Friday, September 30, 2016

U.S. Department of Education mistreats bankrupt Corinthian Colleges' former students and Senator Elizabeth Warren complains

Corinthian Colleges closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy last year, leaving about 80,000 currently enrolled students in the lurch.  Corinthian was besieged with charges of fraud and misrepresentation at the time it went belly up and subsequently had a $1.5 billion judgment entered against in California.

A couple of days ago, Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote Secretary of Education John King a letter complaining about how DOE has treated Corinthian's former students who have outstanding student loans. She said about 80,000 former Corinthian students are eligible for debt relief relief under DOE's "closed school" program, but are in some form of debt collection.

According to Warren:

  • More than 30,000 student borrowers are in "administrative offset" and could have tax refunds and Social Security checks seized for nonpayment of their loans.
  • More than 4,000 borrowers are having their wages garnished by the federal government for loan nonpayment.
  • Less than 4,000 former Corinthian students have had their loans forgiven under DOE's "borrower defense" discharge, far fewer than the number who are entitled to relief.
  • Only 23,000 former Corinthian students have even applied for borrower defense discharges, less than a third of the number of Corinthian students who have been put into DOE's collection process.
I've been critical of Senator Warren in the past, but I commend her for her vigorous efforts to help former Corinthian students who have outstanding student loans. As Warren herself put it in her letter to Secretary King, Corinthian's meltdown "left an estimated 350,000 students with worthless degrees or credits and mountains of fraudulent debt." There is ample evidence of wrongdoing throughout Corinthian's operations, and all its former students deserve to have their loans forgiven.

What would that cost? According to the New York Times, if all 350,000 former Corinthian students had their loans forgiven, it would cost taxpayers about $3.5 billion.

But that is what should be done. Instead of requiring hundreds of thousands of former Corinthian students to file applications for discharge under DOE's cumbersome administrative process, every student loan taken out to attend a Corinthian campus should be forgiven.

And let's not forget the Corinthian students who may still be attending Corinthian campuses that were sold to a subsidiary of Educational Credit Management Corporation in a deal engineered by DOE.  ECMC created a subsidiary named Zenith Education Group to run 53 Corinthian campuses that ECMC bought for peanuts--$24 million or less than half a million dollars per campus.

According to an Inside Higher Ed article, the Zenith-run campuses are not doing well. Zenith has consolidated some of the campuses it bought and is closing others. It seems quite possible that the Zenith-run operation will also shut down. In any event, any relief granted to former Corinthian students should include all students who continued their studies on campuses operated by Zenith.



References

Tamar Lewin. Government to Forgive Student Loans at CorinthianNew York Times, June 9, 2015, p. A11.


Paul Fain. More Cuts for Zenith. Inside Higher Ed, March 28, 2016. Accessible at  https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/03/28/nonprofit-owner-former-corinthian-colleges-campuses-loses-100-million-while

Help for Victims of College Fraud (Editorial). New York Times, June 10, 2015, p. A24.

Andrew Kreighbaum, Warren: Education Dept. Failing Corinthian Students. Inside Higher Ed, September 30, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/09/30/warren-education-dept-failing-corinthian-students

Senator Elizabeth Warren to Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., letter dated September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/2016-9-29_Letter_to_ED_re_Corinthian_data.pdf

The Century Foundation criticizes Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECM) in a recent report: Shining a light on a shady debt collector

INTRODUCTION: THE CENTURY FOUNDATION SHINES A DIM LIGHT ON ECMC
AND OTHER STUDENT LOAN GUARANTY AGENCIES


The Century Foundation recently issued a report criticizing the federal student-loan guaranty agencies--including Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), which has earned a reputation as a heartless student-loan debt collector. The report explains the complicated history of the loan guarantee agencies and is well worth reading.

Collectively, these guaranty agencies hold more than $5.4 billion in unrestricted assets, most of it obtained from collecting on defaulted student loans.  Four agencies--ECMC, Lumina Foundation, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, and USA Funds each hold more than a billion dollars in unrestricted funds.

According to The Century Foundation, most of this money was acquired from the agencies' student-loan debt collection activities. The Foundation did not explain the fee structure for collecting student-loan debt, but in some cases at least, the guaranty agencies slap an 18.5 percent penalty on defaulted loans--18.5 percent of the loan balance and accumulated interest.

In other words, a student who takes out a student loan of $15,000 and sees the debt grow to $20,000 due to accumulated interest, can get a $$3,700 penalty attached to the loan balance if the student defaults. Thus, a $15,000 debt can grow to $23.700 in a relatively short period of time. And this is where the guarantee agencies make a lot of money.

What do these so-called charitable agencies do with their money? The guaranty  agencies spend some of their money distributing grants for purported charitable purposes, but the biggest share of these grants (25 percent) goes to "Policy Organizations." Unfortunately, the Century Foundation did not name the policy organizations that are getting the money; but my guess is that the money goes to the various think tanks and policy groups that churn out reports proclaiming that the student loan program is under control.

I wonder, for example, whether the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution got some of this money.  Both organizations have been soft peddling the student loan crisis for years.

The Century Foundation did not examine the guaranty agencies' loan collection practices, but the Foundation gently suggested that the agencies should take a more compassionate approach to collecting on defaulted student loans. "Lacking the profit motive," the report observed mildly, "a guarantee agency might be more humane in its treatment of borrowers, even if it resulted in less revenue from collections."

Ya think? ECMC in particular has savagely fought bankruptcy discharge for distressed student loan debtors for years. In the Roth case, for example, ECMC opposed bankruptcy discharge for an elderly debtor with chronic health problems who was living on less than $800 a month!  Indeed, there has been nothing charitable about ECMC's attacks on student-loan debtors in the bankruptcy courts.

Notably, the guarantee agencies awarded no grants to legal aid groups that could represent student-loan debtors in legal actions against fraudulent for-profit colleges. No money goes for legal aid to help student loan debtors in bankruptcy. Quite the contrary, ECMC and other loan guarantee agencies are spending millions of dollars paying attorneys to fight destitute debtors in the bankruptcy courts. ECMC hired six attorneys to fight Alexandra Costa-Conniff, who is fighting ECMC's appeal of her bankruptcy discharge before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Century Foundation leveled several specific criticisms of ECMC:

ECMC handsomely compensates its trustees and CEO. First, the Foundation reported that ECMC, a nonprofit charitable organization, pays its trustees annual compensation ranging from $76,000 to $142,000. According to the Foundation, it is highly unusual and controversial for a charitable organization to pay trustees such outrageous sums for what should be public service. And the Foundation says ECMC's CEO makes more than $1 million a year.

ECMC created a subsidiary to buy and run more than 50 campuses of the bankrupt Corinthian Colleges. The Century Foundation also raised questions about ECMC's purchase of more than 50 campuses from the bankrupt Corinthian Colleges system.  ECMC, which has no experience running a college, created a nonprofit subsidiary called Zenith Education Group to operate the chain of schools.

The Century Foundation asked a reasonable questions about this transaction:
Is this the case of a charity that, in purchasing the Corinthian campuses, made a noble if misguided attempt to transform a corrupt enterprise? Or is this just a corporate board seeing if they can make a buck? 
And, as TCF pointed out, the trustees for Zenith are the same people who are the trustees for ECMC. The Foundation charged that ECMC hid the fact that the Zenith trustees were being paid as ECMC trustees when it filed Zenith's application for IRS tax-exempt status. The Foundation also pointed out that the IRS apparently did no more than a cursory review of Zenith's application, approving the new organization's tax-exempt status in only six weeks (far faster, apparently, than the Tea Party groups' applications).

CONCLUSION:

THE CENTURY REPORT ON LOAN GUARANTEE AGENCIES IS A GOOD START BUT GLARING QUESTIONS REMAIN UNANSWERED

The Century Foundation's report is a useful document. In particular, the report explains how the guaranty agencies were formed and how they make their money. But some glaring questions remain unanswered, including:

Exactly how much do the executive officers of the loan guaranty agencies get paid each year? The Century Foundation's report said that ECMC's CEO makes more than a million dollars a year, but we've known that for some time.  Bloomberg reported in 2013 that Richard Boyle, ECMC's CEO at the time, made $1.1 million in 2010 and that the ECMC's CFO made a half million.  Surely Jane Hines, ECMC's current CEO, makes more than Boyle did in 2010. How much did Dave Hawn make when he served as ECMC's CEO?

How much are other ECMC executives making now?  And how much are the senior officers making at the other guaranty agencies?

Which policy foundations get paid by the guaranty agencies? If we see the list, I'll bet we'll find the guaranty agencies are funding think tanks that support the status quo in the student loan program.

How much does ECMC pay the attorneys it hires to harass destitute student-loan debtors who file for bankruptcy? The Department of Education said in 2015 that loan collectors shouldn't fight bankruptcy discharge for student loan debt when it is not cost effective to do so, but ECMC and DOE itself appear to be fighting every college-loan borrower who seeks to discharge student debt in bankruptcy. ECMC must be spending millions on lawyers, but I would like to know exactly how much.

Are the guaranty agencies paying lobbyists; and if so, how much? Corinthian Colleges filed a list of its creditors when it filed for bankruptcy awhile back, and that list showed that Corinthian had hired several Washington lobbyists to represent its interests. It would not surprise me to learn that the guaranty agencies have also  hired lobbyists to protect their operations.

In short, The Century Foundation report just scratched the surface regarding the loan guaranty agencies. All we know for sure about them is that they have accumulated more than $5 billion, most of it from distressed student-loan debtors and that one of them pays its trustees unseemly amounts of money.

Let's find out more. Maybe those Senators who are so outraged by Wells Fargo could vent some of their pent-up spleen toward the loan guarantee agencies.



References

John Hechinger. Taxpayers Fund $454,000 Pay for Collector Chasing Student Loans. Bloomberg.com, May 15, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-15/taxpayers-fund-454-000-pay-for-collector-chasing-student-loans.html

Brown, M., Haughwout, A., Lee, D., Mabutas, M., and van der Klaauw, W. (2012). Grading student loans. New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessible at: http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2012/03/grading-student-loans.html

Natalie Kitroeff. Loan Monitor Is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt. New York Times, January 1, 2014.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/us/loan-monitor-is-accused-of-ruthless-tactics-on-student-debt.html
Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP  2013). 
Robert Shireman and Tariq Habash. Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way? The Century Foundation, September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://tcf.org/content/report/student-loan-guaranty-agencies-lost-way/





Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Our nation's highest paid public employees work for universities and most are coaches

Reporters for 24/7 Wall St. published an informative online article recently that listed the highest paid public employee in all 50 states. In 47 of the 50 states, the highest paid public employee works for a university.  In 26 states, the highest paid public employee is a college football coach. In 11 states, the best paid public employee is a college basketball coach.

King of the heap is Nick Saban, head football coach for the University of Alabama, who makes more than $7 million a year, exponentially more than the UA president makes or Alabama's governor. In fact, several of Saban's assistant coaches make more than the governor of Alabama, including Lane Kiffin, Saban's offensive coordinator, who makes $1.4 million. 

What does this mean? At least three things:

College athletics is entertainment and has nothing to do with higher education. First, college sports has nothing to do with higher education anymore. It is entertainment, and highly paid coaches, assistant coaches, and athletic directors are in the entertainment industry. Football coaches don't make as much money as George Clooney or Madonna--at least not yet. But they live in a completely different world than the professors and instructors who toil away on university campuses for crap wages.  

College football players don't get paid, it is true; but essentially they are interns grooming for careers in  the NFL. A typical football player has only the flimsiest allegiance to the university he attends. Believe me, the 280 pound hunks that entertain us on Saturdays are not thinking about the Homecoming Prom. And at LSU, at least, the football players have a depressing tendency to get arrested on various misdemeanor charges.

More and more cash flows into college athletics while academic programs are starved for money. According to the 24/7 Wall St. story, college coaches' salaries have gone up an average of 90 percent in just 10 years. Meanwhile, state contributions to public university budgets are shrinking.

I'm not saying that coaches' salaries are the whole explanation for rising tuition prices. A few college football programs earn enough money to be self sufficient. And many coaches receive the bulk of their compensation from private foundations, not public funds.

But surely there is something wrong when LSU pays Coach Les Miles around $4.5 million a year while LSU tuition skyrockets upward. LSU would argue that its football program is completely self sustaining, which is true. But the fat cats who donate tax-deductible money to LSU's athletic foundation to pay Miles' salary are basically ripping of the public. They should be paying higher taxes instead of getting tax write-offs to support their hobby.

Sports are the 21st century equivalent of the Roman Empire's bread and circuses. Finally, America's sports craze at every level is a distraction to keep people from thinking about the fact that our middle-class way of life is evaporating before our eyes.  Wages have been stagnant for years; the typical working male actually makes less today in real dollars than he did 20 years ago. Both spouses now have to work just to pay the mortgage; and young people are going into debt to get a college education with no assurance they will find a job that pays well enough to service their monthly student-loan payments.

But let's not think about that. Will Alabama win the national title this year? Which team will win the Sweet 16? Will the Saints ever climb out of the toilet?

Meanwhile, the wealthy sit in their air-conditioned executive sky boxes at our unversities' enormous stadiums, drinking premium whiskey while the rubes sit sweating in the bleachers munching on popcorn at seven  bucks a box.

Image result for gladiators inside the colosseum

References

Evan Comen, Thomas C. Frolich, and Michael B. Sauter. The Highest Paid Public Employees in Every State. 24/7 Wall St., September 20, 2016. Accessible at http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/09/20/the-highest-paid-public-employee-in-every-state/

In the Mix: Ten Candidates Who Could Replace Les Miles (in alphabetical order). The Advocate (Baton Rouge), September 26, 2016, p. 2C.

Monday, September 26, 2016

My retirement account outperformed Harvard University's endowment fund this year: I must be one smart S.O.B!

Harvard University's $35 billion endowment fund lost money this year. For its most recent fiscal year, Harvard's endowment fund is down 2 percent. Wow! Even my piddling little retirement account did better than that. In fact, it did twice as well as Harvard.

Does that mean Harvard should hire me to manage its endowment fund? No, although I would gladly take that job for a modest 1 percent of assets under management. But Harvard's lackluster endowment-fund performance is a reminder that Harvard people are not as smart as they think they are.

In fact, I'm convinced that Harvard folks are no smarter than the average educated American. Actually, they may be less smart. Harvard and the nation's other elite colleges are now so mired in postmodern jargon about race, gender, sexual identity, etc. that they've forgotten how to analyze and solve problems, which should be one of the core purposes of a liberal education.

Our country is now largely governed by nabobs who got their degrees from Harvard, Yale, and a couple of dozen other elite universities. All nine of our Supreme Court Justices graduated from either Harvard's Law School or Yale's. President Obama: Harvard Law School. Hillary Clinton: Yale Law School. John Kerry: A Yale man.

And look where we are. Who can deny that our nation is less safe today than it was 10 years ago? Who can deny that the American middle class has lost ground over the last 20 years?

And yet we allow a handful of arrogant, poorly educated, and condescending idiots to run our lives. And now, in the highly publicized transgender bathroom case, we are about to allow nine old geezers on the Supreme Court to tell us if traditional bathroom rules in American colleges and schools violate Title IX. Which is ironic. The Supreme Court is going to dictate bathroom etiquette for American educational institutions, and the Justices are so old that most of them are wearing Depend diapers and don't even go to the bathroom anymore.


Image result for u.s. supreme court justices
Hey, your fly's unzipped!

References

Geraldine Fabrikant. Yale Endowment Shines vs. Returns for Its Peers. New York Times, September 26, 2016, p. B2. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/24/business/yale-university-endowment.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fgeraldine-fabrikant&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0

Department of Education strips the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACIS) of its accrediting authority: Does the Obama administration have a sinister motive for disrupting the for-profit college industry?

DOE drops the hammer on ACICS

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it is stripping the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) of its accrediting authority. As Donald Trump might put it, this is a HUUGE deal.

ACICS is the biggest accrediting body for the for-profit college industry. As of last June, ACICS accredited 245 schools enrolling about 800,000 students. All those schools must be credentialed by an accreditation agency approved by DOE in order to obtain federal student aid money. So when DOE decertified ACICS, it put more than 200 for-profit institutions at extreme risk of closing.

Why did DOE take such drastic action against ACICS?

Why did DOE take this drastic action? DOE accuses ACICS of lax oversight of the  for-profit college industry. Two large for-profits filed for bankruptcy recently--Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech; both companies were accredited by ACICS. Other for-profits have been investigated for fraud, misrepresentation, and high-pressure recruiting tactics.

The industry as a whole has notoriously high student-loan default rates. According to a Brookings Institution report, almost half of a recent cohort of for-profit students defaulted on their student loans within five years of beginning repayment. Ben Miller, a senior spokesperson for the Center for American Progress, approved of DOE's action: "With its lengthy track record of shoddy oversight--that has led to billions of dollars squandered--ACICS had abused the public's trust and could not be allowed to continue granting access to federal dollars."

What will happen to the 200 plus colleges and schools that were accredited by ACICS?

What will happen to the 200 plus for-profit colleges that are no longer accredited by a DOE-approved accrediting body? Assuming ACICS loses its appeal of DOE's decision, which seems likely, for-profit colleges will have 18 months to obtain accreditation by another DOE-approved accreditor.  That will be very difficult to do--especially for small for--profit colleges,  As one West Virginia educator explained: "There aren't thousands of accreditors that schools can go to, there's really just a handful. They all have very specific niches to fill." And those accrediting bodies will likely be deluged with applications from colleges that were formerly accredited by ACICS.

In short, the fall of ACICS will inevitably have a domino effect on for-profit colleges. Those that don't quickly become re-accredited by a DOE-approved agency will lose access to federal student-aid money and will collapse. When the colleges collapse, their students' studies will be disrupted. The vast majority of all for-profit students took out federal student loans to finance their tuition. If their college closes, they will have just two choices:  They can transfer to another institution that will take their former college's credits or they can apply to DOE to have their loans  forgiven under DOE's"closed school" exemption process.

Does DOE have a sinister motive in disrupting the for-profit college industry?

The Obama administration will say its drastic action against ACICS is a justified response to the accreditor's shoddy oversight of the for-profit college industry. And maybe that explanation is sincere.

But why did DOE wait until the waning days of President Obama's second term in office to act? I wonder whether DOE might be intentionally disrupting the for-profit college industry so that inside players can step in and scoop up some faltering for-profit colleges in order to reap huge profits.

When Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy last year, DOE engineered a deal for a subsidiary of Educational Credit Management Corporation to buy some of Corinthian's operations. ECMC's unit bought 56 of Corinthian's campuses for only $24 million. Who benefited financially from that deal?

And Apollo Education Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, is being bought out by a consortium of equity groups led by Martin Nesbitt, President Obama's former campaign manager and president of the Obama Foundation.  Tony Miller, a former Deputy Secretary of Education,  will run the University of Phoenix. Cozy!

Time will tell us what is going on here. The for--profit college industry is a sleazy business, and I have argued repeatedly that DOE should shut it down. DOE's decision last week to strip ACICS of its accrediting authority is a big step toward doing just that.

But if we see more political insiders come in and buy struggling for-profits as Martin Nesbitt is doing with the University of Phoenix, that may be an indication, that DOE's death sentence for ACICS is nothing more than a calculated play to drive down the value of for-profit colleges so that powerful financial interests can scoop them up.

One thing we know for sure: Bill and Hillary Clinton are very close to the for-profit college racket. Bill, we remember, got paid nearly $18 million to serve as "Honorary Chancellor" of Laureate Education Group; and Hillary is tight with Goldman Sachs, which has an ownership interest in a for-profit education company.

Image result for bill clinton and laureate education

References

Lauren Camera. Education Department Strips Authority of Largest For-Profit Accreditor. U.S. New & World Report, September 2, 2016. Accessible at http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-22/education-department-strips-authority-of-acics-the-largest-for-profit-college-accreditor

Paul Fain. Federal panel votes to terminate ACICS and tightens screws on other accreditors. Inside Higher Ed, June 24, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/24/federal-panel-votes-terminate-acics-and-tightens-screws-other-accreditors

Jake Jarvis. In wake of ACIS decision, a crisis for WV's for profit schools. Charleston Gazette-Mail, September 25, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-education/20160925/in-wake-of-acics-decision-a-crisis-for-wvs-for-profit-schools

Ronald Hansen. Apollo Education sale 'golden parachute' could be worth $22 million to executives. Arizona Republic, March 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2016/03/08/apollo-education-sale-executives-payout-22-million/81483912/

Rosiland S. Helderman and Michelle Ye He Lee. Inside Bill Clinton's nearly $18 million job as 'honary chancellor' ofr a for-profit college. Washington Post, September 5,  2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-bill-clintons-nearly-18-million-job-as-honorary-chancellor-of-a-for-profit-college/2016/09/05/8496db42-655b-11e6-be4e-23fc4d4d12b4_story.html

Abby Jackson. An embattled for profit education company partly owned by Goldman Sachs keeps downsizing. Business Insider, June 13, 2016. Accessible at http://www.businessinsider.com/for-profit-brown-mackie-shutting-down-2016-6

Patria Cohen and Chad Bray. University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, Will Be Taken Private. New York Times, February 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/business/dealbook/apollo-education-group-university-of-phoenix-owner-to-be-taken-private.html

John Sandman. Debt Collector ECMC Closes Deal for Corninthian College Campuses. Mainstreet.com, February 9, 2015. Accessible at https://www.mainstreet.com/article/debt-collector-ecmc-closes-deal-for-corinthian-college-campuses

Soyong Kim. Apollo teams with Washington insider for education deal. Reuters, January 12, 2016. Accessible at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apollo-education-m-a-apollo-global-idUSKCN0UQ23W20160112




Saturday, September 24, 2016

Free bankruptcy attorneys for destitute student-loan debtors: Why the heck not?

The New York Times editorialized yesterday that tenants should have access to free attorneys when their landlords start eviction proceedings against them. As the Times put it, "There are few legal fights more lopsided than landlords suing to evict their lower-income tenants." The Times commended New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for his plan to provide municipal funding to hire legal help for the city's low-income tenants.

I agree with the Times; providing tenants with legal assistance when they face eviction would be a good thing. But let's expand that idea a bit. Why not provide free bankruptcy attorneys for destitute student-loan debtors?

After all, almost all college-loan borrowers who try to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy are too poor to hire lawyers to steer them through the bankruptcy process. And when they go to bankruptcy court, they almost always face a platoon of lawyers who argue that their student loans should not be discharged.

The debtor either faces government lawyers dispatched by the U.S. Department of Education or private attorneys hired by Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) or  another federally authorized debt collector. For example, in the Acosta-Conniff bankruptcy case, now on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, ECMC has six attorney to defend its interests. Six!

Currently, this country has thousands of unemployed lawyers.  As Joshua Wright reported recently, American law schools are turning out two attorneys for every available job. Why not put some of these unemployed law graduates to work defending student-loan debtors in the bankruptcy courts?

I will tell you why not. The Department of Education does not want anyone to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. And when I say anyone, I mean anyone. In a 2013 case, DOE fought bankruptcy discharge for a quadriplegic who was working full time but who did not make enough money to pay his live-in caregiver and still pay off his student loans.

Lynne Mahaffie, a DOE Under Secretary, issued a letter in July 2015 outlining when DOE would not oppose bankruptcy discharge for distressed student-loan debtors; but that letter was misleading. In fact, DOE and its debt collectors fight almost every debtor who seeks to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. If DOE is going to oppose bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic, then you know it is going to oppose relief for almost everyone.

DOE, Congress, and the higher education industry know that the whole corrupt, mismanaged, and wildly overpriced system of higher education in the United States would collapse without the student loan program; and the student loan program's continued existence depends on the fiction that students are paying back their loans.

In fact, they are not paying back their loans; but the government has largely managed to hide that fact from the public. If insolvent student-loan debtors were able to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy, millions of people would be entitled to relief. And if that were to occur, then it would be apparent to everyone that the federal student-loan program is itself bankrupt; and the program would collapse.

And Congress, DOE, and the higher education industry want to postpone the day of reckoning for as long as possible.

References

Editorial. A Right to a Lawyer to Save Your Home. New York Times, September 23, 2016, p. A26. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/opinion/a-right-to-a-lawyer-to-save-your-home.html?_r=0

Lynn Mahaffie, Undue Hardship Discharge of Title IV Loans in Bankruptcy Adversary Proceedings. CL ID: GEN 15-13, July 7, 2015. Accessible at https://www.ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/attachments/GEN1513.pdf

Myhre v U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (Bakr. W.D. Wis. 2013). Accessible at http://www.wiwd.uscourts.gov/wiwb/Decisions/Decisions_rdm/2013/Myhre.pdf

Joshua Wright. The Oversaturated Job Market for Lawyers Continues, and On-The-Side Legal Work Grows. Economicmodeling.com, January 10, 2014. http://www.economicmodeling.com/2014/01/10/the-oversatured-job-market-for-lawyers-continues/

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Senator Elizabeth Warren grills Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. But hey, Liz: What have you done to help solve the student-loan crisis?

Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines this week when she grilled Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know Wells Fargo employees were caught scamming customers by creating 2 million fake bank accounts without their customers' knowledge or approval.

In the wake of this scandal, Wells Fargo fired 5,000 low-level employees and refunded some money, but the company did not terminate the senior executive who supervised the unit where the fraud occurred. Wells Fargo's CEO John Stumpf made millions of dollars from these misdeeds because the scheme caused his stock to go up. But Stumpf isn't giving back any of his ill-gained profits.

So Stumpf was a sitting duck when Senator Warren began questioning him at the Senate Banking Committee hearing. "You should resign," Warren told Stumpf. "You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission."

Stumpf, of course, is lawyered up. He went into his flak-catcher crouch, continually repeating his talking points and saying he was sorry for Wells Fargo's misdeeds.

All great theater. Who doesn't enjoy seeing a transnational financial executive publicly humiliated? But what will come of all this drama? Nothing. Stumpf won't face criminal charges, and the Wells Fargo senior executives who profited from the fake-account scheme won't give back a penny of their loot.

Elizabeth Warren enjoys a great reputation as the champion of consumer rights and the friend of the little guy. But what tangible thing has she done to help working-class Americans? And more particularly, what has she done to ease the suffering of millions of student-loan debtors?

I'll tell you what Warren has done--she's done nothing.  She's all blather. In fact, I don't think Warren even understands the student-loan crisis. She charged awhile back that the government is making "obscene" profits from the student-loan program, but that's not true. The government would be making a profit on the loan program if borrowers were paying back their loans, but they are not. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, 40 percent of student-loan borrowers aren't making payments on their loans.

Here are some things Senator Warren could propose that would help relieve the suffering of distressed student-loan debtors.

Legislation banning the government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan debtors who defaulted on their loans. Around 155,000 Americans are having their Social Security checks dunned right now, causing real hardship for these people.

And how much money does our government collect from this disreputable practice? Probably less than the Secret Service spends guarding President Obama on just one of his Hawaiian vacations. Why doesn't Senator Warren use her bully pulpit to stop the government from going after elderly student-loan debtors who are living off their Social Security checks?

Wholesale relief for student-loan borrowers who were ripped off by the for-profit college industry. Senator Warren joined 22 other Democratic Senators in a letter to Secretary of Education John King asking the Department of Education to grant broader relief to the 35,000 students who were enrolled at one of ITT Tech campuses when ITT closed and filed for bankruptcy. But that letter is almost completely incoherent and doesn't  propose real relief.

DOE should forgive the loans of all the people who took out student loans to pay for ITT programs. Giving former students longer to file for loan forgiveness under DOE's "closed school" regulations (as the Democratic Senators proposed) does not go nearly far enough.

Amending the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student-loan debtors to discharge their federal student loans in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured debt. Senator Warren co-sponsored a bill to make private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, but private loans are only a small part of the overall student-debt crisis--only about 10 percent of total outstanding student-loan debt. The bill does nothing about reforming the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student-loan debtors to discharge their federal student loans in bankruptcy.

Conclusion; Senator Elizabeth Warren is a phony

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a phony. She hasn't accomplished anything significant to help solve the student-loan crisis. It is true she supports a bill to make private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, but such a law--if passed--is small potatoes.

Let's face it. Although Warren portrays herself as a progressive fighting for overburdened student-loan debtors, she will never do anything that would threaten the core interests of the higher education industry. After all, there are 114 colleges and universities in Warren's state of Massachusetts; and most of the professors and administrators who work at those colleges voted for her.

Those colleges and universities have to have federal student-aid money to survive. They are like crack addicts waiting for their next federal fix. Warren can talk all she wants about helping student-loan debtors, but she won't do anything that upsets the status quo. And real reform of the Bankruptcy Code to allow people to discharge their federal loans in bankruptcy would definitely upset the status quo.

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References

Anne Gearan and Abby Phillip. Clinton to propose 3-month hiatus for repayment of  student loansWashington Post, July 5, 2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/07/05/clinton-to-propose-3-month-hiatus-for-repayment-of-student-loans/?hpid=hp_special-topic-chain_clinton-loans-11pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Ashlee Kieler, Senators Introduce Legislation to Make Private Student Loans Dischargeable in Bankruptcy. Consumerist, March 12, 2015.   Accessible at https://consumerist.com/2015/03/12/senators-introduce-legislation-to-make-private-student-loans-dischargeable-in-bankruptcy/

Jena McGregor. 'You should resign': Elizabeth Warren excoriates Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. Washington Post, September 20, 2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2016/09/20/you-should-resign-elizabeth-warren-excoriates-wells-fargo-ceo-john-stumpf/

Josh Mitchell. More than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren't Making PaymentsWall Street Journal, April 7, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wsj.com/articles/more-than-40-of-student-borrowers-arent-making-payments-1459971348

Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. A Message from the Secretary of Education to ITT Students. Accessible at http://blog.ed.gov/2016/09/message-secretary-education-itt-students/

Sen. Warren Questions lack of Private Student Loan Relief Options. Senator Warren Website, July 31, 2014. Accessible at https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=591

Letter to the Honorable John King, Secretary of Education, from 23 Democratic Senators, September 15, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/9_15_16%20ITT%20Tech%20ED%20Letter%20(1).pdf

Dawn McCarty and Shahien Nasirpour. ITT Educational Services Files for Bankruptcy After ShutdownBloomberg, September 16, 2016. Accessible at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-16/itt-educational-services-files-for-bankruptcy-after-shutdown-it6byu6t

Jena McGregor. 'You should resign': Elizabeth Warren excoriates Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, Washington Post, September 20, 2016. Accessible at

Reuters. ITT Educational Services Files for Bankruptcy After Aid CrackdownInternational New York Times, September 17, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/business/itt-educational-services-files-for-bankruptcy-after-aid-crackdown.html?_r=0


Marian Wang. Q & A: Elizabeth Warren on Spiraling Student Debt  and What Should Be Done About ItPro Publica, May 20, 2014. Accessible at https://www.propublica.org/article/qa-elizabeth-warren-on-spiraling-student-debt-and-what-should-be-done-about

Alia Wong. When Loan Forgiveness Isn't EnoughAtlantic Monthly, June 15, 2015. Accessible at http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/06/government-corinthian-college-loan-plan-problems/395513/