Saturday, July 30, 2016

Consumer Reports' article on student loan debt: A missed opportunity to give students some clear warnings

Consumer Reports' August issue ran a cover story on student loans, which led with this arresting quote: "I Kind of Ruined My Life By Going to College." An inside article profiled several students who were struggling to pay back enormous student loan debt.
  • For example, Jackie Krowen borrowed $128,000 to attend three colleges. She now owes $152,000 and is making loan payments of $1200 a month.  She told Consumer Reports she didn't understand how much interest could accrue when she took out her loans.
  • Jessie Suren borrowed $72,000 to attend a private Catholic school. She now owes $90,000 and makes payments of $900 a month. She works at a sales job that pays $39,000 a year. Here entire income comes from commissions.
  • Saul Newton borrowed $10,000 to attend University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. He dropped out to join the Army and now owes $23,000. He works as a veterans' activist making $28,800 a year.
 The Consumer Reports article pointed out hat 45 percent of people surveyed said that their college experience was not worth the cost, and 47 percent said if they had it to do over again they would have attended a cheaper school and incurred less student-loan debt.

Anyone making college plans should read the Consumers Reports story. Nevertheless, the article missed an opportunity to give potential students several dire warnings:

1) First, do not attend a for-profit college. The research shows that for-profit colleges charge more for their programs than public institutions, that their student-loan default rates are shockingly high, and that a high percentage of their students don't complete their programs. Students should find a public-college alternative to a for-profit college education. I don't think there are any exceptions to this rule.

2) Never allow a parent or loved one to co-sign a loan. Parents who co-sign student loans for their children are on the hook to pay those loans back, and it is as difficult for a co-signer to discharge a student loan in bankruptcy as it is for the primary borrower. If your college plans depends on getting a loved one to co-sign your student loans, then you need a different plan.

3) Don't take out a student loan from a private lender. Private loans generally have higher interest rates than federal loans, and private loans don't have alternative payment plans if a borrower gets in financial trouble and can't make monthly loan payments. Again, if your college plan requires you to take out a private loan, you need to make another plan.

4) Don't borrow a lot of money to obtain a liberal arts degree from a high-priced elite college. People foolishly think a degree from a prestigious university will pay off, no matter what major they choose. That is not true. A person who borrows $100,000 to get a religious studies degree from NYU will regret it.

5) Don't borrow money to get an MBA or law degree from a mediocre school, particularly if you know you are not going to graduate in the top of your class. Anyone contemplating law school should read Paul Campos' book titled Don't Go to Law School(Unless). Campos strongly warns against borrowing money to attend a second- or third-tier law school. It just doesn't make economic sense given the dismal job market for lawyers, particularly if you don't graduate in the top of your class. In my opinion, the same advice holds for MBA programs. Borrowing a lot of money to get an MBA from a nondescript university is unlikely to pay off financially.

In his book, Paul Campos also warned against the "Special Snowflake Syndrome"--the irrational belief that you can beat the odds. For example, you may think you will study especially hard and graduate in the top 10 percent of your class. But Campos points out that 90 percent of law students don't graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.

Alternatively, you may think you are a special person with great interpersonal skills and that you will do well in a law career even if you graduate at the bottom of your class from a mediocre law school. But statistics don't lie; most  people who borrow $150,000 to attend Nowhereville School of Law aren't going to earn a salary that will make that investment pay off.

Campos' advice for prospective law students applies to everyone going to college. Do your research and make an informed decision about where to go to school and what to study. Don't assume the world will be your oyster simply because you have a bachelor's degree in multiculturalism from a hot-shot Eastern college.

In summary, you should read the recent Consumer Reports story if you are making plans to go to college. But you should also heed the warnings in this blog. Millions of people made bad decisions about financing their college educations. Five million are now in long-term income-based repayment plans that stretch their monthly loan payments out for 20 and even 25 years.

You want to improve your life by going to college; you don't want to wind up as a sharecropper--paying a percentage of your income to the government for the majority of your working life just because you made some bad financial decisions when you were a college freshman.


Paul Campos. (2012). Don't Go to College (Unless). Lexington, KY). 

Lives on Hold. Consumer Reports, August 2016, 29-39. Accessible at

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Department of Education has 517 colleges on its"Heightened Cash Monitoring" list due to perceived risks to students and taxpayers: Is your college on the list?

The Department of Education recently released its updated list of colleges that are targeted for "heightened cash monitoring" due DOE concerns about risks these colleges pose to students or taxpayers.  The latest list names 517 colleges, slightly down from the 528 colleges that were on the list in March of 2015. Colleges on the list get more intense federal oversight than other schools.

How does a college get on this list? There are a variety of reasons, including accrediting problems, audit concerns and "financial responsibility," an umbrella term DOE uses to  cover a range of financial issues.

Not surprisingly, a majority of the colleges on the list are proprietary schools, including such esteemed institutions as Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy and Educators of Beauty College of Cosmetology. But there were 81 public institutions on the "heightened cash monitoring" list, including regional colleges like University of North Alabama and Southwest Minnesota State University.

And DOE flagged no fewer than 40 foreign institutions for heightened cash monitoring, including Hebrew University in Jerusalem, London International Film School, and Pentecostal Theological Seminary in London.  A couple of Polish medical schools also made the list: Medical University of Gdansk and the Medical University of Silesia.

Quite a few nonprofit liberal arts colleges are on DOE's heightened cash monitoring list, including several schools with religious affiliations. It is difficult to tell how many private colleges have religious ties because a college's name may not give it away. Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for example, describes itself as a "minister focused Christian leadership college," but you have to go to the college's web site to find that out.

In fact, of the 32 colleges listed on the first page of DOE's print out of schools under heightened cash monitoring, 13 had some sort of religious tie or heritage, including Kentucky Wesleyan College, St. Catharine College, Eastern Nazarene College, and MacMurray College in Illinois, which was founded, according to its web site, by "devout and erudite Methodist clergymen."

Of course not all 517 colleges marked for enhanced cash monitoring will close. Most of the regional state universities on the list will probably muddle along indefinitely, propped up by state revenues.

But I think a lot of the schools on DOE's list will close. St. Catharine College is in receivership right now.

And what is the future of Shimer College in Chicago, which was recently ranked as one of the worst colleges in America and has only about 100 undergraduates? Shimer was founded in 1853 as Mount Carroll Seminary. Over time, the school evolved to become what it is today, a college that exists on two floors of a rented building and has no clubs or student societies. In 2012 it was ranked the second smallest college in America, after Alaska Bible College.

Of course, Shimer has its defenders and probably has many sterling qualities. Nevertheless, how long do you think Shimer College will last?

DOE's most recent list of colleges under "heightened cash scrutiny" should prompt us to ask several questions:

1) First, why is the federal government lending money for Americans to attend foreign colleges, including a couple of dozen foreign medical schools and several theological institutions? After all, our own country has more than 5,000 postsecondary institutions that participate in the federal student aid program, Does the government really need to finance foreign study?

2) A lot of for-profit schools are going to close in coming years.  Millions of students who attended these institutions received substandard educational experiences that did not lead to well-paying jobs.What should our government do to provide relief to the millions of people who took out loans to enroll in dodgy for-profit schools?

3) Hundreds of small liberal arts colleges are under financial stress, as evidenced by DOE's most recent "heightened cash scrutiny" list and by the escalating closure rate among these institutions. In terms of our nation's overall educational health, should we be concerned about the declining number of private liberal arts colleges, many of which are religiously affiliated?

One thing is certain. Hundreds of American postsecondary institutions, from Toni and Guy's Hairdressing Academy to Harvard, depend heavily on federal student aid money; and a great many colleges could not survive a week without regular infusions of federal funds. This has enabled colleges to hike their tuition rates and increase their annual budgets.

But the party is coming to an end. People have figured out that postsecondary education costs too much--whether it is obtained at a bottom-tier for-profit institution or an elite private liberal arts college. To fix this mess, we must do two things: We must drive down the cost of going to college, and we must provide bankruptcy relief for the millions of worthy souls who took out student loans in good faith and got very little to show for it.

Frances Wood Shimer, Courtesy of Shimer College Wiki
Francis Wood Shimer,: founder of Shimer College


Scott Jaschik. Slight Drop in Colleges in Heightened Cash Monitoring. Inside Higher Education, July 25, 2016. Accessible at

Ben Miller. America's Worst Colleges. Washington Monthly, September/October 2014. Accessible at

Jon Ronson. Shimer College; the worst school in America? The Guardian, December 6, 2014. Accessible at

Michael Stratford, Education Department will release list of colleges found to be risking for students, taxpayers. Inside Higher Education, March 30, 2015. Accessible at

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Amazon partners with Wells Fargo to peddle private student loans: Say it ain't so, Jeff Bezos

Amazon announced recently that it is partnering with Wells Fargo in the private student-loan business. The plan is for Wells Fargo to offer a slightly discounted interest rate to Amazon Prime Student members on Wells Fargo's private student loans.

 I was sorry to get this news. More than 50 years ago, American businesses discovered that they could rake in more cash from loaning money to their customers than from selling products. Prior to filing bankruptcy, for example, General Motors generated more profits from GMAC, its lending arm, than it did from selling cars.

In fact, the common joke at the time was that GM was not a car manufacturing company; it was a bank that happened to sell cars. And of course that slight change in focus from building quality automobiles to lending money at interest partly explains why GM went bankrupt.

Amazon already sells just about everything in the world. I recently purchased a couple of bags of wood chips for my electric smoker from Amazon; and I bought them cheaper than I could have gotten them at my local grocery store. Amazon's success has made Jeff Bezos, its founder, the third richest man in the world. He's worth about $65 billion.

Do Jeff and Amazon really need to get into the student loan business? Doesn't Jeff have enough money already?

But what is wrong with Amazon getting into the private student loan business, you might ask? What makes peddling student loans different from selling books, CDs, and appliances?

At least three things. First, most banks and lenders require student-loan borrowers to obtain a co-signer who will guarantee repayment of the loan. Thus, when Johnny and Sallie take out private student loans, Mom and Pop are also on the hook. In my opinion, it is reprehensible for banks to force students to get parents or relatives to cosign student loans.

Second, private loans generally carry higher interest rates than federal student loans, and they don't provide alternative payment options if a borrower runs into financial trouble and can't make monthly loan payments.  Without exception, people would be better off borrowing in the federal program than the private program.

Private lenders argue that they provide loans to people who need more money than they can borrow through the federal program.  But in my view, people who can't finance their educational program solely through federal loans are in the wrong program.

Finally, the banks managed to get Congress to revise the Bankruptcy Code in 2005 to make private loans as difficult to discharge in bankruptcy as federal loans. Senator Joe Biden was the chief architect of that sweetheart deal for the banks.

So if you take out a student loan from Wells Fargo and suffer a financial catastrophe, you will find it virtually impossible to discharge your Wells Fargo loan in bankruptcy. This is another good reason not to take out a private student loan.

In sum, the private student loan business is a sleazy industry. And so I ask again: Jeff Bezos, don't you have enough money already? Does Amazon really need to associate itself with the unsavory commerce in private student loans?

Jeff Bezos' iconic laugh.jpg
Jeff Bezos: Say it ain't so, Jeff


Ann Carne. Student Loan Co-Signers Face Tangled Path to a Release. New York Times, July 10, 2015.

Karen Silke Carty. 7 Reasons GM is Headed to Bankruptcy. ABC News. Accessible at

Annamaria Andriotis. Amazon tiptoes into the banking business through student loans. Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2016. Accessible at

Sirota, David. Joe Biden Backed Bills to Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt. International Business Times, September 15 , 2015. Accessible:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A California court strikes an education provider's mandatory arbitration clause as being unconscionable: Magno v. The College Netwwork, Inc.

For years, for-profit colleges have required students to sign mandatory arbitration clauses as part of their student enrollment documents. These clauses prohibit students from suing the institutions they attended for fraud or misrepresentation. Instead, the clauses force students to arbitrate their claims in a forum that is often more favorable for the college than for the aggrieved student.

The Department of Education recently criticized this practice and is working on some regulations that will prohibit or sharply limit the ability of colleges to stick arbitration clauses in their enrollment documents. Last May, University of Phoenix  announced that it will abandon its practice of requiring students to sign arbitration agreements.

Magno v. The College Network, Inc.

Last month, a California appellate court invalidated the arbitration clause in a purchase agreement offered by The College Network, Inc., an education provider based in Indiana but operating in California.  Entitled Magno v. The College Network, Inc., the decision strikes a strong blow against a practice that has sharply limited the ability of college students to sue their for-profit colleges when they are hoodwinked by aggressive and misleading college recruiters.

Here are the facts of the case as outlined by the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District:

Bernadette Magno, Rosanna Garcia, and Sheree Rudio were Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) in California who sought to become Registered Nurses. A recruiting representative for The College Network Incorporated (TCN) encouraged the three to enroll in TCN's partnership with Indiana State University (ISU) and California State University (CSU). The recruiter told them they could complete much of the necessary coursework for a B.S. degree in Nursing through ISU's distance-learning program and complete their clinical training with CSU.

Magno and her companions signed up for the program, but they found out later that ISU had suspended its LVN to B.S. nursing program. They sued TCN in a California court for violation of California consumer-protection laws. They alleged that TCN concealed important information and falsely represented that enrolling in the TCN program would qualify them to enter ISU's nursing program.

TCN responded to the suit by asking a California trial court to compel the plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims in accordance with an arbitration clause in the purchase agreement each of them had signed. That agreement required Magno and her co-plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims in Indiana before an arbitrator chosen by TCN.

Fortunately, the trial court denied TCN's request, and the trial court's decision was upheld on appeal. The appellate court acknowledged that arbitration clauses are generally favored as a way to settle disputes.  Nevertheless, arbitration agreements will be struck down if they were both procedurally and substantively unconscionable.

The arbitration clause was procedurally unconscionable

As the court explained, an arbitration agreement is procedurally unconscionable if the weaker party lacks the ability to negotiate and has no meaningful choice but to sign the agreement or if the disadvantaged party was surprised by the arbitration clause.

In the California court's opinion, the arbitration clause was procedurally unconscionable
in both regards. "Plaintiffs were young, were rushed through the signing process, had no ability to negotiate, did not see the arbitration language 'buried on the back of the preprinted carbon paper forms,' and did not separately initial the arbitration clause."

Moreover, the plaintiffs testified that they were not sophisticated and that TCN's recruiter told them "how everything would be fine and to simply sign here and there." In addition, the recruiter told the plaintiffs they would get a discount if they signed right away. And the plaintiffs also testified that they were unaware of the arbitration clause until after they filed suit.

Based on this evidence, the appellate flatly court ruled that the arbitration clause was procedurally unconscionable. "The arbitration agreement is an adhesion contract; it lies within a standardized form drafted and imposed by a party with superior bargaining strength, leaving Plaintiffs with only the option of adhering to the contract or rejecting it."

The arbitration clause was substantively unconscionable

The court then looked at the language of the arbitration clause and found it to be substantively unconscionable as well because the clause was "unreasonably favorable to the more powerful party." First of all, the court pointed out, the clause required the plaintiffs, who were all California residents, to arbitrate their dispute with TCN in Indiana. This, in the court's view, was substantively unconscionable. After all, TCN solicited the  plaintiffs' business in California, and plaintiffs would not have reasonably expected to be forced to arbitrate their disputes with TCN in Indiana.

Nor was the clause less pernicious because it permitted the plaintiffs to participate in the arbitration by phone or video. This forced Magno and her co-plaintiffs to "choose whether to incur significant expenses to pursue their claims in an unreasonable forum or to appear remotely, foregoing the ability to testify in person, while TCN, a company that solicited business in California, participates in proceedings in its own backyard."

Also unconscionable in the court's opinion was the provision that TCN got to unilaterally choose the arbitrator. Although plaintiffs were permitted to withhold their consent to TCN's choice so long as consent was "not unreasonably withheld," that did not alter the fact that TCN had the unilateral right to select the arbitrator.

Finally, the appellate court pointed out that the arbitration clause required the plaintiffs to present their claims within one year, while California consumer protection laws gave plaintiffs much longer to present their claims. In the court's opinion, this was yet another indication that the clause was substantively unconscionable.

Conclusion: The Magno opinion is a win for the good guys

Magno v. The College Network, Inc. is a win for the good guys. All over the United States, for-profit colleges have forced students to waive their right to file lawsuits for fraud or misrepresentation by forcing them to arbitrate their claims in forums generally more favorable to the colleges.

Not all of these arbitration clauses are as unfair as the one TCN was cramming down students' throats, but most are fundamentally unfair. The Magno decision is good ammunition for students who attended for-profit colleges and wish to sue the institutions they attended for fraud or misrepresentation under state consumer-protection laws.


Magno v. The College Network, Inc.. (Cal. Ct. App. 2016). Accessible at

U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education Takes Further Steps to Protect Students from Predatory Higher Education Institutions. March 11, 2016. Accessible at

News Release. Apollo Education Group to Eliminate Mandatory Arbitration Clauses. May 19, 2016.
Accessible at

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Susan Dynarski's Fix for the Student Loan Crisis: Simplistic, Dangerous, and Ineffective

Susan Dynarski published an essay recently in the Business section of the Sunday Times with the provocative title of "America Can Fix Its Student Loan Crisis. Ask Australia." Her prescription is simplistic, dangerous, and ineffective.

Essentially, Dynarski recommends putting American student borrowers into income-based, long-term repayment plans. She doesn't say how long, but she wrote approvingly of the English system--which, she attests, gives students 30 years to pay off their loans.

She also recommends putting student borrowers into a payroll withholding system whereby
debtors have their monthly loan payments deducted from their paychecks based on a percentage of their income.  When borrowers' incomes go up, their payments would be larger; if their incomes go down, their payments would be reduced as well.

Dynarski's proposal is very close to what the Obama administration is already doing--pushing millions of student borrowers into income-based repayment plans that stretch out over 20 or 25 years.

Dynarski says long-term student-loan repayment plans make sense because college graduates benefit from their college experience over their entire lives. "A core principle of finance is that the length of debt payments should align with the life of the asset," she writes didactically. "We pay for cars over five years and homes over 30 years because homes last a lot longer than cars." Likewise, Dynarski reasons, "[a]n education pays off over a lifetime, so it makes sense that student loans should be paid off over a long term."

Dynarski urges the United States to follow the example of those savvy Europeans, who give students longer to pay off their student loans than we do here in the U.S. "All the international student loan experts I have spoken with are shocked by how little time American students are given to pay off their student loans," she informs us. Shocked!


Dynarski's simplistic proposal is based on erroneous premises.  First of all, contrary to Dynarski's view, many student borrowers do not have college experiences that benefit them over a lifetime. Students who borrow to attend for-profit colleges and have substandard experiences don't receive a lifetime of benefits. Perhaps that is why almost half of a recent cohort of students  who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within five years. People who drop out of college before graduating don't receive a lifetime of benefits either, although they may acquire a lifetime of debt.

And many people who borrow money to obtain liberal arts degrees are not receiving much benefit. I for one received almost no benefit from the sociology degree I obtained from Oklahoma State University many years ago. But at least I didn't borrow money to pay for it.

People who borrow $100,000 or more to get degrees in sociology, history, women's studies, religious studies, etc. generally are paying far more than their degrees are worth.  In fact, 45 percent of recent graduates take jobs that don't even require a college degree.  And in the workplace as a whole, about a third of college graduates are in jobs that don't require a college education.

Moreover, Dynarski's comparison between American college financing and Europe is not very useful. As she herself points out, higher education in many European countries is free, and most European countries have a bigger social safety net for their citizens than the U.S. does. It is one thing to pay on student loans for 20 years if health care is free and an old-age pension is assured. It is quite another thing for people to pay on their student loans over a majority of their working lives while saving for retirement and paying for health insurance.


If we think about Dynarski's proposal for just a few moments, we can see how ineffective it is for solving the student loan crisis. American higher education is the most expensive in the world, and stretching out students' loan repayments for 25 or 30 years will do nothing to get those costs under control. In fact, the reason so many higher education insiders favor long-term income-based repayment plans is because it enables them to continue jacking up tuition prices.

And Dynarski's plan takes no account of accruing interest.  Borrowers who make small monthly loan payments due to their low salaries won't be paying off interest as it accrues. Most Americans who enter these plans will never pay off their loan balances even if they faithfully make their monthly loan payments for 300 consecutive months.  Isn't it also a core principle of finance that people should actually pay off their loans?


Finally, Dynarkski's proposal is simply dangerous to the long-term well being of Americans who go to college.  Basically, she is proposing a special tax that everyone who borrows to attend college must pay over the majority of their working lives. Student loan payments will just be another deduction from people's paychecks--like federal income tax withholding and Social Security contributions.

Essentially, Dynarski is proposing a modern-day sharecropper system very much like the one that prevailed in the American South prior to World War II. The sharecropper system of the 1930s required tenant farmers to pay a portion of their crops to Southern plantation owners; the modern system forces college students to pay a portion of their future wages to the government over a majority of their working lives.

Both sharecropper systems are unjust: and Dynarski, by pitching the new sharecropper system in the Business section of the  New York Times, has become an apologist for exploitation.


Mathew Boesler. More College Grads Finding Work, But Not in the Best Jobs., April 7, 2016. Accessible at

Susan Dynarski. American Can Fix Its Student Loan Crisis. Ask Australia. New York Times, July 10, 2016. Business  Section, p. 6.

The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2016. Accessible at

Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis, A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising default ratesWashington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015). Accessible at:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

More than a third of college graduates say they would not have attended college had they known what it would cost: Buyer's Remorse

Jessica Dickler reported recently on a survey of college graduates conducted by Citizens Bank. According to Dickler, the survey found that 36 percent of the students surveyed said they would not have attended college had they known what it would cost them. And half said they regretted the amount of indebtedness they incurred to get their college degrees.

Even more startling, the survey found that 60 percent of college graduates had no idea when their loans would be paid off and a third didn't know the interest rate they were paying.

In addition, the same survey found that recent graduates are devoting about 20 percent of their salaries to student-loan payments and that most recent graduates expect to be paying on their student loans until they are in their 40s.  As a consequence, survey respondents reported, they have limited amounts of money to spend on travel, housing, eating out, and entertainment.

I wonder if Citizens Bank will rethink its student-loan policy based on the results of its survey. It was Citizens, you may recall, that loaned $161,000 to Lorelei Decena so she could attend an unaccredited medical school in Africa. Decena successfully discharged her debt to Citizens based on the fact that the school she attended was not on the U.S. Department of Education's approved list of schools

Do you suppose Decena took Citizens' survey? If so, was she was one of the 36 percent who said they regretted their college experience?


Decena v. Citizens Bank, 549 B.R. 11 (Bankr. E.D.N.Y. 2016).

Jessica Dickler. Buyer's College buyer's remorse is real. CNBC News, April 7, 2016. Accessible at

Jessica Dickler. College costs are out of control. CNBc News, July 16, 2016. Accessible at

Citizens Bank. Millennial College Graduates with Student Loans Now Spending Nearly One-Fifth of Their Annual Salaries on Student Loan Repayments. April 7, 2016. Accessible at

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Nicholas Dirks, UC Berkeley Chancellor, under investigation for "alleged misuse of public funds, personal use of campus fitness trainer"

The University of California rolls through scandals like a great battleship being assaulted by BB guns. Nothing seems to scathe it.

The University of California: The Teflon University System

Or--to switch my metaphor--the University of California might be called the ultimate teflon university system. Scandal slides right off it like a burned fried egg in a teflon-coated pan. Remember the UC Davis pepper-spray incident when campus police officers assaulted passive students with pepper spray--a weapon the officers weren't even authorized to use?

No big deal. UC simply got out its checkbook as if it were a middle-class householder paying the monthly bills. Around 20 or so assaulted students sued, but UC settled with them for a million bucks-mere pocket change. It even paid off one of the assaulting police officers who filed a disability claim, based on the stress he said he experienced from pepper spraying students.

Hey, that's only fair. If UC is going to pay off the victims of violence, it should compensate the perpetrators as well.

Then the Sacramento Bee reported that no fewer than nine UC campus chancellors were getting outside money from sitting on various corporate boards. Did anyone get fired for that embarrassment? Naah.

And then Sujit Choudhry, the Dean of the Berkeley Law School, was accused of sexually harassing a subordinate.  He stepped down from his deanship but retained his tenured professor's salary--more than a quarter of a million dollars a year.

Space doesn't permit a review of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi's various scandals. She is apparently on paid leave as the University sorts out nepotism allegations. But she's still getting paid, God bless her.

Allegations Against UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks: A Nonstarter

And now Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor of UC's flagship Berkeley campus, is being investigated for allegedly misusing public funds. As the Los Angeles Times reported it, a whistleblower accused Chancellor Dirks of getting free services from a campus fitness trainer. In addition, Dirks's wife, a tenured history professor, took the trainer with her on a trip to India. There are also questions about a $700,000 fence constructed around Dirks's residence--installed to protect him from student protesters.

In my view, the allegations against Dirks are a tempest in a teapot. Getting free use of a campus fitness trainer is no big deal. The director of the UC Berkeley recreational center approved the arrangement, which the director compared to getting free tickets to a varsity football game.

The same trainer accompanied Dirks's wife on a trip to India, but apparently the Berkeley Alumni Association paid for this perk, so no public funds were involved.

As for spending 700 grand to build a fence around Chancellor Dirks's house, I say what the hell. If the project complied with University spending regulations--and it probably did--no wrongdoing occurred. I doubt any of the allegations against Chancellor Dirks are serious enough to get him fired.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks: University President as Potentate

On the other hand, Chancellor Dirks is very well paid. He makes a half million a year, gets free housing and a generous car allowance. Can't the guy pay the cost of a personal fitness trainer?

Likewise, why is someone picking up the tab for Janaki Bakhle, Dirks's wife, to take Dirks's personal trainer with her on a trip to India? After all, Bakhle is a humble history professor. Where does she get off traveling the globe with a personal trainer paid for by the alumni association?

And let's face it; $700,000 is a lot of money to put a security fence around Dirks's personal residence. Berkeley's campus police defended the expense as a money saver. According to the UC cops, having a fence around the chancellor's house saves the university $360,000 a year in security costs.

But that defense is laughable. Was UC Berkeley really spending more than a third of a million dollars a year to protect Dirks's house?

The allegations against Dirks are a window into the world of a mega university president. These people no longer serve primarily as academic leaders. In their new role, they are more like a viceroy overseeing a British colony.  They get paid extravagant salaries, which are often padded with outside income and special perks like life insurance, car allowances, and palatial housing. They travel the world in private jets, hobnobbing with the global elites.

Meanwhile, if recent news reports are to be believed, a large number of college students aren't getting enough to eat.  Students borrow more and more every year to attend college and then graduate into a job market that puts nearly half of new graduates into jobs that do not even require a college degree. No wonder a large percentage of them regret ever going to college.

But Chancellor Dirks and his tenured wife are doing fine, thank you very much. And if the students get restless and protest escalating college costs, Dirks knows he can rest secure behind his $700,000 security fence.

Image result for "nicholas dirks images
Nicholas Dirks: Potentate of UC Berkeley

Nanette Aimov. UC Berkely law dean Choudhry resigns amid harassment scandal. San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2016. Accessible at

Jessica Dickler. College costs are out of control. CNBC, July 13, 2016. Accessible at

Conor Friedersdorf. A costly suspension for UC Dav's embatled chancellor. Atlantic, April 28, 2016.

Larry Gordon (2012, September 13). UC to pay settlement in Davis pepper spray caseLos Angeles Times (online edition).

Steve Gorman. University of California cop who pepper sprayed student protesters awarded $38,000. Reuters, October 23. Accessible at:

Diana Lambert and Alexei Koseff. UC Davis chancellor apologizes, will donate textbook stock to student scholarshipsSacramento Bee, March 4, 2016. Accessible at

Teresa Watanabe. UC Berkeley chancellor under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds, personal use of campus fitness trainer. Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2016. Accessible at

Friday, July 8, 2016

Message to Distressed Student-Loan Debtors: Don't Give Up! Change is In the Wind

Don't give up
'cause you have friends
Don't give up
You're not the only one
Don't give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don't give up
You still have us
Don't give up now
We're proud of who you are
Don't give up
You know it's never been easy
Don't give up
'cause I believe there's a place
There's a place where we belong
Don't Give Up
Lyrics by Kate Bush & Peter Gabriel 

If you are overwhelmed by your student-loan debt, discouraged, and don't know where to turn, take my advice. Go to your refrigerator, pop the cap off a Shiner, and then listen to Don't Give Up, written by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Several artists have sung the song, but I prefer Willie Nelson's version.

Some of the lyrics prompt me to reflect on the millions of Americans who are burdened by their unpayable student loans. "Don't give up," Willie tells us. "No reason to be ashamed." You still have your friends.

And I personally believe that change is in the wind regarding the federal student loan program. I think the magnitude of the student-loan disaster has grown so enormous that the federal government can't ignore it.  I see faint signs that help is on the way.

Why do I think this?

First, the Department of Education is finally moving forward on banning mandatory arbitration clauses in student-enrollment contracts at the for-profit colleges. If DOE follows through, students who were defrauded by their colleges can sue and can even join class actions. This is a good sign, and could mark the beginning of the end for the rapacious for-profit college industry. 

Second, Hillary essentially embraced Bernie Sanders's call for free college education at public universities this week (with some qualifications). This is also a good sign, because no scheme to offer free tuition is workable without massive reform of the federal student-loan program.

Third, and more importantly, Hillary called for a 3-month hiatus on student-loan payments while students refinance their loans to take advantage of lower interest rates. Once the federal government begins a wholesale effort to refinance millions of loans,  it will be apparent to everyone that the student-loan program is a train wreck. Broad relief could emerge from Hillary's idea.

Fourth, the bankruptcy courts are beginning to remember their purpose, which is to offer a fresh start to honest but unfortunate debtors. The recent cases are all over the place, with some courts still issuing callous decisions. But there are a lot of good decisions: Roth, Hedlund, Krieger, Abney, McDowell, Fern, etc.

Fifth, the Department of Education issued an important letter in July, 2015 outlining when it would not oppose bankruptcy discharge for student-loan debtors. DOE said creditors should consider the cost of opposing bankruptcy discharges, whether or not they think a debtor can show undue hardship if forced to repay student loans.

So far, this letter has been largely ignored. In my opinion, DOE did not act in harmony with the letter when it opposed bankruptcy discharge in the Abney case out of Missouri.  But DOE is now on record that it recognizes a variety of circumstances when a bankruptcy discharge is appropriate for some student loan debtors.

Richard Precht used that letter to his advantage in a Virginia bankruptcy decision earlier this year. He presented the letter to a very receptive Virginia bankruptcy judge, and DOE agreed not to oppose a discharge of Precht's debt. 

I acknowledge that all these signs of hope are faint and that a lot of misery lies ahead for millions of college borrowers who now hold about $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt.

But this catastrophe will someday come to an end--it can't go on forever. I recall my father, who was captured by the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula during World War II ad endured the living hell of a Japanese prison camp from April 1942 until August 1945.

Two thirds of the men who were captured with my father did not survive the war. Some were murdered, some starved to death, and a few committed suicide. But my father survived, and the war ended.

Likewise, the federal student-loan program will eventually collapse, and millions of deserving college borrowers will get relief.  So, remember Willie's advice: Don't give up. 

And keep a six-pack of Shiner on hand  in your refrigerator. (My advice, not Willie's, but I'm sure he would agree.)

Image result for shiner beer
Don't give up: You've still got your friends


Stephanie Saul and Matt Flegenheimer. Hillary Clinton Embraces Ideas From Bernie Sanders's College Tuition PlanNew York Times, July 6, 2016. Accessible at

Anne Gearan and Abby Phillip. Clinton to propose 3-month hiatus for repayment of  student loansWashington Post, July 5, 2016. Accessible at

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hillary embraces Bernie Sanders' plan for a free college education: God bless Senator Sanders

You did it! You did it! You said that you would do it, And indeed you did. I thought that you would rue it; I doubted you'd do it. But now I must admit it That succeed you did. 

                                                         lyrics from My Fair Lady

Hillary Clinton announced this week that she favors a tuition-free college education at in-state public colleges for all families with annual incomes up to $125,000. As the New York Times correctly noted, by taking that step, Hillary "largely embraced" Bernie Sanders's core position about a free college education at public institutions for all Americans.

God bless Bernie Sanders! As the Democratic primary season ground on, attacks by Hillary's supporters became more and more vicious. Froma Harrup insinuated he was a racist, Barney Frank accused him of McCarthyism, and a New York Times reporter suggested he was a sexist.  I think someone in the Clinton camp would have accused him of antisemitism were it not for the fact that he is Jewish.

All shameful poppycock. But doughty Bernie went the distance, and the Democratic Party has essentially adopted one of his core campaign issues.

What does this mean?

If Clinton is elected President, which seems likely, Congress will be forced to grapple with real reform for the federal student-loan program.  Clinton crossed the Rubicon when she endorsed Bernie's free-college tuition proposal. There is no going back. And by calling for a 3-month moratorium on student-loan payments to allow college borrowers to refinance their college loans, Clinton has forced the Democratic Party and the American public to face the fact that the student loan program is a train wreck.

As Winston Churchill said after the battle for Egypt, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

A calamity has descended on American higher education. In the coming years, the for-profit sector will collapse,dozens of  small liberal arts colleges will close, and millions of Americans will be forced into 20-and 25-year repayment plans. The student-loan program as we now know it will unravel.

It's going to be ugly, but at least Hillary's two recent pronouncements about higher education finance are an acknowledgement that we have to embrace radical change. And we can thank Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for pushing America's most important domestic policy issue to the front and center of American politics.

And let us not forget what I have been arguing for 20 years: There is no way out of this morass without allowing millions of student borrowers to shed their student loans in bankruptcy.

Image result for "bernie sanders"


Stephanie Saul and Matt Flegenheimer. Hillary Clinton Embraces Ideas From Bernie Sanders's College Tuition Plan. New York Times, July 6, 2016. Accessible at

Anne Gearan and Abby Phillip. Clinton to propose 3-month hiatus for repayment of  student loansWashington Post, July 5, 2016. Accessible at

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hillary Clinton proposes a three-month moratorium on student-loan payments and massive loan refinancing: A good idea, but difficult to implement

According to the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton has proposed a three-month moratorium on student-loan payments to allow borrowers time to restructure their student loans at lower interest rates.

Let me say flat out that this is a good idea. As the press has widely reported, about 40 percent of college-loan borrowers who are in the repayment phase of their loans aren't making payments. These people are seeing their loan balances go up as interest accrues on unpaid debt, and they desperately need repayment options they can afford.

In addition, millions of people who are making their loan payments would benefit from repayment plans that would lower monthly payments and take advantage of lower interest rates.

Hillary's proposal underscores this stark fact: The federal student-loan program is in chaos. There are currently eight income-based repayment plans, and even experts are confused about how the different options work and which students are eligible for the various repayment plans. Giving students a three-month hiatus to sort all this out is an excellent idea.

But why is Hillary making this proposal now? Was she prompted by pure politics--making a play for young people's votes? Is her proposal an attempt to win over Bernie Sanders' supporters?

Obviously, Hillary's proposal was driven by political consideration. But I think there is something more going on--namely panic. I think Hillary and the Democratic establishment finally realize that millions of Americans are overwhelmed by unmanageable student-loan debt. These distressed debtors are frustrated, demoralized and angry; and they won't vote for Hillary unless they think she will provide them with tangible relief if she is elected President.

In short, the Democrats see blood in the water; they know they must do something substantive to keep young voters in the Democratic column in the November election.   And even Hillary's fiercest critics must admit that her massive student-loan refinancing proposal is substantive and significant.

Nevertheless, I don't see how Hillary's plan can be effectively implemented. The federal student loan program is like a massive battleship plunging across a raging ocean at full speed--it can't be turned around quickly.  Here are some of the problems:

First, simply determining who is eligible for Hillary's refinancing program will be a huge challenge. More than 40 million Americans have outstanding student loans, and most of them are in the repayment phase.  Just figuring out who is eligible to stop making loan payments and who is not will be an enormous headache.

For example, a lot of borrowers took out private student loans that aren't part of the federal student loan program.  Of course, private loans won't be covered by Hillary's moratorium. But research has shown that many borrowers don't know whether their loans are federal or private, and some have both kinds of loans. If Hillary implements a moratorium, a good many borrowers will stop making payments on their private loans, which will get them in trouble with their lenders.

And 5 million borrowers are already in income-based repayment plans under very favorable terms. Can these people stop making payments for three months? If not, who is going to notify them that they are not eligible to participate in the moratorium?

Second, the Department of Education may not have the capacity to meet the bureaucratic challenge of refinancing millions of loans over a three-month period. There are 43 million people with outstanding student loans, but many borrowers signed multiple promissory notes--perhaps a dozen or more. And some of these documents date back 20, 25, and even 30 years.  

Refinancing all these loans will be a gigantic undertaking, the bureaucratic equivalent of launching Obamacare. I seriously doubt whether DOE or the various creditors have the resources to refinance all these loans over a three-month period. After all, DOE has had great difficulty coping with Corinthian Colleges' former students who sought loan forgiveness in the wake of Corinthian's bankruptcy. 

Third, once college borrowers are given license to stop making payments for a brief period, it will be very difficult to get them back in the repayment mode. In some ways, Hillary's proposal is like the European Union's decision to accept refugees from the Middle East. Once the stream of migrants began moving, the Europeans found themselves unable to handle the volume of refugees that crossed into the EU. And there was no effective way to regulate the flow.

Likewise, Hillary's proposal to allow millions of college borrowers to stop making loan payments while they refinance their student loans will create a massive upheaval in the federal student loan program. If her plan goes forward, I think we will see millions of people stop making loan payments, whether or not they are eligible for Hillary's moratorium. 

Finally, Hillary's student-loan refinancing plan may be nothing more than a way to shove borrowers into 20- and 25-year repayment plans.  The Obama administration has been aggressively pushing college borrowers into long-term income-based repayment plans. It has said it hopes to have nearly 7 million people in IBRPs by the end of 2017.

Hillary's pan will accelerate the movement of student borrowers into long-term repayment plans.  If it is implemented, we will surely see 10 million people or more in IBRPs, which will effectively make them indentured servants to Uncle Sam, paying a percentage of their income to the government for a majority of their working lives just for the privilege of going to college.

As I have said repeatedly, IBRPs are a bad idea and nothing more than a way to keep a lid on the student-loan crisis. It would be very disappointing if Hillary implemented a student-loan refinancing plan that has the primary effect of lengthening the loan repayment period for millions of Americans.

Conclusion: In spite of its drawbacks, Hillary's loan refinancing proposal is a good idea. In spite of all the drawbacks to Hillary's refinancing idea, I hope she goes forward with it if she becomes President. Almost anything is better than the present state of affairs.  Lowering interest rates will give millions of borrowers some relief from their debt. And even if her plan forces more borrowers into IBRPs, that option is better than having them continue to shoulder monthly payments that are so large as to be unmanageable.

Besides, Hillary's scheme, if implemented, will expose the utter chaos of the federal student loan program, which the federal government has hidden from the American people. Once the public realizes how many millions of people are suffering from their participation in the federal student loan program, maybe we will see real reform--which is nothing more and nothing less than reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts. 


Anne Gearan and Abby Phillip. Clinton to propose 3-month hiatus for repayment of  student loans. Washington Post, July 5, 2016. Accessible at

Josh Mitchell. More than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren't Making Payments. Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2016. Accessible at

Alia Wong. When Loan Forgiveness Isn't Enough. Atlantic Monthly, June 15, 2015. Accessible at

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Democratic Party Platform Plank on Higher Education: A Big Pile of Horse Manure

The Democratic Party released its Platform this week, or rather it released a draft marked "Deliberative and Predecisional." The Higher Education plank is only a few hundred words long, but it still adds up to one big pile of horse manure.

First, the Democrats promise to cut interest rates on student loans, "thereby preventing the federal government from making billions of dollars in profits from student loans." What was the Platform Committee smoking when it wrote that sentence?

Everyone who knows even a little bit about the student-loan crisis realizes that the federal government is not making a profit on student loans. It is incurring huge losses--losses that are growing by the day.

Why do I say this? First of all, the student-loan default rate is catastrophic--far higher than the anemic rate the Department of Education publishes every autumn. The Brookings Institution reported that almost half of students who take out loans to attend a for-profit institution default in five years. The five-year default rate for students overall is 28 percent.

Moreover, the Obama administration is pushing distressed student-loan borrowers into long-term repayment plans that set monthly payments so low that borrowers are not paying down accruing interest. In fact, more than half of student borrowers are seeing their loan balances go up two years after beginning the repayment phase of their loan--not down.

Do the Brookings numbers indicate to you that the government is making a profit on the student loan program? Of course not. And the fact that Senators Elizabeth Warren, Charles Schumer, Barbara Boxer, and now the whole Democratic Party insist that the government is reaping huge profits off the student loan program demonstrates that the Democrats are clueless about the student-loan crisis or that they are lying about it.

The Democrats also promise to "simplify and expand access to income-based repayment so that no student loan borrowers have to pay more than they can afford." In other words, the Democrats want to push more and more student borrowers into 20- or 25-year income based repayment plans (IBRPs).

Five million people are in IBRPs now; and President Obama wants to enroll 2 million more by the end of next year. Apparently, the Democrats want to increase that number even further.

Of course, IBRPs are nothing more than a conspiracy by our government to create a giant class of sharecroppers who will pay a percentage of their incomes to Uncle Sam over the majority of their working lives.

And finally, the Democrats pledge to "restore the prior standard in bankruptcy law to allow borrowers with student loans to discharge their debts in bankruptcy as a measure of last resort." I interpret this pie-in-the-sky promise to mean the Democrats will delete the "undue hardship" provision from the Bankruptcy Code.

I hope that is a promise the Democrats will keep if Hillary becomes President. If Congress would actually strike the "undue hardship" standard from the Bankruptcy Code, millions of Americans would be lining up to file bankruptcy within a week after the law is changed. And if distressed student-loan borrowers could truly get relief from their oppressive student-loan debt, a half trillion dollars in student loans would be wiped off the books.

That scenario would cause the student-loan program to collapse, which would cause hundreds of colleges and universities to close.

Our government will never let that happen. Which is why the Democratic Party's Higher Education platform is a big pile of horse manure.

Image result for elizabeth warren and charles schumer
Senators Schumer and Warren: Shoveling horse manure


Democratic Party Platform Draft, July 1, 2016 [Deliberative and Predecisional]. Accessible at

Schumer and Warren Pushing Obama to Address Student Debt. CNN Transcript, January 12, 2016. Accessible at

Democrartic Senators Highlight Obscene Government Profits Off Student Loan Program. Senator Warren press release, January 31, 2014. Accessible at