Native American on its faculty. A real live Indian! And who did that Indian turn out to be? Elizabeth Warren, who said vaguely that she thought her grandmother might have been a Cherokee!

Who cares, in an authentic academic environment, whether a law professor is one sixteenth Cherokee? The fact that Harvard Law School thought it was legitimate to claim it had a Native American faculty member based on Elizabeth Warren's unverified assertions tells you all you need to know about the intellectual and moral rigor of Harvard Law School.

Eventually, young Americans are going to ask themselves why they bother to enroll in these flim-flam shops--these palaces of hot air that obsess on race and blather about academic freedom while charging outrageous tuition prices that most people can't pay without taking out student loans.

Elizabeth Warren:
I think I am a Cherokee Indian


References


Philip Marcelo. Law Schools Delay Exams For Students Upset by Ferguson, Eric Garner Decisions. Huffington Post, December 10, 2014. accessible at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/10/law-schools-exams-ferguson_n_6301282.html




Sunday, December 13, 2015

Up the Lazy River without a paddle: Universities use student fees to fund campus renovations and construction

In spite of financial woes so severe that LSU president F. King Alexander ruminated publicly about institutional bankruptcy, Louisiana State University is moving forward with an $85 million "leisure project" that will include a man-made "Lazy River" that spells out "LSU."

Shouldn't this project be put on hold until LSU's financial problems are solved? Not at all. LSU administrators insist that The Lazy River has nothing to do with LSU's budget worries.  This entirely gratuitous facility will be funded by a special fee assessment, which was earmarked for the Lazy River and the Lazy River alone.

But why? Laurie Braden, LSU's Director of Recreation said simply this: "I will put it up against any other collegiate recreational facility in the country when we are done because we will be the benchmark for the next level.”

Of course, LSU is not the only institution that is using student fees to fund campus construction and renovation projects. The New York Times reported recently that some universities are tacking mandatory meal plans on students' tuition bills, even if they don't eat on campus.  As reported in the Times, the University of Tennessee slapped a $300-per-semester meal plan on all undergraduates who do not purchase other meal plans, including commuters. The revenue generated will help pay for a new student union.

According to the Times, universities are outsourcing food services to private contractors and boasting about the cost savings. But as the Times noted, the cost of these contractual arrangements generally gets passed on to students.

Moreover, Times reporter Stephanie Saul wrote, "the particulars of the contracts reveal that much of the meal plan cost does not go for food at all. Colleges use the money to shore up their balance sheets, build workout facilities, create academic programs and projects, fund special "training tables" to feed athletes, and even pay for meals for prospective students touring campus."

All across America, anguished families are struggling with the high cost of attending college. "Why does it cost so much?" they ask.  "Reduced state funding,"glassy-eyed college administrators always mutter: that's the sole source of the problem.

But that's not true. Excessive student fees, outsourcing student services, cozy contractual relations with banks that manage students' money--all these things add up.

Why do college leaders outsource so many services and tack on so many fees?

Because they're lazy.  It is easier for university administrators to raise tuition every year and to tack on additional fees and charges than to make tough decisions about managing their institutions more efficiently.

So Lazy River is an apt metaphor for the state of higher education today. Every year, millions of students borrow more and more money in order to drift up a lazy river of increasingly expensive higher education, inching their way toward financial disaster.

The situation wouldn't be so bad if deserving students could discharge their overwhelming student-loan debt in bankruptcy. But most of them can't. They've truly gone up that Lazy River without a paddle.


LSU's proposed water recreation facility:
Up the Lazy River without a paddle

References

Stephanie Saul. Student Meal Plans Also Fund Renovations at Some Colleges.  New York Times, December 6, 2015, p. 1. Accessible at: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/nation-world/nation/article/Student-meal-plans-also-fund-renovations-at-some-6678716.php

Aalia Shaheed. LSU's *85M 'lazy river' leisure project rolls on, despite school's budget woes. Fox News, May 17, 2015.  Accessible at: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/05/17/lsu-85m-lazy-river-leisure-project-rolls-on-despite-school-budget-woes/

Monday, December 7, 2015

College presidents' salaries are going up. Don't governing boards know they can hire dunderheads for a lot less money?

Salaries for private college presidents went up 5.6 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to a  Chronicle of Higher Education survey. Lee Bollinger is the highest paid president. He made $4.6 million in total compensation in the survey year. Amy Gutmann ranked second. Her total compensation was more than $3 million in the year of the survey including a bonus totally a cool million and a half.

Lots of these academic high rollers get salary enhancements in the form of puffball performance bonuses and deferred compensation packages that help them manage their taxes. As if some bloated college president needs the incentive of a  financial bonus in order to make key executive decisions like raising tuition, and outsourcing student services.

Of course the governing boards insist they have to pay ridiculous salaries to attract top talent. What a load of horse manure.  You don't need to pay $4.6 million to find a president wiling to defend race-based admission policies, like Bollinger did at the University of Michigan.

You don't need to pay a guy millions of dollars to wear a bow tie and host elaborate parties for big-shot donors, like Ohio State University did when it had Gordon Gee on the payroll.

Image result for gordon gee ohio state university compensation

Gordon Gee: Goof balls can be hired for a lot less money.
You don't have to pay $3.0 million a year to hire someone who writes mediocre books, which is what University of Pennsylvania pays Amy Gutmann, author of Democratic Education, one of the purest examples of academic bull crap you'll ever want to read. And Vassar could certainly find a dullard president for less than it pays Catharine Hill, whose only solution to the student  loan crisis is better counseling and long-term repayment plans!

You don't need to pay a half million or so to find a president willing to hold photo ops serving pancakes to students while presiding over a university that pays assistant football coaches a million dollars a year--more than the president himself makes--as Louisiana State University did when it hired F. King Alexander.

This is the same Louisiana State University, by the way, that is planning the construction of an $85 million "lazy river" recreational project that includes a "water feature" shaped in the letters of LSU.  Why is LSU doing this?

According to Laurie Braden, LSU's Director of University Recreation,  “I will put it up against any other collegiate recreational facility in the country when we are done because we will be the benchmark for the next level.” The next level of what--the next level of insanity?

I wonder how much Braden makes for dishing out that kind of logic?

University governing boards need to be clued in to this simple fact: They can hire dunderheads for a lot less than a million dollars  a year.  For a lot less money, presidents can be found who will sign contracts with Starbucks  so that university students pay four bucks for a cup of coffer instead of a quarter.  Presidents can be hired who will sign contracts with Barnes & Noble to sell overpriced textbooks to students and give the university a  percentage of the profits. Presidents can be found at reasonable salaries who will collude with banks and credit card companies to encourage students to utilize the services of favored financial institutions.

CEOs can certainly be found at very reasonable salaries who are willing to kiss the butts of student protesters and coddle the kids who take over the presidents' offices.

In short, this nation could run a crappy higher education system like the one we have for a lot less money.

LSU President F. King Alexander: Would you like pancakes with your fee bill?
Photo credit: Baton Rouge Advocate and Hilary Scheinuk

Sunday, December 6, 2015

In the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Catholics Should Urge the Government to Forgive Student-Loan Debt

According to Old Testament scripture, a jubilee year occurs every fifty years; and in that year, slaves are freed and debts are forgiven. Leviticus 25:8-13. Pope Francis has proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Catholic Church that begins on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Would not this be a good time for the  U.S. government to forgive  $1.3 trillion in student-loan debt?

Perhaps not all of it. Of the 41 million people who have outstanding student loans, a great many received good value for their college education and can pay back what they borrowed. But 10 million people have either defaulted on their student loans or are delinquent in their payments. Millions more have gotten economic hardship deferments and aren't paying down their loans.

And for some people, their student loan debt is completely out of control. Liz Kelly, for example, featured in a recent New York Times article, is a 48-year old school teacher who owes $410,000 in student-loan debt--most of it accumulated interest. Will she ever pay it back? Not likely.

A 2014 law review article reported that 241,000 people with student-loan debt filed for bankruptcy in 2007, but less than 300 of them even tried to discharge their student loans. Either they figured it would be hopeless to try wipe out their student-loan debt in the bankruptcy courts or they didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to assist them.

And yet, as Paul Campos explained on his blog site and in a recent book,  we have thousands of unemployed or underemployed attorneys, many of whom have crushing student-loan debt themselves. Why doesn't the government, as an act of mercy, encourage these idle lawyers to help people discharge their student loans in bankruptcy?

Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us demands justice. "True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find a way to be poor no longer," Pope Francis explained. Mercy demands that institutions strive to make sure that "no one ever again stands in need of a soup-kitchen, of makeshift lodgings, of a service of legal assistance in order to have his legitimate right recognized to live and to work, to be fully a person."

Our country now has 23 million people who are unable to pay off their student-loan debt.  Indeed, about 150,000 elderly people are having their Social Security checks garnished by the federal government to offset unpaid student loans. For these people there is no Jubilee Year of Mercy--no forgiveness, and little relief even in the bankruptcy courts.

We are now a secular people--a people who pride themselves on having driven religion out of the schools and the public square. But surely we are not a heartless people. Surely our hearts are susceptible to warming by the words of a great man like Pope Francis.

So let us do mercy in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. And if our government is incapable of mercy, let us look for ways we as individuals can render mercy and to work for a system of higher education that does not drive millions of students into the poor house.

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Friday, December 4, 2015

New York Times essayists argue for subsidized food, housing, and transportation for college students. Well, why the hell not?

Sara Goldrick-Rab and Katharine M. Broton argued in the New York Times today that federal poverty programs should be expanded to include college students. Some college students are homeless, the authors point out, and one in five reported in a recent survey that they had gone hungry at least once in the previous 30 days due to lack of money.

This is the second vacuous essay published in the New York Times over the space of less than a week about the cost of higher education and what to do about it. Just a few days ago, Vassar's President Catharine Hill argued against Bernie Sanders' "College For All" proposal to allow people to attend a public four-year college for free. Hill said the solution to the high cost of higher education is better counseling and long-term repayment plans.

If I were grading President Hill's essay, I would give it a C- and scribble "trite and unoriginal!" in the margin of her paper in bold red ink. If I were grading Goldrick-Rab and Broton, I would assign them a failing grade but give them the opportunity to resubmit after doing a little research.

Yes, there are homeless college students--about 50,000, according to one report. But at least some of those people were unscrupulously recruited by colleges who just want their Pell Grant money and the proceeds from their student loans. Do we really want to expand the federal school-lunch program to deal with those people as Goldrick-Rab and Broton propose? Shouldn't we just help homeless college students in the same way we help all homeless people?

Currently, the U.S. government is spending about $165 billion a year on various student-aid programs, including loans, grants, and campus work-study jobs. And the government gives food stamps to 52 million people, including some college students. Isn't that enough?

Interestingly, neither Vassar's Hill or Goldrick-Rab and Broton (from the University of Wisconsin apparently) offered any serious plan for reducing college costs. Hill said vaguely that students need longer repayment plans to pay their tuition bills and the Wisconsinites didn't offer any suggestions at all.

Higher education is a great business isn't it? The universities can jack up their tuition as high as they like, knowing the students will simply borrow more money to cover their fee bills.  Who cares if the saps can't repay their student loans? "Not my problem" is the higher education industry's stance.

And when the public wakes up to the fact that the cost of going to college is out of control, who does it turn to for answers? People like Catharine Hill, Sara Goldrick-Rab and Katharine Broton--lackeys of the institutions that created the problem. And the New York Times, which doesn't really give a damn about the student-loan crisis, obligingly prints these dopes' essays on its op ed pages.

Image result for sara goldrick rab wisconsin
Sara Goldrick-Rab wants to expand the school-lunch program to include college students

References

Sara Goldrick-Rab and Katharine M. Broton. Hungry, Homeless and in College. New York Times, December 4, 2015, p. A33. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/opinion/hungry-homeless-and-in-college.html

Catharine Hill. Free Tuition Is Not the Answer. New York Times, November 30, 2015, p. A23. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/30/opinion/free-tuition-is-not-the-answer.html?_r=0