Showing posts with label Paul Fain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Fain. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Loan-Forgiveness and Income-Driven Repayment Plans Are Costing Taxpayers a Bundle of Money

The Department of Education's Office of Inspector General (OIG)issued another one of those mealy-mouth reports we've come to expect from the Department. In essence, the OIG told us something we already knew: DOE's income-driven repayment plans (IDRs) and debt forgiveness plans are costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

For several years now, the higher education community has touted income-driven repayment plans as the panacea for the rising  cost of going to college.  Back during the 2016 presidential campaign, Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, wrote an op ed essay for the New York Times attacking Senator Bernie Sander's proposal to allow people to go to college for free.  Free college is not the answer, Hill argued. Rather we need to expand income-driven repayment programs.

Indeed, DOE has expanded income-driven repayment options. President Obama's administration rolled out the PAYE and REPAYE, programs that allow student borrowers to pay 10 percent of their adjusted income for 20 years in lieu of the standard 10-year repayment plan. Borrowers who make regular payments for 20 years will have their loan balances forgiven.

As outlined by OIG, the Department of Education offers six income-driven repayment plans and two loan forgiveness plans. Of course, all the student loans under these plans accrue interest. Even an idiot knows that borrowers who makes loan payments that aren't large enough to pay accruing interest will never pay off their loans.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that DOE's flexible spending plans and loan forgiveness plans are costing the taxpayers billions of dollars because the government is loaning people more money than they will ever repay.

As the OIG reported, DOE's loan balance for income-driven repayment plans increased from $7.1 billion to $51.5 billion between 2011 and 2015. That's an increase of 625 percent in just four years.

Meanwhile, government subsidies for income-driven repayment plans ballooned from $1.4 billion to $11.5 billion over the same four years--an increase of more than 800 percent.

Why did our government create these insane flexible repayment plans?  I can think of one primary reason.

IDRs allow DOE to maintain the fiction that the vast majority of college borrowers are paying back their loans. For most of the people in these plans, an IDR is the only alternative to default. In fact, DOE has encouraged college-loan defaulters and people in danger of default to sign up for IDRs.

But most people in income-driven repayment plans are not paying off their loans because their payments aren't large enough to cover accrued interest. Thus, while IDR participants are not officially in default, they are only making token payments on loans they will never pay off.

What is the OIG's advice to DOE about how to handle the enormous cost of its income-driven repayment plans and its loan forgiveness programs? Here is OIG's gobbledygook recommendation:
We recommend that the Department enhance its communications regarding cost information related to the Federal student loan program's IDR plans and loan forgiveness plans to make it more informative to decision makers and the public.
That's right: All OIG can think of to recommend is more transparency!

As the Wall Street Journal reported about 20 months ago, 43 percent of college borrowers--approximately 9.6 million people--weren't making loan payments as of January 1, 2016. Some of these borrowers were in default, some had delinquent loans and some had loans in forbearance or deferment.

And thanks to DOE's income-driven repayment plans, an additional six million people are making payments too small to pay off their loans.

It is time for DOE to be more than transparent. It needs to admit that about half the people who took out student loans will never pay them back. Thus, of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans, more than half of it will never be collected.


Paul Fain. Costs Mount for Federal Loan Programs. Inside Higher Ed, February 5, 2018.

Catharine Hill. Free Tuition Is Not the AnswerNew York Times, November 30, 2015, p. A23.

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

U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General (2018, January 31). The Department's Communication Regarding the Costs of Income-Driven Repayment Plans and Loan Forgiveness Programs. ED-OIG/A09Q0003. Washington DC: Author

U.S. Government Accountability Office (2016 December). Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington DC: Author.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

For-profit colleges are exploiting African Americans. But you already knew that.

The National Center for Education Statistics issued a report in early October on long-term, student-loan repayment patterns, and two independent analyses highlighted the loan repayment patterns for African Americans.  Almost half of all black students who entered postsecondary education in 2003-2004 (49 percent) had defaulted on at least one of their student loans within 12 years.

Think about this statistic for a moment.

The consequences of defaulting on a student loan are catastrophic: a ruined credit rating and a ballooning loan balance due to penalties, collection fees, and accelerating interest.  Individuals who default on their student loans will be crippled in their ability to buy a home, marry, have children, or save for retirement.  And bankruptcy relief, although not impossible, is very rare for student-loan debtors. In short, most people who default on their student loans will be burdened by their debt for the rest of their lives.

Who would construct a student-aid system that ruins the lives of half the African Americans who participate in it?

And the story gets worse.  Three out of four black students who took out student loans to attend a for-profit college and then dropped out defaulted within 12 years. In essence, African Americans who borrow to enroll in a for-profit institution and don't finish their programs are playing Russian roulette with their financial futures--Russian roulette with three bullets in a four-shot revolver.

As an Inside Higher Ed article noted, the Department of Education "has not collected much data on student debt that can be broken out by the race or ethnic background of borrowers." Why not? Because DOE does not want the public to know that African American are getting ripped off by the higher education industry--and the for-profits, in particular.

The historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) benefit from the status quo, the for-profit industry benefits from the status quo, and Congress benefits from the status quo because our legislators take campaign contributions from entities that depend on federal student-aid dollars--including the private equity funds that own some of the for-profit colleges.

Will these recent reports, which highlight racial exploitation in higher education, bring about change? I seriously doubt it. Everyone who is profiting from the federal student-aid program is playing a short game. The insiders want to make as much money as they can before higher education collapses--and collapse is fast approaching.

Russian roulette with four bullets


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

Robert Kelchen, New Data on Long-Term Student Loan Default Rates. October 6, 2017.

Ben Miller. New Federal Data Show a Student Loan Crisis for African American Borrowers. Center for American Progress, October 16, 2017.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The for-profit college industry is shrinking: It's time to shut this sleazy sector down

We've known for a long time that the for-profit college industry is a cancer infecting the higher education community. Senator Tom Harkin's committee report, published in 2012, told us that.

The cost of attending a for-profit college is far higher than the cost of enrolling at a public college. Completion rates are low, job prospects for attendees are often bleak. Some for-profits spend more on recruiting than they do on instruction.

 And student-loan default rates at the for-profits are quite high. Forty-seven percent of the 2009 cohort of for-profit college borrowers defaulted on their loans within five years.

Here are the 5-year cohort default rates for selected for-profit colleges, as reported by a 2015 Brookings Institute paper:
  • University of Phoenix-Phoenix campus: 45 percent
  • DeVry University-Illinois: 43 percent
  • Ashford University: 47 percent
  • Kaplan University-Davenport campus: 53 percent
And of course these figures understate the number of for-profit college students who are not repaying their loans because many non-defaulters have their loans in deferment or forbearance and are not making their monthly loan payments.

But the good news is this: the for-profit college industry is shrinking. When the Harkin report came out five years ago, for-profit colleges enrolled 13 percent of all college and university students. In the spring semester of 2017, that figure had dropped to 5 percent. For the industry as a whole, for-profit enrollments dropped 10 percent between spring 2016 and spring 2017.

Part of this drop can be attributed to aggressive enforcement of consumer protection laws by state attorneys general and better regulation by the U.S. Department of Education. In the last two years alone, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech closed and went bankrupt. Together these institutions had a half million former students.

Moreover,  potential students are becoming more wary of aggressive for-profit college recruiters. This may explain why enrollments are plummeting at several well-established for-profit colleges, such as University of Phoenix and DeVry.

Now, while the for-profit college sector is shrinking, is the time to shut this sleazy industry down. I think the for-profits are hoping the Trump administration will be friendly to their interests, allowing them to get back on their feet.

But let's  hope the industry is wrong. If President Trump implements policies that reinvigorate the for-profit college industry, it will be the biggest mistake of his administration--far bigger than his goofy dinner conversation with FBI Director James Comey.

The for-profits are shrinking, shrinking!


Associated Press. Enrollment is tanking at University of Phoenix, DeVry, and other for-profit colleges, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2016.

Paul Fain. Enrollments Continue to Slide at For-Profits and Community Colleges. Inside Higher Ed, May 24, 2017.

Tamar Lewin. Senate Committee Report on For-Profit Colleges Condemns Costs and Practices. New York Times, July 29, 2012.

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).

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success. 112 Congress, 2d Session, July 30, 2012.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Department of Education ignores signs of an impending student loan meltdown: The Deepwater Horizon Syndrome

Deepwater Horizon, a giant offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, blew out on April 20, 2010.  Eleven workers died, and more than 200 million gallons of crude oil spewed into the Gulf.

According to the recent film about the blowout, this catastrophe could have been prevented. Instruments on the rig alerted workers that pressure was building around the concrete core and that a blowout was imminent; but supervisors convinced themselves that the instruments were malfunctioning and everything was fine. (John Malkovich, the movie's villain, plays Don Vidrine, a fiendish British Petroleum technocrat.)

John Malkovich in Deepwater Horizon
Something similar is happening with the student loan crisis. DOE issued its College Scorecard in 2015, which reported the percentage of students who are in repayment and actually paying down their loans.  DOE reported that 61.1 percent of student borrowers had made some progress toward paying down their loan balances 5 years into repayment.

But a coding error led to an erroneous report. As Robert Kelchen, a professor at Seton Hall University explained in a recent blog posting, the picture is much bleaker than DOE portrayed.

Five years into repayment, less than half of student borrowers have made any progress toward paying off their student loans. Among borrowers who attended for-profit colleges, the numbers are even more startling.  Five years into repayment only about a third of for-profit students (35 percent) had reduced their loan balances by even one dollar!

People who don't reduce their loan balances five years after beginning repayment are not likely to pay off their student loans--ever. In fact, the Brookings Institution reported in 2015 that nearly half of for-profit borrowers in a recent cohort had defaulted on their loans within 5 years (47 percent).

In short, DOE is behaving just like John Malkovich's character in the movie Deepwater Horizon. The data warn of an impending blowout; but DOE keeps pumping money to the for-profit colleges. A disaster is inevitable; and there are already millions of casualties.


Paul Fain. Feds' data error inflated loan repayment rates on the College Scoreboard. Inside Higher Ed, January 16, 2017.

Robert Kelchen. How Much Did a Coding Error Affect Student Loan Repayment Rates? Kelchen on Education, January 12, 2017.

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).

Michael Stratford. The New College Scorecard. Inside Higher Ed, September 14, 2015.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The For-Profits "Are Making Out Like a Bandit": Will Sheriff Obama Round Up those Bad Boys?

In a question-and-answer session with college students at SUNY at Binghamton, President Obama made clear that he understands what's wrong with the for-profit colleges.

 [T]here have been some schools that are notorious for getting students in, getting a bunch of grant money, having those students take out a lot of loans, making big profits, but having really low graduation rates. Students aren’t getting what they need to be prepared for a particular field. They get out of these for-profit schools loaded down with enormous debt. They can’t find a job. They default. The taxpayer ends up holding the bag. Their credit is ruined, and the for-profit institution is making out like a bandit. That’s a problem.
President Obama also said he understands that some for-profits are exploiting our military veterans:
[T]hey’ve been preyed upon very badly by some of these for-profit institutions.... Because what happened was these for-profit schools saw this Post-9/11 GI Bill, that there was a whole bunch of money that the federal government was committed to making sure that our veterans got a good education, and they started advertising to these young people, signing them up, getting them to take a bunch of loans, but they weren’t delivering a good product.
 Indeed, Senator Tom Harkin's Senate Committee report on the for-profits found that the for-profits soaked up a huge share of the money made available to military veterans under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a law designed to extend educational benefits to veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Some for-profits are "making out like a bandit"
According to the report, the for-profits trained 25 percent of the participating veterans but received 37 percent of the Post-9/11 GI Bill money during the first two years the program was in place.  Eight of the top 10 education providers during that two-year period were for-profits, including the owners of the University of Phoenix, DeVry University, and Kaplan University (pages 27-28 of Harkin report).

Among the top ten participating institutions in this veterans program, the eight for-profits had the highest student withdrawal rates.  Apollo's student withdrawal rates for bachelor's degree programs was more than 50 percent. Kaplan Higher Education Corporation (owner of Kaplan University) had a 68 percent withdrawal rate for its four-year programs (page 29 of the Harkin report).

Will the Obama administration and Arne Duncan's Department of Education rein in these bad boys? I'm not sure. President Obama made it abundantly clear that he is willing for the federal government to continue funding for-profit colleges--the largest of which are publicly traded corporations or institutions owned by private equity groups.

 "For-profit institutions in a lot of sectors of our lives obviously [are] the cornerstone of our economy," President Obama said at the Binghamton gathering. "And we want to encourage entrepreneurship and new ideas and new approaches and new ways of doing things. So I’m not against for-profit institutions, generally."

President Obama's approach to for-profit colleges is basically in harmony with the Harkin Committee's viewpoint.  Like President Obama, the Harkin Committee acknowledged a place for the for-profit sector in higher education.  The Committee expressed the view that the public sector and nonprofit private colleges do not have the capacity to educate all the postsecondary students who want to be educated.

Personally, I disagree.  Why should the federal government pump $30 billion a year into the for-profit colleges in the form of federal student aid, when it is absolutely clear that the for-profit colleges have an overall poor record of performance and catastrophically high student-loan default rates? Shouldn't that money be going to the public institutions--particularly our community colleges?

So far, President Obama has been unwilling to take aggressive action to clean up or close the for-profit college industry.   For the time being at least, the for-profits will continue to "make out like a bandit," and President Obama will continue to critize them but do little or nothing to bring them under control.


Paul Fain & Scott Jaschik. Obama on Non-Profits. Inside Higher Education, August 26, 2013. Accessible at:

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:

Note: All quotes come from the Inside Higher Education article cited above.