Thursday, January 18, 2018

America's harsh treatment of student-loan debtors: Greed, corruption and heartlessness reach Dickensian proportions

That old wheel is gonna roll around once more
When it does it will even up the score
Don't be weak, as they sew, they will reap
Turn the other cheek and don't give in
That old wheel will roll around again

This Old Wheel
Jennifer Ember Pierce, songwriter
Sung best by Johnny Cash

If you haven't read Charles Dickens by now, just skip it. 
Dickens is well worth reading for his descriptions of injustice in Victorian England: the workhouses, the brutal schools, debtors prisons, and the mercilessness of English law. But  contemporary America is descending to the depths of social injustice every bit as sordid as conditions in Dickens' England. If you don't believe me, read Matthew Desmond's Evicted, published less than two years ago.  
In particular, millions of student-loan debtors are suffering just as much as the characters in Oliver Twist, David Copperfield or Pickwick Papers.  College debtors are defaulting at the rate of 3,000 a day. The U.S. Department reports a three-year default rate of 11 percent, but that figure is meaningless. The five-year default rate for a recent cohort of student debtors is 28 percent, for students attending for-profit schools it's 47 percent.
And the default rate only tells part of the story. Millions of people are in the economic-hardship deferment program--excused from making monthly loan payments while interest piles up. Now we see people stumble into the bankruptcy courts owing three and even four times what they borrowed.

Our government treats all student-loan defaulters like criminals. We aren't hanging and deporting debtors like the English did back in the nineteenth century, but they are treated pretty rough.

For starters, there is no statute of limitations on an unpaid federal student loan. Even if you borrowed the money so long ago you can't remember the school you attended, the government's debt collectors can come after you. 

In Lockhart v. United States, our lovely Supreme Court upheld the law permitting the government to garnish the social checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. The vote was  9 to 0. There were no liberals on the Court the day the Lockhart decision came down. 

And Congress and the courts have conspired to deprive distressed student-loan debtors access to the bankruptcy courts. Under the "undue hardship" standard nestled in 11 U.S.C. sec. 523(a)(8),  debtors cannot discharge their student loans unless they can show undue hardship, which the courts have interpreted harshly.

In recent years, there have been some compassionate and sensible decisions by the bankruptcy courts: the Abney case, the Lamento decision, and the Acosta-Conniff decision out of Alabama (which was reversed on appeal).

But the Department of Education, Educational Credit Management Corporation, and other debt collection agencies have appealed many of these decisions; and few student debtors have the financial or emotional resources for court fights that stretch on for years.  In the Hedlund case, for example, a graduate of Whittier Law School fought in the federal courts for ten years before he finally won a partial bankruptcy relief from his student loans.

Several federal appellate courts have softened the "undue hardship" standard somewhat: the Roth decision by the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, the Seventh Circuit's Krieger decision, and the Eighth Circuit BAP Court's Fern opinion.

By and large, however, the bankruptcy courts have abdicated their role of providing honest but unfortunate debtors a fresh start. No wonder the myth prevails that it is impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. And the Department of Education perpetuates this myth by opposing bankruptcy for people who are in severe distress, like the quadriplegic in the Myhre case.

Now we are enduring the Trump presidency. Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education, has a nasty disposition toward student-loan debtors. She is busily dismantling the Obama administration's modest initiatives to rein in the corrupt for-profit college industry. The Republican dominated House Education Committee recently released a bill that would do away with all student--loan forgiveness programs. And a bill has just been introduced to protect attorneys from being sued for engaging in unfair debt collection.

America's financial industry, cheered on by the business news channels, chirp the Panglossian notion that Americans are living in the best of all possible worlds. The stock market soars ever skyward, and the economist says we have virtually reached full employment. The economy is growing at a healthy rate, and everyone is becoming wealthier.

But that's bullshit. The reality is this: millions of Americans are living day to day, burdened by consumer debt they can't repay. Student-loan indebtedness now exceeds accumulated credit card debt and car loans. Our Congress, our President, our Secretary of Education, and our courts are indifferent to the stark reality that we are constructing a society very much like Dickensian England.

Justice, Johnny Cash assures us, will eventually be restored. "That old wheel is gonna roll around once more. When it does it will even up the score." I hope Johnny is right. It will be a good sign if DeVos is forced from the Education Secretary's job and publicly disgraced. 

Don't give in; that old wheel is gonna roll around again.

References

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

Matthew Desmond. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. New York: Broadway Books, 2016.

Fern v. Fedloan Servicing563 B.R. 1 (8th Cir. BAP 2017).

Lamento v. U.S. Department of Education, 520 B.R. 667 (N.D. Ohio 2014).

Lockhart v. United States, 546 U.S. 142 (2005). 

Krieger v. Educational Credit Management Corporation713 F.3d 882 (9th Cir. B.A.P 2013).


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

Steve Rhode. Proposed Law Will Make it More Likely Debtors Will be Sued Faster if in n Collections. Get Out of Debt Guy (blog), January 18, 2018.
Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation490 B.R. 908 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2013).

The Wrong Move on Student LoansNew York Times, April 6, 2017.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Essay by Steve Rhode

By SteveRhode, January 3, 2018

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to be waging a terrible war against student loan debtors who have been defrauded by their schools in order to extract federal student loan money. Since the Trump administration took over the Department of Education has not actually delivered relief to a single Borrower Defense to Repayment claim. Yet they brag as of December 20, 2017 they have just approved “12,900 pending claims submitted by former Corinthian Colleges, Inc. students, and 8,600 pending claims have been denied.”
Under that Department of Education program the student previously would be forgiven from the student loans obtained by deception and the government would claw back the money the school got.
Most of these claims have been submitted by students of for-profit schools who played fast and loose with their marketing.
But it seems the government is turning its back on students who have been misled by schools to get their student loan money. Not only is the Department of Education changing the rules but they are also proposing rules that students who land better jobs after graduation should not be forgiven from the loans they were defrauded by. Either you are or are not a victim of fraud but the proposed policy create a middle ground where victims get to be only partial victims.
Under the deadline of “Improved Borrower Defense Discharge Process Will Aid Defrauded Borrowers, Protect Taxpayers” the government proposes what they say is more fair. Department of Education Secretary DeVos says “No fraud is acceptable, and students deserve relief if the school they attended acted dishonestly.” But then goes on to say relief is conditional based on gainful employment. – Source

While the Department of Education brags about their recent wave of Corinthian College Borrower Defense to Repayment claims they also disclose “rather than taking an “all or nothing” approach to discharge, the improved process will provide tiers of relief to compensate former Corinthian students based on damages incurred.”

Relief from fraud will be dependent on the current earnings of the victims. Victims earning 70% and above of the income of their peers will only receive a 30 percent forgiveness of the fraudulent student loans. So to be clear, that income test is against the other students who were the victims of the same fraud and not the general population.
As a bonus the Department of Education gives fraud victims this carot “to mitigate the inconvenience for how long it has taken to adjudicate claims, the Department will apply a credit to interest that accrues on loans starting one year after the borrower defense application is filed.”
So the Department of Education will take forever to deal with the forgiveness application and then only tack on a year worth of interest while they drag their feet.
Now to add insult to injury the Department of Education is proposing making it much harder for students to prove they were subject to misrepresentation to induce enrollment in an effort to extract money from students loan debtors.
The proposed forgiveness plan is to eliminate any successful judgment against a school by an Attorney General as proof of deception. Instead the individual student would have to obtain an individual judgment against the school. This would require a legal action that nearly all students would never be able to afford to file. Additionally the defrauded student would have to show clear and convincing evidence they were intentionally misled and that misrepresentation let to monetary harm.
“They’ve made it almost impossible for borrowers to meet the misrepresentation standard by requiring them to demonstrate the intent of the school especially when students don’t have the power of discovery” to examine the inner workings of a school, said Clare McCann, deputy director of higher education policy at New America, who worked on the Obama-era policy. “They took every dial and dialed to the far extreme. It really tries to make [the regulation] as useless as possible.”
Pretty soon we are going to need a Department of Education Victim Helpline to assist people soon to be screwed over by a government department that clearly appears to be putting for-profit colleges first.


*****

Steve's essay was originally posted on The Get Out of Debt Guy web site.
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here. 



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Student Loan Default Crisis grows worser and worser: Brooking Institution says minorities and for-profit students are hardest hit

First of all, I realize that the word "worser" is not standard English. Nevertheless, "worser" appears in Hamlet (act 3,scene 4). If it is good enough for Shakespeare, it is good enough for me.

Now to the topic at hand. Judith Scott-Clayton recently published a report for the Brookings Institution on the student-loan default crisis. Twelve-year default rates are going up--with minority students and for-profit-college attenders experiencing the highest default rates.

For the 2004 cohort of borrowers who attended a for-profit college, the 12-year default rate was 46.5 percent (darn near half). For African American borrowers from the same cohort, 37.5 percent defaulted within 12 years. The black default rate was three times higher than the white default rate (12.4 percent) and six times higher than the rate for Asians (only 6.2 percent).

Scott-Clayton's report makes clear that the crisis in student-loan defaults among African Americans is acute. Based on the current trajectory, she projects 70 percent of black borrowers will default on their student loans by the end of 20 years.

Scott-Clayton points out that African American default rates are high even for black students who graduate from college. The default rate for African American graduates is five times higher than the default rate among white graduates.  In fact, she points out, the default rate for black college graduates is higher than the default rate for white college dropouts.

African Americans also borrow more money than white students. For the 2004 entry cohort, black students borrowed twice as much as white students for their undergraduate education.

The Scott-Clayton report is alarming, but a 2015 Brookings report (which Scott-Clayton referenced) is even more alarming. Looney and Yannelis, authors of the 2015 report, found that 47 percent of the people in the 2009 cohort of borrowers who took out loans to attend for-profit colleges defaulted within 5 years. For the cohort as a whole, the default rate was 28 percent.

Basically, however, the Scott-Clayton report and the Looney-Yannelis report told us what we already knew.  Student borrowers who attend for-profit colleges have shocking student-loan default rates; and African American students have much higher default rates than white students.

Scott-Clayton concluded her report with some tepid suggestions, which I will quote:
[T]he results suggest that diffuse concern with rising levels of average debt is misplaced. Rather, the results provide support for robust efforts to regulate the for-profit sector, to improve degree attainment and promote income-contingent loan repayment options for all students, and to more fully address the particular challenges faced by college students of color.
Frankly, I disagree with Scott-Clayton's bland recommendations. First, of all, we should be very concerned about the rising level of student debt across all sectors of higher education--not just the for-profit sector.  Millions of student borrowers are suffering, and some of those sufferers are white graduates of Ivy League colleges.

Secondly, although it is easy to call for more "robust" regulation of the for-profits, Betsy DeVos is headed in the opposite direction. DeVos is doing all she can to prop up the corrupt for-profit college industry and to lift all regulatory constraints against the for-profit institutions.  In my view, the best way to deal with the for-profit colleges is to cut off their federal funding and shut them down.

And I stridently disagree with Scott-Clayton's blithe call to promote income-contingent repayment plans. Most of the people in those plans are not making monthly payments large enough to service accruing interest.  At the end of their 20- or 25-year repayment plans, many will owe more than they borrowed.

Moreover, although people who complete long-term repayment plans will have any remaining debt forgiven, the amount of the forgiven debt will be taxable to them.

I suspect the Brookings Institution is advancing a hidden agenda with its reports on the student-loan crisis. Brookings wants the public to focus on minority students and the for-profit colleges while ignoring the fact that debt levels are rising across all sectors of higher education and injuring millions of student borrowers--not just students of color.

Let's face facts. The for-profit colleges are not the only institutions ripping off their students. The Ivy League schools are exploiting students as well. And with each passing day, the crisis gets worser and worser.




References

Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis. A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and the institutions they attended contribute to rising loan defaults. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2015.

Judith Scott-Clayton. The looming student loan default crisis is worse than we thought. Brooking Institution, January 11, 2018.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Attention, Student-Loan Debtors: You Are Being Evicted from the Middle Class

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City tells the story of how greed and the nation's legal system have driven poor Americans to the brink of homelessness.  Author Matthew Desmond follows the lives of eight Milwaukee residents who scramble from day to day to avoid being evicted from their homes and thrown into the street. It is a good read, and I highly recommend it.

As I read Desmond's book, I was struck by the similarity between the low-income housing crisis and the student-loan crisis.  As Martin Luther King observed, "Every condition exists simply because someone profits by its existence." Slumlords profit from renting substandard housing to the poor; stockholders and hedge fund owners profit from for-profit colleges.

And slumlords and for-profit colleges both rely on the government to help them exploit the poor. Slumlords can call on the local sheriff to evict tenants for nonpayment; and for-profit colleges rely on Betsy DeVos's Department of Education to protect their venal interests. Landlord-tenant laws favor the landlords, and the Bankruptcy Code protects the banks, which loan money to students at exorbitant interest rates, knowing that student debtors will find it almost impossible to discharge their onerous debts in the bankruptcy courts.

As Desmond wrote in Evicted, "The United States was founded on the noble idea that people have 'certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Indeed, the nation's founders considered these rights to be God-given and "essential to the American character."

Desmond argues that "the ideal of liberty has always incorporated not only religious and civil freedoms but also the right to flourish." In twenty-first century America, people need decent housing to flourish and they also need freely accessible education.

But our federal student-loan program is designed to extinguish the American right to pursue happiness and to flourish. The federal government allows corrupt for-profit colleges to lure vulnerable people into enrolling in education programs that are far too expensive and often worthless. The victims are forced to take out student loans. And the federal government stands by to be every student's sugar daddy--distributing about $150 billion a year in various forms of student aid.

The for-profit colleges get more than their fair share of federal money. In fact, many of them receive from 80 to 90 percent of their entire operating budgets from federal student loans and federal Pell grants.

Then when student-loan victims are unable to find well-paying jobs to service their debt, our once generous government becomes a tyrant. The Department of Education opposes bankruptcy relief for nearly everyone--even a quadriplegic (Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 2013) and people on the edge of homelessness (Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

America will not begin solving the student-loan crisis until our nation's leaders acknowledge that the federal student-loan program is a massive human rights violation that is evicting millions of people from the middle class. Students who took out loans to attend for-profit colleges have been especially hard hit; almost half the students who took out loans to attend a for-profit college default on their loans within five years.

Student debtors are defaulting at the rate of 3,000 people a day, which ruins their credit and leaves them vulnerable to having their wages garnished. The government can even seize part of an elderly defaulter's Social Security check.

How can higher education return to decency and sanity? First, we must remove Betsy DeVos from her post as Secretary of Education. DeVos is about as qualified to run the Department of Education as the late Charlie Manson. And then we must revise the Bankruptcy Code to allow honest but unfortunate student debtors to discharge their loans in bankruptcy court. And finally, we must shut down the for-profit college industry, which DeVos so assiduously protects.

Student-loan debtors: Evicted from the middle class
References

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

Matthew Desmond. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. New York: Broadway Books, 2016.

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

The Wrong Move on Student LoansNew York Times, April 6, 2017.



Friday, January 12, 2018

Betsy DeVos is trying to nullify a federal law intended to give defrauded students relief from student loans: Our government is shielding crooks

Betsy DeVos is in bed with the corrupt for-profit college industry. Her slavish pandering to the for-profit-college racketeers is truly shocking. Now she is trying to nullify a law that gives relief to students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

In 1994, Congress passed a law giving students an avenue for getting their student loans discharged if they were defrauded by the college they attended.  The law was not used much until Corinthian Colleges--a for-profit college group--collapsed and filed for bankruptcy. At the time of its demise, Corinthian had over 300,000 students or former students; and several thousand filed so-called borrower defense applications seeking to get their student loans discharged on the grounds they were defrauded by Corinthian.

The Obama administration adopted regulations for implementing the borrower-defense rule, which provided a regulatory avenue for reviewing fraud claims. But Betsy DeVos nullified those regulations. DeVos said the Obama regulations would allow students to wrongly obtain "free money" at the expense of for-profit colleges.

DeVos launched a new round of administrative review, and DOE said the new regulations would probably not be implemented until 2019. The DeVos DOE's new borrower-defense rules are very different from what the Obama administration had fashioned. In fact, the DeVos regulations, if implemented, will basically invalidate the federal borrower-defense statute altogether.

David Halperin, writing in Huffington Post, observed that "the DeVos-Trump draft borrower defense rules . . . essentially nullify the 1994 law that gives former students who are ripped off by their colleges . . . the right to seek cancellation of their student loans."

As Halperin explained, the DeVos rules erect "numerous and redundant barriers to students getting the benefit of that law." The DeVos draft rules are so draconian that a representative of the for-profit college industry admitted that the new rules "feels a little stacked against the student."

For example, under the rules DeVos proposes, students will have to prove their fraud claims by "clear and convincing evidence." This is a very high legal barrier, especially when you consider that the colleges--not the complaining students--have access to the evidence of fraud.

Of course, state attorneys general have been suing the for-profits for fraud.  Surely a former student could present a judgment for fraud against a for-profit college as evidence that the student herself is a fraud victim. No, DeVos' new regulations will not permit a fraud victim to present a judgment against a for-profit college as part of the student's own fraud claim. As Steve Rhode wrote recently:
The proposed forgiveness plan is to eliminate any successful judgment against a school by an Attorney General as proof of deception. Instead, the individual student would have to obtain an individual judgment against the school. This would require a legal action that nearly all students would never be able to afford to file.
If the DeVos rules go into effect, fraud victims will rarely if ever obtain relief from their student loans. Abbey Shafroth, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, said this: "I really think [the DeVos rules] would effectively do away with borrowers' ability to get relief in almost all circumstances."

The DeVos Department of Education's proposed borrower-defense rules demonstrate that it has abandoned all pretense of fairness and decency toward student-loan debtors. DeVos herself is nothing more than obsequious book licker for the for-profit college industry, and Congress seems unable or unwilling to rein her in.

Last July, Eighteen Democratic state Attorneys General sued DeVos and the Department of Education, seeking to force the Department to implement the Obama-era borrower defense rules. I hope they are successful because what DeVos is essentially trying to do is eviscerate a 1994 statute passed by Congress for the express purpose of  providing student fraud victims with well deserved relief from their student loans.




References

David Halperin. Backing DeVos Repeal of Obama Rules, For-Profit Colleges Vilify Students. Huffington Post, January 9, 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Few Details on Tougher Borrower-Relief Standards. Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Devos: Borrower-Defense Rule Offered 'Free Money'Inside Higher Ed, September 26, 2017.

Steve Rhode. Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Getoutofdebtguy.org (blog), January 3, 2018.

Editorial: Scamming for-profit schools roar back under Betsy DeVos. Chicago Sun-Times, December 25, 2017.




Thursday, January 4, 2018

Forget the Russians: Democrats should focus their energy on removing Betsy DeVos from Trump's Cabinet

Almost 44 million Americans are student-loan debtors, and every single one of them should see Betsy DeVos as their mortal enemy. Since President Trump appointed her as Secretary of Education, DeVos has done nothing to ease the suffering of college borrowers. On the contrary, she has done everything she can to prop up the venal and corrupt for-profit college industry, which has preyed on vulnerable and naive students, many of them minority members or just plain poor.

We have known for years that the for-profit college racket is a cancer. Senator Tom Harkin's 2012 report on the for-profits made that fact absolutely clear. And we know that a high percentage of people who take out student loans to attend these shyster colleges default on their loans. Nearly half of a recent cohort of borrowers who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within five years. It was recently reported that more than half of the students who took out student loans to attend 1,000 colleges and schools had not paid down one dime of their student loans seven years into repayment. Most of those 1,000 institutions are for-profits.

Minorities have been especially injured by the for-profit colleges. Three quarters of African Americans who take out loans to study at a for-profit college and then drop out eventually default.

In my view, the Obama administration did not do a great job of reining in the for-profit racketeers, but it did make an effort. The combined efforts of the Obama Department of Education and several state attorney generals brought down two bad actors: Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech. These two organizations had a total of a half million students and former students at the time they closed and filed for bankruptcy.

And the Obama administration put regulations in place to process students' fraud claims--claims against Corinthian in particular. But Betsy DeVos derailed those regulations and appears intent on protecting the for-profits from fraud claims. She's cooked up a bogus formula for resolving fraud claims, awarding only partial compensation to victims.

As Steve Rhode noted in a recent essay, the DeVos DOE has not provided relief to a single student borrower who was defrauded by a for-profit college, although it has approved around 13,000 claims by former Corinthian students (while rejecting 8,600 pending  claims).

DeVos also nullified an Obama-era regulation that would prohibit the for-profits from forcing their students to sign covenants not to sue as a condition of enrollment.  In addition, DeVos is slow rolling the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which provides debt relief to people who devote ten years to public service. Indeed, the Trump administration proposes to do away with the PSLF program.

And if that weren't enough, the Republicans sent a bill out of the House Education Committee that would do away with student-loan forgiveness altogether. DeVos has not formally endorsed this bill, but she called it a "starting point."  The bill, if it becomes law, would give student borrowers only two options--pay off their loans in ten years or go into a perpetual income-based program that would not end until the loans are paid off or the student borrower dies. Oh yes, and the bill would eliminate the authority of state attorney generals to police the student loan industry.

And what have the Democrats done in response to DeVos' shockingly obsequious behavior toward the for-profit college racketeers? Not a friggin' thing. Senator Elizabeth Warren--self-proclaimed consumer advocate, writes stern letters to DeVos and other government bureaucrats, but she can't point to a single accomplishment in terms of student-loan relief.

I give the Democrats grudging credit for at least introducing legislation that addresses the student-loan crisis. The Delaney-Katko bill (co-sponsored by 25 Democrats and one Republican) would open the bankruptcy courts to deserving student borrowers, which is really the only comprehensive solution to the crisis. But that bill will never make through a Republican dominated Congress that is totally beholden to the financial industry.

In my mind, the litmus test for Congress in terms of student-loan relief is the Warren-McCaskill bill that would bar the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. Passing this bill would at least alleviate the suffering of the 114,000 older Americans who are seeing their Social Security income reduced due to unpaid student loans.

 It is not enough for Senators Warren and McCaskill to simply file this bill; they need to get it to a vote. What Republican would vote against that bill? Can't Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Pelosi walk across the aisle and get Warren-McCaskill bill signed into law with bipartisan support?

Frankly, if there is not enough good will between Republicans and Democrats to enact the Warren-McCaskill Social Security relief bill, which only provides puny student-debt relief, then student debtors should say the hell with both parties and form a third political party.

In the meantime, Democrats should focus on getting Betsy DeVos out of Trump's cabinet. I don't know if her slavish catering to the for-profit-college gang amounts to high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachment purposes, but this I know: Betsy has got to go.

Image credit: GQ Magazine


References

Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell, & Melissa Korn. House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher EducationWall Street Journal, November 29, 2017.

Jillian Berman. House Republicans seek to roll back state laws protecting student loan borrowers. Marketwatch.com, December 7, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. GOP higher ed plan would end student loan forgiveness in repayment program, overhaul federal financial aidWashington Post, December 1, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Dems raise concern about possible links betwen DeVos and student debt collection agencyWashington Post, January 17, 2017.


Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Elizabeth Warren wants the Education Dept.'s use of earnings data investigated. Washington Post, January 2, 2018.

Paul Fain. Half of black student loan borrowers default, new federal data showInside Higher Ed, October 17, 2017.

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2017. 

Andrew Kreighbaum. DeVos on Higher Education Act Rewrite. Inside Higher Ed, December 15, 2017.

Jack Moore. Betsy DeVos may be Gearing Up to Screw Over Public Service Workers Who Expect Student Loan Forgiveness. GQ.com, August 3, 2017.

Representative John Delaney press releaseDelaney and Katko File Legislation to Help Americans Struggling with Student Loan Debt, May 5, 2017.

Senator Claire McCaskill Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors.

Senator Elizabeth Warren Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors

Steve Rhode. Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Getoutofdebtguy.com, January 3, 2017.

United States Government Accountability Office. Social Security Offsets: Improvement to Program Design Could Better Assist Older Student Borrowers with Obtaining Permitted Relief. Washington DC: Author, December 2016).

United States Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success. July 2012. Accessible at: http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/for_profit_report/PartI.pdf













Wednesday, January 3, 2018

James Howard Kunstler's negative assessment of American higher education is spot on

James Howard Kunstler posted an essay a few days ago containing his predictions for American higher education in the coming year. He predicts big trouble.

As Kunstler correctly observed, "college has become, most of all, a money-grubbing racket tuned to the flow of exorbitant student loans for exorbitant college costs."  In other words, as he has said before, higher education in the United States basically operates from a "criminal ethic" where costs have "developed an inverse relationship to the value of a college education."

Kunstler's essay also includes a withering assessment of college leadership: "The presidents, deans, and faculty of colleges around the country have turned into the most obdurate enemies of free thought since the Spanish Inquisition, a gang of cowards and villains who disgrace the meaning and purpose of higher ed[ucation]."

In fact, Kunstler's indictment of the people who run American colleges is too gentle. If these clowns lived in another age, they would be the people who staffed the French Vichy regime during Word War II--the bureaucrats who dutifully rounded up French Jews for the Nazis and shipped them from Paris to the German death camps. No courage, no intellect, no sense of decency whatsoever. They babble ceaselessly about trigger words, safe spaces and "white male heterosexual privilege" while they pick their students' pockets.

The federal student loan program is quietly and inexorably destroying the lives of millions of Americans; has anyone in higher education spoken up? Have the presidents of Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Brown, Johns Hopkins, or the University of Michigan uttered a single word of criticism about it? Has any university leader endorsed bankruptcy relief for overburdened student debtors?  Has any college president or dean criticized the government policy of garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters? Has any higher-education leader of national standing called for the closure of the for-profit college industry?

No, our elite colleges and universities are almost as addicted to federal student-aid money as the sleaziest for-profit schools. In terms of dependency on federal money, there is not a dime's worth of difference between Harvard and Bob's Beauty Academy.

Kunstler predicts that "a shocking number of small four-year colleges will go out of business this year," and I share his view. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen said recently that half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.

In fact, the small liberal arts college is dead, although the leaders of some small colleges stubbornly keep their institutions on life support. Parents need to warn their children to stay away from these decaying institutions. It would be a grave mistake to borrow $100,000 to get a degree from a college that will close before its graduates pay off their student loans.


French officials registering French Jews.

References

Abigail Hess. Harvard Business School professor: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years. CNBC.com, November 15, 2017.

James Howard Kunstler. Forecast 2018--What Could Go Wrong? Clusterfuck Nation, January 1, 2018.

James Howard Kunstler. Made for Each Other. Clusterfuck Nation, February 13, 2017.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Betsy DeVos says students defrauded by for-profit colleges may only get partial debt relief

As Martin Luther King wrote from the Birmingham Jail, justice too long delayed is justice denied. And of course justice that is not only delayed but incomplete is nothing more than a cynical parody of justice.

As everyone knows, hundreds of thousands of students took out student loans to attend for-profit colleges and paid too much for their educational experiences. Often they got no benefit from their studies. Student-default rates for these students are shocking. Almost 50 percent in a recent cohort defaulted within five years of beginning repayment. Three out of four African Americans who attended for-profit schools eventually default--which is a scandal.

And many students were defrauded by the for-profit colleges they attended. Last year, Corinthian Colleges had a judgment entered against it in California for more than a billion dollars based on findings of fraud and misrepresentation.

The Obama administration, to its credit, crafted regulations whereby students could apply to the Department of Education to have their student loans forgiven if they were defrauded by the college they attended. Thousands of students who were enrolled at one of the Corinthian campuses applied for loan forgiveness based on fraud claims.

Betsy DeVos stopped the implementation of the Obama regulations, saying she feared students would get "free money." She then appointed a panel of experts to draft new regulations, which won't be approved until next year. In fact, under the DeVos scheme, defrauded students will not be able to move forward on their claims until 2019 at the earliest.

And it appears, many students will not get complete relief from their loans even if they can prove they were defrauded.  DeVos is talking about giving partial relief based on a formula that will compare the defrauded student's earnings to the average earnings among people who participated in similar educational programs.

The cynicism of this approach is shocking. First of all, by delaying the administrative process until 2019, DeVos is giving fraud students only three options for handling their student debt. First, they can continue making loan payments on educational experiences that are worthless. Second, they can enter income-based repayment plans that will set monthly payments so low that the interest on their debt will continue to accrue, making their total indebtedness grow larger. Or third, they can default on their loans, which will ruin their credit and cause their debt to grow larger from fees and penalties that the debt collectors tack on to their original debt.

DeVos's tactic is nothing more than cynical manipulation to aid the for-profit industry. If Congress had a moral compass and some courage, DeVos's behavior would lead to a formal resolution calling for her resignation.

Betsy DeVos' summer home

References

Gail Collins. No Profit in Betsy DeVos. New York Times, October 27, 2017.

Maria Danilova. DeVos may only partially wipe away some student loans. Detroit News, October 28, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Education Department sets up standards for partial relief of defrauded borrowers. Inside Higher Ed, December 21, 2017.

Tamar Lewin. Questions Follow Leader of For-Profit Colleges. New York Times,May 26, 2011.

Bob Samuels. The For-Profit College Bubble: Exploiting the Poor to Give to the Rich. Huffington Post, May 25, 2011.

An anti-hazing foundation? Fraternity hazing will stop when hazers go to prison

Last August, Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, a Georgia couple, sent their son Maxwell to LSU, where he pledged Phi Delta Theta fraternity. One month later, Max was dead, killed in a hazing episode. He had been forced to drink 190 proof alcohol in a fraternity exercise cynically titled "Bible study."

According to the coroner, Max had massive amounts of alcohol in his system at the time of his death--more than six times the legal limit. Experts said he asphyxiated in his own vomit but probably died painlessly because he was unconscious when he passed away.

Max's parents did what many parents do when they lose a child to a a senseless death; they threw themselves into a heroic effort to prevent others from dying the way their son did. In Max's honor, the Gruvers started an anti-hazing foundation, dedicated to raising public awareness about college hazing. They also distributed 30,000 silicon wristbands that say "Stop the Hazing."

In addition, the Gruvers endorsed a law that will grant "medical amnesty" to anyone who reports acute alcohol poisoning as a medical emergency. And they are calling for more transparency about fraternity hazing. If they had known about Phi Delta Theta's history of hazing, the Gruvers say, they never would have allowed Max to pledge that group.

LSU officials publicly support the Gruvers' efforts. I'm sure they were particularly pleased to hear the Gruvers' call for more transparency because "transparency" is a word college administrators dearly love. It rolls over the tongue so smoothly, like a single-malt scotch. And when college administrators use that word--and they use it often--they are never telling the truth.

Already, LSU is equivocating about some of the Gruvers' demands. Ernie Ballard, a school spokesperson, pointed out the problems with amnesty. "Every university struggles with the balance of amnesty and penalties," Ballard explained. If too many conditions are attached to amnesty, students discount its value. On the other hand, "if the amnesty is too broad, habitual offenders may not be held accountable."

LSU president F. King Alexander and Governor John Bel Edwards are talking about tougher penalties for fraternity hazing. But they are "concerned" that tougher sanctions might deter students from reporting bad behavior.

Apparently then, hazing is a conundrum--requiring long and tedious deliberation.

But here is the truth about fraternity hazing. More than forty states already have anti-hazing statutes, some of them dating back more than half a century. And many of these statutes contain amnesty or immunity provisions.

And the Clery Act, passed more than 25 years ago, requires all colleges and universities to file annual reports of criminal activity, including assaults, as a condition of receiving federal funds. The Clery Act was put in place to ensure transparency on college campuses--the very thing the Gruvers are demanding.

Nevertheless, in spite of anti-hazing statutes and the Clery Act, four college students died this year from hazing or criminally negligent drinking episodes.

Hazing won't stop on college campuses until the hazers are sent to prison. If one LSU fraternity boy were sent to Angola State Prison for pouring 190 proof alcohol down some poor kid's throat, LSU would have a lot less hazing.

And hazing won't stop until the universities are held liable for damages when hazing occurs. LSU has anti-hazing policies on its books, and it is willing to deliver a slap on the wrist to fraternities when hazing is discovered. But how much more serious would LSU be about hazing if the Gruvers obtained a quarter-of-a-billion dollar judgment against it?  A lot more serious, I warrant.

The Gruver tragedy will soon be forgotten. A few months from now, the local district attorney will conclude he has more important things to do than prosecute college boys for hazing. A deal will be struck of some kind, and no one will go to jail. LSU or some of its wealthy supporters will make a generous donation to the Max Gruver Foundation, and the Gruvers won't sue.

And next year, or two or three years from now, another college boy will die in his own vomit at a fraternity hazing exercise.  And then we will hear another call for more transparency.

Angola State Prison, where LSU hazers belong

References

Rebekah Allen. 'He would have done great things with his life.' 2017.The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, December 30, 2017.

Rebekah Allen, Grace Toohey, and Emma Discher. 10 booked in LSU fraternity hazing death case. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, October 12, 2017, p. 1.

Lela Skene. LSU fraternity pledge Maxwell Gruver's 'off the charts' blood-alcohol level shocks experts. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, October 11, 2017.