Showing posts with label student loan default rate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student loan default rate. Show all posts

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Department of Education's Official 3-Year Student-Loan Default Rate is Baloney

During the First World War, it is said, the British military kept three sets of casualty figures: one set to deceive the public, a second set to deceive the War Ministry, and a third set to deceive itself.

Over the years, the Department of Education has released its annual 3-year student-loan default rate in the autumn, about the time the pumpkins ripen. And every year the default rate that DOE issues is nothing but bullshit. I can't think of another word that adequately conveys DOE's mendacity and fraud.

This year, DOE reported that 11.5 percent of the the 2014 cohort of debtors defaulted on their loans within three years and that only ten institutions had default rates so high that they can be kicked out of the federal student-loan program. That's right: among the thousands of schools and colleges that suck up student-aid money, only ten fell below DOE's minimum student-loan default standard.

Why do I say DOE's three-year default rate is fraudulent?

Economic hardship deferments disguise the fact that millions of people aren't making loan payments. First of all, DOE has given millions of student-loan borrowers economic-hardship deferments or forbearances that allow borrowers to skip their monthly loan payments.  These deferments can last for several years. 

But people who are given permission to skip payments get no relief from accruing interest. Almost all these people will see their loan balances grow during the time they aren't making payments. By the time their deferment status ends, their loan balances will be too large to ever pay back.

The colleges actively encourage their former students to apply for loan deferments in order to keep their institutional default rates down. And that strategy has worked brilliantly for them. Virtually all of the colleges and schools are in good standing with DOE in spite of the fact that more than half the former students at a thousand institutions have paid nothing down on their loans seven years after beginning repayment.

Second,  DOE's three-year default rate does not include people who default after three years.  Only around 11 percent of student borrowers default within three years, but 28 percent from a recent cohort defaulted within five years. In the for-profit sector, the five-year default rate for a recent cohort of borrowers was 47 percent--damn near half.

DOE's income-driven repayment plans are a shell game.  As DOE candidly admits, the Department has been able to keep its three-year default rates low partly through encouraging floundering student borrowers to sign up for income-driven repayment plans  (IDRs) that lower monthly loan payments but stretch out the repayment period to as long as a quarter of a century.

President Obama expanded the IDR options by introducing PAYE and REPAYE, repayment plans which allow borrowers to make payments equal to 10 percent of their discretionary income (income  above the poverty level) for 20 years.

But most people who sign up for IDRs are making monthly payments so low that their loan balances are growing year by year even if they faithfully make their monthly loan payments. By the time their repayment obligations cease, their loan balances may be double, triple, or even quadruple the amount the originally borrowed.

Alan and Catherine Murray, who obtained a partial discharge of their student-loan debt in bankruptcy in 2016, are a case in point. The Murrays borrowed $77,000 to obtain postsecondary education and paid back about 70 percent of that amount. But they ran into financial difficulties that forced them to obtain an economic hardship deferment on their loans.  And at some point they entered into an IDR.

Twenty years after finishing their studies, the Murrays' student-loan balance had quadrupled to $311,000!  Yet a bankruptcy court ruled that the Murrays had handled their student loans in good faith, and they had never defaulted.

DOE is engaged in accounting fraud. If the Department of Education were a private bank, its executives would go to jail for accounting fraud. (Or maybe not. Wells Fargo and Bank of America's CEOs aren't in prison yet.)  The best that can be said about DOE's annual announcement on three-year default rates is that the number DOE releases is absolutely meaningless.

This is what is really going on. More than half of the people in a recent cohort of borrowers have not paid down one penny of their student-loan debt five years into the repayment phase of their loans.  And the loan balances for these people are not stable. People who are not paying down the interest on their student loans are seeing their loan balances grow.

In short, DOE is operating a fraudulent student-loan program.  More than 44 million Americans are encumbered by student-loan  debt that totals $1.4 trillion.  At least half that amount--well over half a trillion dollars--will never be paid back.

Betsy DeVos' job is to keep the shell game going a little longer, which she is well qualified to do. After all, she is a beneficiary of Amway,  "a multi-level marketing company," which some critics have described as a pyramid scheme.

Betsy DeVos: The perfect person to oversee DOE's student-loan shell game

References

Paul Fain. Federal Loan Default Rates Rise. Insider Higher ED, September 28, 2017.

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

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

Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 14-22253, ADV. No. 15-6099, 2016 Banrk. LEXIS 4229 (Bankr. D. Kansas, December 8, 2016), aff'd, Case No. 16-2838 (D. Kan. September 22, 2017).

Joe Nocera. The Pyramid Scheme Problem, New York Times, September 15, 2015.







Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Meet The Three Headed Debt Monster That's Going to Ravage the Economy," writes MN Gordon

A three-headed consumer debt monster is about to ravage our economy, writes MN Gordon in an Acting-Man essay that was republished on zerohedge.com. And what are the three heads?  Auto loans, credit card debt, and student loans.

As Gordon points out, all this massive debt is backed by essentially no collateral. Regarding credit-card debt, Gordon says this:
[C]redit card debt has been run-up purchasing 72-inch flat screen televisions, avocado toast, and combination platters at Applebee's. How does a creditor recover the cost of a meal that was consumed 2 years ago?
Of course, auto loans are secured by the cars that are purchased on credit. But, as Gordon put it, new cars lose value "nearly as fast as fresh tomatoes turn to rot." Thus, a repossessed car is rarely worth as much as the debt it was  meant to secure.

And of course student loans form the third and most vicious head of the three-headed consumer debt monster. As has been often reported, student loans have now outstripped credit card debt and auto loans as the biggest sector of consumer debt (excluding home mortgages).

The federal government issues more than $100 billion in student loans every year, and student loans are backed by absolutely no collateral.  How do you repossess a law degree from Thomas Jefferson Law School or a liberal arts degree from Vassar?

The entire postsecondary education industry--from Harvard University to Bob's Barber College--subsists on federal student-aid money. The for-profit colleges get almost 90 percent of their revenues from the federal government. Most for-profit colleges could not last a month without regular infusions of federal cash.

And although no one wants to admit it, at least half of the outstanding student-loan debt--totally $1.4 trillion--will never be paid back. The Department of Education is hiding the true default rate by putting borrowers into economic hardship deferments, forbearance programs, or long-term income-driven repayment plans. But the reality is this: most of the people in these shell-game programs will never repay their loans.

One might think that all this federal cash is adequate to sustain America's colleges and universities, but they are continually searching for more money. Nationwide, tuition rates have gone up nearly every year for the past 25 years. Tuition costs for graduate programs have reached insane levels because the federal government put no limit on the amount a student can borrow to get an MBA or law degree.

And where has all this student loan money gone? As Gordon observed, "it has been dispersed into oversized professor salaries, oversized lecture auditoriums, and oversized sports complexes."

Most of us would feel better about the runaway cost of higher education if our universities and colleges were providing real value for students' tuition dollars--if a college degree or graduate degree led to a good job and a better life.

But average wages in real terms have gone down over the past 30 years. Although the higher education industry repeatedly points out that the wage differential between high school graduates and college graduates is increasing, most of this growing gap is explained by declining wages for non-college graduates.

Of course, higher education's defenders like to point out the intrinsic value of a university degree--a better appreciation for culture, an enhanced ability for civic involvement, greater tolerance for people with opposing points of view.  The late John Kenneth Gailbraith, some old white guy from Harvard, expressed the intrinsic value of education as follows:
Education is, most of all, for the enlargement and the enjoyment of life. It is education that opens the window for the individual on the pleasures of language, literature, art, music, the diversities and idiosyncrasies of the world scene. The well-educated over the years and centuries have never doubted their superior reward; it  greater educational opportunity that makes general and widespread this reward.
But this is bullshit. It was bullshit when Galbraith wrote it, and it is overripe bullshit today. Our colleges and universities--our elite universities in particular--have become cesspools of racial and sexual-identity politics, Brownshirt-style intolerance for diverse political ideas, and Orwellian breeding grounds for groupthink.

In short, over a period of less than 50 years, our nation has constructed a higher education system that forces millions of Americans to take out student loans they cannot pay back in return for overpriced educational experiences that do not lead to better jobs or to better lives.

References

MN Gordon. Meet the Three-headed Debt Monster That's Going to Ravage Our Economy. Acting-Man.com. Republished at  zerohedge.com, June 10, 2017.










Saturday, June 3, 2017

Betsy DeVos should resign as Education Secretary and Trump should replace her with a junkyard dog

Betsy DeVos should resign as Secretary of Education in the Trump administration. I say this for two reasons:

First, Ms. DeVos is too nice a person to be President Trump's Secretary of Education.


No matter what you think of her politics or her education philosophy Betsy DeVos is not a toxic person. She did not deserve to be shut out of a public school, as District of Columbia protesters tried to do shortly after she took office.

And she did not deserve to have students boo her and turn their backs on her when she spoke at a college graduation exercise this spring. If I were her, I would tell the whole wide world to stick the Secretary of Education's position where the sun doesn't shine and go home to Michigan and spend time with my grandchildren.

Second. Betsy DeVos knows next to nothing about higher education policy.

The federal student loan program is in meltdown, destroying the lives of millions of people and undermining the integrity of higher education. Numerous small private liberal arts colleges are on the verge of closing; law schools are admitting students of a lower and lower quality, and huge swaths of the for-profit college industry are defrauding their students--or, at the very least, they are gouging their customers. The federal student loan program bears a big share of the blame for this dismal state of affairs.

Betsy DeVos knows next to nothing about the student loan crisis. She has shown no capacity to deal with this enormous problem, and she has already made a number of missteps. For example, she hired some empty suits from the for-profit sector to advise her--the wrong move, in my opinion.

Trump needs to hire a junkyard dog to run the Department of Education

President Trump needs to gracefully accept DeVos' resignation, praise her extravagantly in a tweet message, and then appoint a junkyard dog to replace her.

By junkyard dog, I don't mean a vicious person or an unethical person; I mean a tough person.  The next Education Secretary needs to be tough enough to confront the for-profit college industry, tough enough to handle higher education's legions of lobbyists, and tough enough to get rid of the student loan guaranty agencies that have amassed billions of dollars in cash hounding distressed student loan debtors.

The next Secretary of Education needs to be tough enough to tell the public the truth about the student loan crisis, which is this: Millions of people have taken out student loans they will never pay back.

What a junkyard dog do if  appointed Education Secretary?


  • First, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's 2013 report, A Closer Look at the Trillion, needs to be updated. How many people have defaulted on their loans, and how many are delinquent? How many are not making payments because their loans are in deferment or forbearance? How many are in income-driven repayment plans (IDRs) and making monthly payments so low that their payments don't cover accruing interest?
  • Second, the new Secretary should endorse the Democrats' bill to protect student loan defaulters from having their Social Security checks garnished.  This is a small matter in terms of the overall student loan crisis, but symbolically, such a move would signal that the Trump administration is not completely heartless.
  • Third, the Education Secretary should cancel the performance bonus program for DOE's student-loan bureaucrats. James Runcie, Chief Operating Officer for the student loan program, received $430,000 in bonuses--an outrage. The new Secretary of Education should fire everyone who got a performance bonus.
  • Fourth, the DOE Secretary needs to streamline the process whereby students who file administrative claims based on the closed-school rule or the so-called borrower defense can have their claims resolved quickly.
  • Fifth, DOE's junkyard dog should dismantle all the student loan guaranty agencies, starting with Educational Credit Management Corporation. While the termination process is taking place, DOE should stop paying the agencies' attorney fees to hound suffering student borrowers in the bankruptcy courts.
  • Sixth, the Secretary of Education, as junkyard dog, should revise Lynn Mahaffie's 2015 letter outlining when DOE will not oppose bankruptcy discharge of student loans to clarify to the federal courts that DOE supports a bankruptcy discharge of student loans under the same terms that apply to other unsecured consumer debt.
Obviously, any Secretary of Education who attempts to carry out the agenda I outlined will need to be tough as a junkyard dog. Betsy DeVos is not a junkyard dog, and I mean that as a compliment to her.


The next Secretary of Education should be a junkyard dog.
References

Lauren Camera. Protesters Disrupt DeVos School Visit. U.S. News & World Report, February 10, 2017.


Rohit Chopra. A closer look at the trillion. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, August 5, 2013.

Erica L. Green. Bethune-Cookman Graduates Greet Betsy DeVos With Turned Backs. New York Times, May 10, 2017.




Friday, May 19, 2017

Will the Student Loan Crisis Bring Down the Economy? My Pessimistic View

Mike Krieger recently posted a blog on Liberty Blitzkrieg in which he argued that two issues will dominate American politics in the coming years: health care and student loans.

"Going forward," Krieger wrote,  "I believe two issues will define the future of American politics: student loans and healthcare. Both these things . . .  have crushed the youth and are prevent[ing] a generation from buying homes and starting families. The youth will eventually revolt, and student loans and healthcare will have to be dealt with in a very major way, not with tinkering around the edges."

Krieger concluded his essay with this pessimistic observation:
Student loans and healthcare are both ticking time bombs and I see no real effort underway to tackle them at the macro level where they need to be addressed. Watch these two issues closely going forward, as I think fury at both will be the main driver behind the next populist wave.
Krieger's dismal projection regarding student loans is supported by recent reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The Fed reported that more than 44 million people are now burdened by student loans. About 4.7 million borrowers are in default and another 2.4 million are delinquent.

Moreover, a lot of this debt is carried by older Americans. According to Fed data, $216 billion is owed by people who are 50 years old or older. And we know from other sources that student loan debt is following people into their retirement years. In fact, about 170,000 people are having their Social Security checks garnished due to student loans that are in default.

Borrowers carry debt levels of varying amounts, but the Fed reported that 2 million people owe $100,000 or more on student loans. Interestingly, people with small levels of debt are more likely to default than people who have high levels of indebtedness. In the 2009 cohort, 34 percent of people who owed $5,000 or less had defaulted within five years. Among people owing $100,000 or more, only 18 percent defaulted during this same period.

And of course default rates don't tell the full story. Almost 6 million people have signed up for income-driven repayment plans, and most are making payments so low they will never pay off their loans. Millions more have loans in deferment or forbearance; and these people aren't even making token loan payments. Meanwhile, interest is accruing on their loans, making it more difficult for borrowers to pay them off once they resume making payments.

Surely, this rising level of student-loan indebtedness has an impact on the American economy. According to the New York Times, student loans now constitutes 11 percent of total household indebtedness--up from just 5 percent in 2008.  Obviously, Americans with burdensome levels of student-loan debt are finding it more difficult to buy homes, start families, save for retirement or even purchase basic consumer items.  No wonder sales at brick-and-mortar retail stores are down and the casual dining industry is on the skids.

So far, as Krieger pointed out, our government is tinkering around the edges of the student loan crisis, making ineffective efforts to rein in the for-profit college industry and urging students to sign up for long-term income-driven repayment plans.

But this strategy is not working. According to the General Accounting Office, about half the people who sign up for income-driven repayment plans are kicked out for noncompliance with the plans' terms. The for-profit colleges, beaten back a bit by reform efforts during President Obama's administration, have come roaring back, advertising their overpriced programs on television.

All this will end badly, but our government is doing everything it can to forestall the day of judgment. In Price v. U.S. Department of Education, a case I wrote about earlier this week, the Department of Education took six years to make the erroneous decision that a University of Phoenix graduate was not entitled to have her loans forgiven. DOE's ruling clearly violated federal law, and the Phoenix grad finally won relief in federal court.

But DOE isn't concerned about following the law. It just wants to stall for time--knowing that a student-loan apocalypse is not too far away.
The Student Loan Apocalypse


References

Michael Corkery and Stacy Cowley. Household Debt Makes a Comeback in the U.S. New York Times, May 17, 2017.


Mike Krieger. Student Loans and Healthcare--Two Issues that Will Define American Politics Going Forward. Liberty Blitzkrieg, May 4, 2017.

Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw. Looking at Student Loan Defaults through a Larger Window. Liberty Street Economics (Federal Reserve Bank of New York. February 19, 2015.

Friday, April 7, 2017

3,000 people a day are defaulting on student loans and Betsy DeVos rewards the student loan indusry. You broke our hearts, Betsy!

Yesterday, the New York Times published an editorial scolding Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for allowing the student-loan servicers to slap a 16 percent penalty on student borrowers who default on their loans.

 And let's remember this: That 16 percent penalty is not 16 percent on the amount borrowed; its 16 percent on the unpaid balance plus accumulated interest.  Millions of debtors have their student loans in forbearance or deferment for years while their debt grows due to accruing interest. Thus, when they default, they may owe double, triple, or even quadruple what they borrowed. The 16 percent penalty is calculated by the total debt--not just the original loan amount.

And the lenders apply that penalty even when debtors immediately start the process of bringing their loans back into good standing. That stinks.

Secretary of Education DeVos made a big mistake when she caved in to the student-loan industry at the expense of struggling student debtors. I can think of only two explanations. Either she doesn't know what she's doing or she's in the pocket of student loan guaranty agencies and their collection agents.

But it doesn't really matter why she did it. After all, Fredo Corleone didn't know what he was doing when he betrayed his brother Michael in Godfather II. But Michael didn't cut Fredo any slack. Remember what Michael said? "I know it was you, Fredo – you broke my heart – you broke my heart!"

 As the Times noted in its editorial, 3,000 people a day in the government's direct lending program defaulted on their student loans last year--about a million people. That's a lot of people having penalties slapped on their loan balances--that's a lot of suffering that Betsy DeVos could have stopped.

It is now clear: student debtors can't look to the Trump administration for assistance. The bankruptcy courts are their only hope.

I know it was you, Betsy--you broke my hear, you broke my heart!

References

Editorial. The Wrong Move on Student Loans. New York Times, April 6, 2017.




Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Department of Defense Suspends University of Phoenix from Military Tuition Benefits Program: Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and Lamar Alexander Ask DOD to Reconsider

The Department of Defense recently sanctioned the University of Phoenix by suspending it from participation in the U.S.  Military's tuition benefits program. Why? Allegedly, Phoenix sponsored improper recruiting events and inappropriately used the DOD's seal.

Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and Lamar Alexander got involved in this matter on behalf of whom? Soldiers? No--they came to the aid of the University of Phoenix. The senators argued that the university had only committed "vague, technical violations" that UP had already fixed or promised to fix.

According to the senators, "The University of Phoenix has a long history of serving working adults and others for whom traditional university schooling is unavailable" and noted that the university had more than 200,000 students in 17 states. But the senators neglected to note that almost 1.2 million University of Phoenix students have accumulated $35 billion in student-loan debt and that UP's five-year default rate is 45 percent!

Why do you suppose these old croakers came to the aid of the University of Phoenix? It is headquartered in Arizona, which might explain Senators McCain and Flake's intervention. But even so, don't these guys have an obligation to protect the University of Phoenix's students--not the university itself? And doesn't the Department of Education deserve support when it tries to rein in abuses to the federal student aid program?

The reason the for-profit college industry is out of control is because this rapacious sector of higher education makes strategic campaign contributions and hires lobbyists to protect its interests in Washington. I couldn't find any evidence that the University of Phoenix has made campaign contributions to Senator John McCain, but I did find evidence that McCain's biggest contributors include Goldman Sachs, which owns a stake in a for-profit college, and Bank of America, one of the biggest players in the private student-loan market.

If you want to better understand how the for-profit colleges have ripped off American taxpayers, you should read David Halperin's article in The Nation.  "Many of America's for-profit colleges have proven themselves a bad deal for the students lured by their enticing promises--as well as for US taxpayers, who subsidize these institutions with tens of billions annually in federal student aid," Halperin wrote.

As Halperin explained, more than half of the students who enroll in for-profit colleges drop out within about four months.  Many of these colleges have been caught using deceptive advertising and misleading information about job placement rates.  And although the for-profits only enroll about 13 percent of postsecondary students, they account for nearly half of student-loan defaults.

How do they get away with this? By hiring lobbyists and making  campaign contributions to powerful federal legislators. According to Halperin, the industry's lobbyists include past Senate majority leader Trent Lott and Penny Lee, a former aid to Senate majority leader (now minority leader) Harry Reid.  In fact, as Senator Dick Durbin put it, the for-profits "own every lobbyist in town" (as quoted in Halperin's article).

And why, you might ask, haven't supposedly independent voices in the higher-education policy world spoken out more forthrightly about the abuses in the for-profit college industry? Why hasn't Chronicle of Higher Education taken a stand? Why hasn't the National Urban League been more aggressive in its policy recommendations for higher education? Perhaps it is because the for-profits advertise in the Chronicle and  Corinthian Colleges (now bankrupt) gave $1 million to the National Urban League.

As Halperin summarized at the end of his lengthy article, "There's a word for this state of affairs: corruption." And knowingly or unknowingly, Senators McCain, Flake and Alexander came to the aid of one of the for-profit industry's worst actors: University of Phoenix.  Senator McCain deserves this nation's respect for his heroism in the Vietnam War. How sad and how shameful to observe him in his dotage serving as a shill for the for-profit college industry.

References

Adam Looney & Constantine Yanellis.  A Crisis in student loans? Brookings Institution, September 10, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/projects/bpea/fall-2015_embargoed/conferencedraft_looneyyannelis_studentloandefaults.pdf

David Halperin. The Perfect Lobby: How One Industry Captured Washington, DC. The Nation, April 3, 2014. Accessible at:  https://www.thenation.com/article/perfect-lobby-how-one-industry-captured-washington-dc/

Senator John McCain Press Release. Senators McCain, Flake & Alexander Question DOD's Probation Decision Regarding the University of Phoenix's Participation in the Military Tuition Assistance Program. October 22, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=d7d2b065-3df2-42ce-9763-82ed0310a6e6

Senator John McCain's Top Contributors. Center for Responsive Politics. Opensecrets.org. Acessible at: http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?cycle=Career&cid=n00006424



Friday, April 4, 2014

More Bad News About Student Loans: The Default Rate for Parent PLUS Loans Has Nearly Tripled Since 2006

Inside Higher Education reported today that the default rate for Parent PLUS loans has nearly tripled since 2006.  According to the Department of Education's most recent report, the three-year default rate on these loans is 5.1 percent.  In 2006, the PLUS loan default rate was only 1.8 percent.

The higher PLUS loan default rate doesn't sound too bad when compared to the overall student-loan three-year default rate--about 14 percent, according to DOE's report last October.  But let's look at the PLUS Loan default rate for parents of students attending for-profit colleges--13.3 percent! 

That's a scary number. And keep in mind that parents are not required to begin making loan payments until their children complete their studies.  If a student takes six years to graduate  (which is typical) or enrolls for graduate studies, the parent is not obligated to make loan payments until those studies are complete. Meanwhile, the interest is accruing on those loans--making them more difficult to repay.



Some institutional players--the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, in particular, are protesting recent efforts by DOE to tighten loan standards for PLUS loans. They say that making it more difficult for parents to borrow money for their children to attend college will disproportionately effect African American families and make it more difficult for African Americans to attend college.

But the HBCUs are primarily thinking about themselves, don't you think?  They don't want the feds to reduce the flow of federal student-aid dollars by making it harder for parents to take out PLUS loans.

A number of people commented on today's Inside Higher Education article, and it is clear to me that many of the commentators know a lot about the PLUS loan issue.  But as of this morning, not a single commentator pointed out that PLUS loans, like all federally-sponsored student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy unless the parents can show "undue hardship."

In other words, parents who borrow money under the PLUS program don't have reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts if they run into financial trouble caused by illness or the loss of a job. Thus, if their children get in over their heads by borrowing more money than they can pay back, both the student and the parents will be saddled with a debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy absent very unusual circumstances.

The higher education industry's discussions about the federal student loan crisis has an Alice in Wonderland quality about it.  The colleges and universities--whether public, private, for-profit or HBCUs--are primarily interested in keeping that federal student aid money flowing. They are like crack addicts--addicted to federal money just to keep their doors open.

We should be making every effort to keep college costs from continuing to rise. We should discourage parents from taking out personal loans to pay for their children's education. And--this is very important--we should amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow overburdened student loan debtors to discharge their debts in bankruptcy, whether they are students or the parents of students.

References

Michael Stratford, Education Department releases default rate data on controversial Parent PLUS loans. Inside Higher Education, April 3, 2014.  Available at:




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How high Is the student loan default rate? Buddy, you don't really want to know.

 How many people have kissed my girlfriend, Eddy Arnold asked in one of his greatest hit songs. "How many, how many, I wonder. But I really don't want to know."

No, Eddy decides he would rather remain ignorant. In fact he instructs his girlfriend not to tell him about her former lovers, even if he asks.  "So always make me wonder," Eddy Arnold crooned. "Always make me guess. And even if I ask you, darling please don't confess."

Eddy Arnold
"I really don't want to know."
That's kind of the way the Department of Education feels about the federal student loan program.  Every autumn, DOE reports on the federal student-loan default rate.  But DOE's measure vastly understates the true default rate.  Like Eddy Arnold, DOE really doesn't want to know the truth. Or maybe DOE knows the truth and doesn't want us to know.

Nevertheless, let's look at DOE's latest report on student-loan default rates. According to DOE, 14.7 percent of students who began repayment in the 2010 fiscal year defaulted within three years. As usual, the default rate is highest in the for-profit college sector.  About one in five people who attended for-profit colleges  (21.8 percent) defaulted within three years of beginning repayment.

I've said this many times, but it bears repeating: The true student-loan default rate--the percentage of students who default over the lifetime of their entire loan-repayment period--is probably double the rate that DOE announced this week. In other words, the true default rate for all student borrowers is about 30 percent and the rate for people who took out loans to attend for-profit colleges is at least 40 percent.

As Senator Tom Hawkins' Senate Committee Report on for-profit colleges spelled out, the for-profit colleges are very sophisticated when it comes to managing their institutional default rates. They encourage former students who are in danger of defaulting during the first three years of repayment to apply for economic hardship deferments. Borrowers who get deferments are not counted as defaulters even though they are not making their loan payments. And these deferments are very easy to get.

How many people have obtained some kind of deferment or forbearance on their student loans? Almost nine million people, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's nine million people who are not making loan payments but who aren't counted as defaulters.

Of course some people who get economic hardship deferments will eventually make their loan payments, but a lot of them will not. And those people are not included in DOE's default rate.

When we look at all the evidence, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the federal student-loan program has wrecked the lives of about 30 percent of the program's participants. Isn't it time we confront this stark reality?

But DOE, Congress, and the higher education community don't want to face the truth.  And so DOE continues to post its misleading student-loan default rates and the total amount of student-loan indebtedness continues to rise.  

References

Nick DeSantis. Default rate on federal student loans climbs again. Chronicle of Higher Education, September 30, 2013. Accessible at: http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/default-rate-on-federal-student-loans-climbs-again/66985?cid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why President Obama's Proposal for Controlling College Costs is a Nonstarter

In politics as in life, there are problem solvers and there are problem managers.

President Obama is a problem manager.  Before he was elected president, he saw Guantanamo as a problem to be solved, and he promised to close it. Five years into his term of office, Guantanamo is still open; it is being managed.

Ma'am, I don't solve problems; I manage them.


Likewise with the student loan crisis. Fifty Million Americans now hold $1.2 trillion in student loan debt.  About 6.5 million people have formally defaulted, and another 9 million are not making payments because they have been granted deferments or forbearances. 

For-profit colleges account for almost half of all student loan defaults.  The Department of Education reports that about 20 percent of student loans originating in the for-profit sector default within three years of entering repayment, but DOE estimates that almost half of all students who borrow money to attend a for-profit institution will eventually default.

Now that's a problem. Is the Obama administration trying to solve it? No it is not.

Last week, President Obama proposed the creation of a college rating system whereby the federal government will rank colleges and universities based on their costs, their graduation rates, the number of low-income students they enroll, and some other factors.  The President hopes to link this rating system to the federal student loan program, perhaps allowing students who attend high-ranking colleges to borrow money at a lower interest rate.

By introducing such a system, the President hopes to encourage colleges to keep their tuition prices down and stop the ever-increasing cost of attending college. In short, President Obama wants to manage the student loan crisis, not solve it.

Why is President Obama's college ranking system doomed to fail? Several reasons:

Colleges will just game the system. First as the New York Times pointed out in a recent editorial, colleges are very good at gaming the system when it comes to measuring college quality. We've seen how they've manipulated data to make themselves look better in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.  They will use the same tactics if the feds implement a college rating system. So why go through this charade?

DOE doesn't even give us useful information about student-loan default rates. Second, DOE has shown itself unable to provide the public with accurate information about one simple measurement--the student-loan default rate.  DOE only measures the number of people who default during the first three year of the repayment period--currently about 13 percent.  But the number of people who default over the lifetime of the repayment period is much higher--probably double DOE's posted rate.  And that''s the number the public really needs to know.

If DOE can't report an accurate and useful student loan default rate--a simple thing to do, what makes anyone think it can manage a much more complicated college ranking system?

Students and families won't choose a college based on the federal ranking system. Third, students and their families won't make college choices based on the federal government's rankings, so why set up a bureaucratic ranking system?  Texas high school graduate are not going choose between enrolling at the University of Texas or Texas A & M based on rankings reported by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  They choose their college based on a host of very personal factors, not the least of which involves the varsity football team's win-loss record.

The Clery Act, which Congress passed in 1990, demonstrates my point.  Congress passed the Clery Act in the wake of the rape and murder of Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University, based on the belief that parents need more information about crime rates in and around the nation's colleges and universities.  The law requires all higher education institutions that receive federal funds to report crime activity in their campus communities on an annual basis.

Although the Clery Act has some useful features--colleges are required to notify the campus community of ongoing criminal activities--I have never met anyone who made a decision about where to go to college based on the Clery Act's crime reports.

If students and their parents aren't going to make college choices based on the Clery Act's crime statistics, they are not going to make them based on Secretary Duncan's rating system.  Does anyone disagree?

Why impose more federal regulations on a host of colleges that are doing a pretty good job? Finally, President Obama wants to impose another layer of bureaucratic measurements on colleges and universities that are already overly regulated.  And a lot of these institutions are doing a pretty good job.  College tuition has gone through the roof at the Ivy League colleges and other elite universities, but a college education is still fairly reasonable at the nation's community colleges and regional universities, like the one where I teach.

The growing level of student-loan debt is a big problem that gets bigger every day, and there is no simple solution. Nevertheless, it is clear that the rapacious for-profit college industry is the source of a lot of student indebtedness and about half of the student-loan defaults. 

We won't solve the student-loan crisis until we bring the for-profit colleges under control. Unfortunately, President Obama doesn't have the political courage to tackle that problem.  He would rather rank all colleges than put the bad apples out of business.

In short, President Obama doesn't want to solve the student-loan crisis, he wants to manage it--at last until his term of office expires.

References

Editorial. A Federal Prod to Lower College Costs. New York Times, August 22, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/23/opinion/a-federal-prod-to-lower-college-costs.html?_r=0

Michael Shear and Tamar Lewin. On Bus Tour, Obama Seeks to Shame Colleges Into Easing Costs. New York Times, August 22, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/23/us/politics/obama-vows-to-shame-colleges-into-keeping-costs-down.html?ref=opinion