Showing posts with label student loan defaults. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student loan defaults. Show all posts

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 defaulted within 12 years. In essence, African Americans who borrow to enroll in a for-profit institution are playing Russian roulette with their financial futures--Russian roulette with four bullets in the 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

References

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.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why borrow money to get a college education? John Kenneth Galbraith, education and The Good Society

More than 40 million Americans are burdened by student loans; and collectively, they hold $1.4 trillion in student-loan debt. A great many of these people are finding it difficult to repay what they borrowed. Last year, Americans defaulted from the government's direct lending program at the rate of 3,000 a day. About 8 million people  are in default on their loans. Almost 6 million are unable to repay their loans over the standard 10-year repayment period and have enrolled in income-driven repayment plans that stretch their monthly payments over 20 or 25 years.

Why should Americans go into debt to get a college education? Is a college degree so valuable that it makes sense to borrow money to get one--even when it might take a person a quarter of a century to repay the debt?

The higher education industry argues ad nauseam that workers with college degrees make more money than people who have no degrees--about a million dollars on average over their working lifetimes. But of course, this bald statement does not explain why going to college has gotten so expensive or why a college degree is useful beyond its power to raise lifetime income.

John Kenneth Galbraith: Education and The Good Society

About 20 years ago, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote a book titled The Good Society. Galbraith defined the good society as a society in which  "all of its citizens . . .  have personal liberty, basic well-being, racial and ethnic equality,[and] the opportunity for a rewarding life" (p. 4).

Galbraith argued that the achievement and sustenance of a good society depends on education. He devoted a chapter of his book to education, which, Galbraith wrote, was valuable in three senses.

A. Economic value of education

First, Galbraith acknowledged that education has economic value not only for the individual but for society as a whole. At the personal level, education enables individuals to raise their economic status.

To make this point, Galbraith pointed to the upward mobility of European migrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Most of these immigrants arrived in the United States in utter poverty; yet by the second or third generation, their descendants had scrambled into the middle class.

This remarkable achievement was made possible, Galbraith argued, by education. "For upward escape, either by the individual or by his or her children, education is the decisive agent," Galbraith wrote.

But education is also critical to society as a whole, Galbraith continued, because it contributes to societal stability. "For one thing,' Galbraith wrote, "education has a vital bearing on social peace and tranquility; it is education that provides the hope and the reality of escape from the lower, less-favored social and economic strata to those above."

B. Intrinsic value of education

Galbraith then went on to articulate the intangible rewards of education:
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.
In this passage, Galbraith summarized perhaps what academicians across the country have been saying for years--that higher education, and liberal arts education in particular, enhances the quality of our lives.

C. Education is an indispensable component of a modern and complex democratic society


 Finally, Galbraith argued persuasively that education is necessary to maintain a modern and complex democratic society. As societies advance economically and accept more and more responsibility for social welfare, Galbraith wrote, the problems of government become more complex and diverse.
There must then be either a knowledgeable electorate intellectually abreast of these issues and decisions or a more or less total delegation of them to the state and its bureaucracy. Or there must be surrender to the voices of ignorance and error. These, in turn, are destructive of the social and political structure itself.
Further, Galbraith wrote, education not only makes democracy possible, it also makes it necessary. Democracy "is the natural consequence of education and economic development," he argued, because there is no other practical design for governing people, who because of their educational attainments, expect to be heard and cannot be kept in silent subjugation."

American higher education today is eroding The Good Society

I think almost everyone would agree with Galbraith that education has both economic and intrinsically life-enriching  benefits. But let's look at the state of higher education today--20 years after Galbraith wrote The Good Society.

First, the federal government allows for-profit colleges and schools to prey on unsophisticated young Americans, particularly those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.  Millions have taken out student loans to pay for educational experiences that are overpriced and often do not lead to good jobs.  Consequently, students who attended for-profit schools have a five-year default rate of 47 percent. Meanwhile, many of the schools themselves have been charged with fraud.

Even reputable private liberal arts colleges are charging more for a liberal arts degree than the degree is worth in economic terms. It is simply indefensible for someone to pay $150,000 to $200,000 to get a four-year degree in history, English, sociology or philosophy.  People who borrow to attend these expensive institutions are often unable to pay off their loans over 10 years and are forced into income-driven repayment plans that obligate them to make loan payments for 20 and even 25 years. For these people, higher education was not a liberating experience; rather it became the instrument by which they became economically enslaved.

Perhaps more importantly, contemporary higher education has morphed into a distorted version of its former character. Today, students shout down speakers who espouse disfavored points of view on political or social issues. Our civilization's heritage of literature, history and philosophy are disparaged and dismissed as irrelevant and even racist.

Indeed, students now think they are more qualified to decide what is important to study than their professors.  At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, students took down an image of Shakespeare and replaced it with the photo of Audre Lorde an obscure black female writer.

Will Lorde's photo remain in a place of honor indefinitely? Not likely. The incoming freshman class may decide that another writer is more important than Shakespeare or Lorde.  

And if the freshman class chooses to discard Lorde's photo for another writer--perhaps someone who has more "likes" on Facebook--who are the faculty to demure? After all, students at some colleges are paying about $5,000 a seat to attend an undergraduate class. Shouldn't they have the absolute right to dictate what it is they want to study?

Tragically, education and the good society have become uncoupled. In fact, in some sort of bizarre reversal, education may now be eroding the Good Society rather than nurturing it.

John Kenneth Galbraith: some old white guy whose work you need not read


References

John Kenneth Galbraith. The Good Society: The Humane Agenda. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Olivia Sylvester. Students remove Shakespeare portrait in English dept., aiming for inclusivityDaily Pennsylvanian, December 11, 2016.






Thursday, August 1, 2013

President Obama Vows to Help the Middle Class: He Should Tackle the For-Profit Trade Schools

President Obama would like to help the middle class.
 
In a recent interview for the New York Times, President Obama promised to direct his energies to helping the middle class. "I will seize any opportunity I can find to work with Congress to strengthen the middle class, to improve their prospects, to improve their security," the President vowed.

That's great news.  And I have a suggestion for how President Obama and Congress can work together to clean up the federal student loan program by stopping unscrupulous for-profit trade schools from injuring middle-class and working-class Americans.

Emily Rueb recently wrote an article for the Times about some of the victims of New York City's for-profit beauty schools. Three of these schools were shut down in the 1990s "after accusations and indictments that they misused federal student loan money." These schools targeted lower-class women, including immigrants, promising them lucrative careers in the beauty and hair-care industry. Students recruited by the schools took out federal student loans to pay their tuition. The Times reported that at least  35,000 people borrowed money to attend these for-profit schools at just 10 locations.

Unfortunately, many of the women who attended these schools received little or no value for their tuition money. For example, Maria Machado, an immigrant from El Salvador, who spoke no English and had only a sixth-grade education, took out a federal student loan to attend a beauty-school program at Wilfred Academy, a for-profit trade school. According to Ms. Machado, the school did not prepare her to take New York City's licensing exam, which she needed to practice her new profession; and she never passed it.

Eventually, Ms. Machado abandoned her plans to pursue a career in the beauty business. She did not discover that she was several thousand dollars in debt on her student loans until she applied for citizenship and started having her federal income-tax refunds seized by the federal government.

According to the New York Times article, Wilfred Academy went out of business after it was found guilty of falsifying student-loan applications and misusing federal student loan money. But Wilfred Academy's closure had no impact on Ms. Machado's loan obligations.

Fortunately, Ms. Machado and several other victims of for-profit trade schools were able to get their student loans forgiven under the Department of Education's so-called "false-certification discharge" provision, which allows the government to forgive student loans taken out by people who attended a school that falsely certified that people who had not graduated from high school or obtained GED  certificates could benefit from the school's training program.

But get this. Ms. Machado remained liable on student loans taken out to attend a defunct trade school that provided her with little or no benefits for 23 years before she finally managed to get her loans forgiven. During that period, the government seized several of her federal income tax refund checks, and of course her credit was severely damaged.

Ms. Machado was fortunate to have gotten legal assistance from the New York Legal Assistance Group, a public-interest legal assistance organization. Otherwise, she would probably still be liable for her student loans

Obviously, Maria Machado had been treated unfairly by the Department of Education. DOE obviously knew that Wilfred Academy had been found guilty of misusing federal student loan money and falsifying student loan applications.  And DOE had the names of all the schools' students who had taken out federal student loans.

But DOE used the information it had on Wilfred Academy's former students to unleash debt collectors on these hapless  women and seize their income tax refunds rather than inform them they had a right to seek a discharge of their loans under the government' own "false-certification discharge" program. As Ms. Conner put it, "They [DOE] have this information, which they use for collection, but when it comes time to educate debtors, they don't."

This brings me to President Obama's recent promise to work with Congress to help the middle class. Helping people like Maria Machado is an obvious way to fulfill that promise. President Obama should actively work for passage of legislation that would kick the for-profit colleges and trade schools out of the federal student loan program.  Working class and middle class people should not even have the opportunity to go into debt to attend a for-profit post-secondary institution or trade school when there are so many public educational institutions and nonprofit colleges that are capable of meeting their educational needs at a lower cost.

Of course the for-profit institutions are politically powerful. They employ lobbyists and make strategic campaign contributions to powerful members of Congress.  President Obama and Congress may not have the political courage to shut down the for-profit education industry.

But President Obama and Congress should at least act to make sure that students who were victims of unscrupulous for-profit trade schools are relieved of their student-loan obligations just as soon as DOE knows that they have been victimized. Victims of worthless for-profit training programs should not be hounded by government-sponsored debt collectors for 20 years.

Surely, President Obama agrees with me about this, and surely he has the power to correct the injustices that were outlined in Ms. Rueb's recent New York Times article.

If President Obama doesn't agree or if he is powerless to help people like Maria Machado, then he should stop talking about helping the middle class.  Because if President Obama  can't fix this obvious problem with the federal student loan program, he can't fix anything.

 References

Jackie Calmes and Michael D. Shear. Obama Says Income Gap is Fraying U.S. Social Fabric. New York Times, July 27, 2013.

Emily S. Rueb. Promised Better Life By Beauty Schools, Graduates Have Little Training and Lasting Debt. New York Times, July 29, 2013, p. A12.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Memo to Senator Elizabeth Warrren: The Student Loan Program Doesn't Have the Sniffles; It Has Cancer

Don't get me wrong. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been a faithful and sincere advocate for indebted college students.  Likewise, the New York Time has repeatedly editorialized against abuses in the student loan program, and its reporters have done a great job documenting some of those abuses.

Just a little case of the sniffles?
photo credit: politico.com
But for Senator Warren and the New York Times to state that the federal government is making a profit on the federal student loan program shows how ignorant they are about the true state of that program.
Senator Warren, advocating for lower student-loan interest rates, stated emphatically that the government is making a profit on the new interest rate that went in effect on July 1. “Instead of helping our students, the government is making a profit on student loans,” Warren told a group of young people.  That is wrong, Warren declared. “That’s more than wrong. It’s obscene.”
And the New York Times is also under the mistaken impression that the government is turning a profit on student loans.  In an editorial entitled "The Student Loan Debacle," the Times cited a report from the Congressional Budget Office that concluded the government will make $184 billion on loans issued over the next ten years if it continues charging the current student-loan interest rate.
Of course, the CBO report is a complete fantasy. You can go on the web and read many excellent critiques of the CBO's accounting practices with regard to that report.  But you don't have to do that to know that all the talk about the government making a profit on student loans--obscene or otherwise--is pure baloney.
Let's look at some simple facts. Less than two weeks ago, the Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau--a federal agency--said that total outstanding student-loan indebtedness had grown 20 percent in just 18 months!  The Ombudsman estimates the total student loan debt at 1.01 trillion.
We know that the amount of money students borrow from the federal student loan program has gone up every year for a long time now, and that the average amount students borrow has gone up as well.
Finally, and most importantly, we know the student-loan default rate is going up.  The government puts the default rate at 13 percent based on the number of borrowers who default during the first three years of the repayment period. But everyone knows the real default rate is much higher.  (I have written about this many times.)

Do you see any profit for the government in any of this? Of course not.If Senator Warren and the New York Times really believe the federal government is making a profit from the program, then they've failed to grasp the fact that the government is losing billions of dollars due to student-loan defaults.
The current Congressional debate about the proper interest rate for student loans is a side show. Obviously, it would be a good thing for students if interest rates are kept low. But keeping interest rates low for future students does nothing for the millions of people who have already defaulted on their student loans.
Frankly, it disturbs me to hear Senator Warren demonstrate such a shocking lack of understanding about the federal student loan crisis.  Or perhaps she understands the crisis but is afraid to speak out more forthrightly because a big part of her constituency base is in Boston, with its large number of colleges and universities. Many of those colleges could not survive without the federal student loan program.

But Senator Warren came to the U.S. Senate with a reputation for being a courageous and vigorous advocate for the poor and middle class families. If she wants to keep that reputation, she needs to push legislation far more radical than simply keeping interest rates low for student loans. 

What should she do?
  • Senator Warren should support passage of  a law that will allow insolvent student-loan debtors to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy.
  • She needs to push for repeal of the 2005 law that makes it almost impossible for people to discharge student loans from private lenders like Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
  • Senator Warren should propose legislation to protect elderly insolvent student-loan debtors from having their Social Security checks garnished.
  • Finally, she needs to introduce legislation that will give student-loan debtors the right to sue colleges that have engaged in misrepresentation and fraud regarding their student aid practices.
Advocating for lower student-loan interest rates is simply tinkering around the edge of the student loan crisis.  We must remember that the student loan program is not a healthy entity with a little case of the sniffles. It is a cancer that is destroying the lives of millions of Americans.
 
 References
Editorial. The Student Loan Debacle. New York Times, July 24, 2013, pa. A22.

Ruth Tam. Warren: Profits from student loans are 'obscene." Washington Post, July 17, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/07/17/warren-profits-from-student-loans-are-obscene/

Wayne Winegarden. Uncle Sam's Phantom Loan Revenues. Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2013. Accessible at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323394504578608071549952576.html