Showing posts with label Senator Tom Harkin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Senator Tom Harkin. Show all posts

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!


References

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.






Thursday, October 2, 2014

Senator Tom Harkin is Like a Shade-Tree Mechanic--He Can Tell You What's Wrong With the Student Loan Program, But He Can't Fix It: Veterans, The New GI Bill and the For-Profit Colleges

Photo credit: autoguide.com
Senator Tom Harkin reminds me of the shade-tree mechanics I patronized when I was young and poor and drove old cars,  I would drive my junker up to some Mom-and-Pop mechanic shop, the mechanic would accurately diagnose what was wrong with my car, and then he would say he couldn't fix it.

Senator Harkin did the public a major service when he chaired the committee that reported on the for-profit colleges a couple of years. In a massive report--over a thousand pages when the appendices are included, the Harkin committee spelled out the many abuses in the for-profit college industry.

Since that report was issued, almost nothing has been done to rein in the rapacious for-profit colleges, which suck up about a quarter of all federal student aid money and only enroll about 11 percent of the students.

Last July, Senator Harkinn's Senate Committee has issued a second important report. This one focuses on the way the for--profits have made out like bandits with programs targeted at veterans who have gone to college under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Here is a summary of the Harkin Report's findings:

  • Eight of the 10 top recipients of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are large, publicly traded companies that operate for-profit colleges. These eight companies received 23 percent of all the Post-9/11 GI bill money for 2012-2013.
  • Seven of those 8 companies are currently under investigation by state attorney generals offices or the federal government for deceptive or misleading recruiting or possible violations of federal law. 
  • The number of veterans attending public colleges has declined between 2009 and 2013 while the number of veterans who attend for-profit colleges has increased.
  • Although overall enrollment at the eight top for-profit beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 GI Bill has declined in recent years , the number of veterans who enrolled at these schools has increased.
Why are veterans so attractive to the for-profit colleges? As the Harkin Report explains, the Higher Education Act requires that the for-profits operate under the 90/10 rule. In other words, they can only receive 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid money.  However, money received under the Post-9/11 GI Bill is not counted as part of the 90 percent.

Thus, for-profits who are getting 90 percent or close to 90 percent of their revenue from the general federal student-aid program can get that last ten percent of their by enrolling veterans under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

This would be fine, I suppose, if the for-profits were doing a bang-up job of educating veterans and preparing them for good post-military jobs. But apparently they are not. 

The Harkin Report found that "[a]t the for-profit colleges currently receiving the most benefits, up to 66 percent of students withdrew without a degree or diploma" (p. ii).  The Report also found:
Between 39 and 57 percent of the programs offered by four of the companies receiving he most Post-9/11 GI bill benefits would fail to meet the proposed gainful employment rule, suggesting that the students who attend these institutions do not earn enough to pay back the debt they take on.  (p. ii)
As the Harkin Report put it, some for-profit colleges "appear to be taking advantage of a loophole to use Post-9/11 GI Bill funds to comply with the federal requirement that no more than 90 percent of revenue come from federal student aid" (p. ii).

And of course, this cozy arrangement for the for-profits is costing tax payers, "who are paying twice as much on average to send a veteran to a for-profit college for a year compared to the cost at a public college or university ($7,972 versus $3,914)" (p. ii).

The Harkin Committee Report makes interesting reading, but the Committee made no significant recommendations.  It is the latest in a series of reports showing that students are being ill-served by and large by the for-profit college industry.  These schools charge far more for their programs than comparable programs offered by public universities and community colleges. They have very high student-loan default rates and high student dropout rates, and very often they are enrolling students through deceptive recruiting practices and are putting students into programs that are not likely to lead to well-paying jobs.

Why don't we do something about this?  Because the for-profits have very good lobbyists and lawyers sand they make strategic campaign contributions to key federal legislators.

Thus, in the end, the latest report by Senator Harkin's Committee is very much like my fruitless conversations with the shade-tree mechanics of my youth.  "Buddy, your car is in dire need of repair, but we can't fix it."

References

Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman). Is the New GI Bill Working?: For-Profit Colleges Increasing Veteran Enrollment and Federal Funds, July 30, 2014.   Washington, DC: United States Senate. Accessible at http://www.harkin.senate.gov/documents/pdf/53d8f7f69102e.pdf



Friday, June 13, 2014

Is Senator Elizabeth Warren a Paper Tiger? Her Bill to Lower Interest Rates Was a Non-Starter

A lot of people think Senator Elizabeth Warren is a fierce advocate for college-loan debtors, a feisty bulldog who strives mightily to get some relief for the millions of young Americans who are burdened with crushing student loans. I once thought so myself.


But I've become skeptical.  So far,Warren's basic thrust has been to advocate for lower interest rates on federal student loans. Lower interest rates will give college-loan borrowers some relief, of course; but lower interest rates will do nothing to stop the spiraling cost of higher education--which has forced students to borrow more and more money every year in order to attend college. 

And lowering interest rates will do nothing to clean up the fraud and abuse in the for-profit college industry--a problem that Warren says little about.

Earlier this week, Warren's bill to lower student-loan interest rates failed in the U.S. Senate, killed by the Republicans.  The bill never had a chance of passing because it included a provision to raise taxes on the wealthy--something Republicans would never vote for.

And of course Warren knew that. Basically the bill was a cynical attempt to paint the Democratic Party as the friend of indebted college students while embarrassing the Republicans by portraying them as hardhearted protectors of the rich.

All fine theater of course, but did anything get accomplished? No--not a damn thing.

I realize of course that getting real student-loan reforms through Congress will be difficult. The for-profit industry and its lobbyists are very powerful; and the for-profits make strategic contributions to key legislators like Speaker of the House John Boehner.

But Warren could render real service simply by publicizing just how bad the student-loan mess is.  She should demand, for example, that the Department of Education release information about the true default rate--not the watered-down rate that it publishes every October.

In addition, she could team up with outgoing Senator Tom Harkin and publicize how the for--profit colleges are exploiting low-income and minority students.

She could advocate for a reform of the Bankruptcy Code so that millions of insolvent student-loan debtors could discharge their loans in the bankruptcy courts.

But no--she is content to sponsor legislation that she knows will go nowhere simply to embarrass the Republicans.

I suspect that Senator Warren's core constituency in Massachusetts--all those corpulent, self-satisfied and arrogant colleges like Harvard, Boston University, Brandeis, etc. etc.--are quite happy to see their senator engage in sound and fury regarding the student loan program. They know Senator Warren's bombast will never lead to any legislation that would threaten their interests.

So just keep yakking, Elizabeth; go right on yakking.

References

Julie Hirschfield Davis. In School Speech, Obama Deplores Blocking of Student Debt Bill. New York Times, June 12, 2014, p. A20.

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.

References

Paul Fain & Scott Jaschik. Obama on Non-Profits. Inside Higher Education, August 26, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/08/26/obama-speaks-directly-profit-higher-education-noting-concerns-sector

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

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

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Obama Signs a Bill to Reduce Interest Rates on Student Loans: This is Just a Side Show

Earlier this month, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to reduce interest rates on student loans, and President Obama signed the bill into law this week.  Under the new law, the interest rate on this year's undergraduate loans is set at 3.9 percent. For graduate loans, the rate is 5.4 percent. For loans taken out by parents, the new rate is locked in for this year at 6.4 percent.

Interest rates will rise if the interest rate on 10-year treasury notes goes up, which it is expected to do, but the maximum interest rate under the new law is capped at 8.25 percent for undergraduate loans. The cap for graduate student loans is set at 9.5 percent and parents' loans are capped at 10.5 percent.

The new law is good news, I suppose, and nullifies the 6.8 percent interest rate that undergraduates were paying before it was enacted. But make no mistake--the recent Congressional squabble about interest rates on student loans is just a side show. 

Why? Because almost everyone participating in the congressional debate on student-loan interest rates assumed that the borrowers will pay back the money. As I noted in a previous blog, the New York Times and Senator Elizabeth Warren talked as if the government would make an unseemly profit if the interest rate on student loans wasn't lowered.
 
Out of Control
All this is nonsense.  The student loan default rate is so high that the government is going to lose money no matter what interest rate it charges on student loans.  How high is the default rate? No one knows for sure because the Department of Education hasn't released the data.  But DOE itself estimates that 46 percent of students who borrow money to attend for-profit institutions will default on their loans at some point during the repayment period.

And, as everyone knows, DOE has been underestimating student-loan default rates.  So if DOE says 46 percent of students who borrow to attend for-profit colleges are going to default, it is a safe bet that the real default rate for this group is well over 50 percent. 

Furthermore, a lot of former students have gotten economic hardship deferments that temporarily excuse them from making loan payments; and these people aren't counted as defaulters. Nevertheless, a lot of these folks will never pay off their loans. 

As Senator Harkin's Senate Committee report pointed out, people whose loans are in deferments are excused from making loan payments, but the interest on the loans continues to accrue for most borrowers, causing students' overall debt to grow larger with each passing month.  Thus, economic hardship deferments are making it harder for debtors who obtain them to ultimately pay off their loans.

How many people have loans in deferment status? DOE hasn't released the number, but it could be millions.  As the Harkin Report explained, for-profit colleges are aggressively encouraging their former students to apply for economic hardship deferments in order to keep their institutional default rates down.  And these deferments are ridiculously easy to get.  According to the Harkin Committee,  sometimes it is just a matter of a phone call.

No--the federal student loan program is like an out-of-control express train that is headed straight for a cliff.  Congress doesn't care--those guys and gals plan on getting off at the next station. No, it is students--especially students attending for-profit colleges--who are going over the cliff with the train.

References

Josh Lederman and Philip Elliott. Obama Signs Student Loan Deal. MSN Money, August 9, 2013. Accesible at: http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=AP&date=20130809&id=16792937

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Bomb That Failed to Explode: Why Didn't the Senate Report on For-Profit Colleges Provoke Public Outrage?

Senator Tom Harkin
 
In July 2012, an important U.S. Senate Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, issued a lengthy report on for-profit colleges and universities.  This report examined records of 30 for-profit institutions that enrolled a total of 1.1 million students and found enormous problems in the for-profit sector of higher education.

Among the report's startling revelations, were the following:
  • High costs. The average cost of an associate degrees from the 30 for-profit colleges it examined was four times higher than the cost of receiving a comparable degree from a community college. (p. 41)
  • Poor student outcomes. According to the report, most students who enrolled in these institutions "do not graduate."  Of 1.1 million students enrolled in 2008 and 2009, almost 600,000 had withdrawn from their studies by 2010. (p. 17)
  • Inordinate appropriation of taxpayer resources. Although for-profit institutions only enroll about 10-13 percent of higher education students, they receive about a quarter of federal student aid money. (p. 19)
  • High default rates. Although the Department of Education reported recently  that almost 20 percent of students who attended for-profit institutions defaulted within three years after beginning the repayment phase, it estimates that 46 percent of students who borrowed money to attend for-profit institutions will eventually default on their loans. (p. 23)
  • Low spending on instruction.  The for-profit institutions examined by Senator Harkin's committee spent more on marketing and recruiting students than they spend on instruction.
  • Excessive executive compensation.  Average CEO compensation for the thirty for-profit institutions that the Senate Committee examined was over $7 million! (p. 3)
Given the Senate report's shocking findings, why wasn't there a public outcry to clean up higher education's for-profit sector? Why wasn't federal legislation passed to better regulate the for-profit colleges or even eliminate them from the federal student aid program?  Why--more than a year after this report was issued--has nothing been done about the rapacious for-profit colleges and universities?

I think there are several reasons why Senator Harkin's report had such a small impact.

The report was too long. First, the report was too long, and its length discouraged people from reviewing it thoroughly.  Although it is accessible on the web, the entire report--including appendices--was more than 2500 pages long.

Senator Harkin's committee pulled its punches. Second, I think the report was overly restrained in reporting its findings given the explosive content of its report. For example, on page 2 of this 2500 page tome, the Committee said that "[f]or profit colleges have an important role to play in higher education," and that the non-profit and public colleges can't handle the growing demand for higher education on their own. 

This conciliatory stance implies that the nation needs for-profit higher education institutions; indeed we can't get along without them.  Personally, I don't think that's true. Surely our public and non-profit colleges and universities can meet the nation's demands for post-secondary education.  And if they can't, the federal government would do well to give the public and non-profit sectors more resources than to send $32 billion a year to for-profit colleges with their overall record of poor performance.

The committee made puffball recommendations. Finally, Senator Harkin's committee made puffball recommendations for reform--far too mild given the serious problems that the committee documented.  Let's face it--if 46 percent of students who borrow money to attend for-profit institutions will eventually default on their loans, then the for-profit sector is not doing a good job in preparing students for the workforce.  That fact alone requires drastic action.

Nevertheless, Senator Harkin's committee only made timid and uninspired recommendations for reform like enhanced transparency, an online student complaint clearinghouse, and improved default tracking. (pp. 13-14)

The bomb that failed to explode

Senator Harkin and his Senate Committee had an opportunity to raise the alarm about the for-profit higher education industry that has hurt millions of students who paid far too much for educational experiences that didn't prepare them for good jobs. Anyone who reads the report carefully and grasps its implications can see that the report is a bombshell.

Unfortunately, this opportunity was squandered.  Senator Harkin's report was a bomb that failed to explode.

References

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.