Saturday, April 4, 2020

"Seeing poor white people makes me happy": Should you take out student loans to attend SUNY Old Westbury?

Do you remember Associate Professor Nicholas Powers, who made the national news a while back for posting an online essay titled "Seeing poor white people makes me happy"?

According to the New York Post, Powers penned an essay in which he wrote that "White people begging us for food feels like justice . . . it feels like a Black Nationalist wet dream."

Professor Powers is a tenured professor at SUNY Old Westbury, a public university in the state of New York. He makes $82,122 a year, plus benefits, which undoubtedly includes excellent health insurance and a pension plan.

And yet he rails against poor white people.  Describing his reaction to seeing a homeless white man in a black neighborhood, Powers wrote, "Should I kick him in the face? Hard?" Also describing his emotions about seeing a white homeless man, he wrote: "Today I own my anger. I want to snatch his food and say, 'Go beg in a white neighborhood!' And eat it. And rub my belly. And laugh."

So what does it cost to attend SUNY Old Westbury, where Professor Powers teaches in the English Department?  For in-state students, it cost about  $24,000 for tuition, fees, room, and board. That's roughly $100,000 for a four-year degree.

America has plunged into a deep economic Depression. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the unemployment rate may hit 32 percent--higher than during the 1930s.  Young people who are in college now need to keep their expenses down and study a subject that will lead to a good job.

So if you are a young New York college student, ask yourself this question. Does it make sense to take out student loans to attend SUNY Old Westbury and take classes from Professor Powers? I don't think so.

On the other hand, if you borrow money to get a degree from SUNY Old Westbury and can't get a job, you shouldn't worry. You can always sign up for a 25-year, income-based repayment plan to service your student loans.

That plan will terminate when you are in your fifties. By that time, Professor Powers will probably be retired and living on his generous New York state pension, a pension you will help pay for with your taxes.


Professor Nicholas Powers: "Seeing poor white people makes me happy."




I

Friday, April 3, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic: Is it time to stock up on canned goods and ammunition?

On the last day of February, I was attending the annual meeting of the Texas State Historical Association in Austin, Texas. I was thinking about history, not the coronavirus.

Today, I am "sheltering in place" in my home in Baton Rouge and 10,000 Louisianians have been diagnosed with COVID-19. As Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys reminded us during the Great Depression, "Time changes everything."

In the twinkle of an eye, the stock market plummeted more than 11,000 points. Retired Americans lost a substantial amount of their saving, which they probably won't recover. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis predicts an unemployment rate of more than 30 percent in the coming months, higher than during the Great Depression.

In my own extended family, four people have lost their jobs. My niece and her husband worked in New Orleans restaurants, and now they are both out of work. They have two small children.

Handguns, shotguns, and assault rifles are flying off the shelves, and some stores have run out of ammunition. A gunshop in my city ran a firearms sale recently, and you could pick up a 9 mm semi-automatic for less than $300.

Is it time to start stockpiling canned goods and ammunition?  I say not yet.

Americans are confident and self-reliant people. Our medical researchers and researchers in Asia and Europe will come up with a vaccine for coronavirus, and then we will all get vaccinated.  I believe we will conquer this virus within a couple of years at the latest.

The economy, however, is another thing entirely. President Trump signed a $2 trillion relief bill intended to head off a Depression.  But our government was running a deficit budget even before the pandemic began, and a $2 trillion bailout by itself won't bring my relatives' jobs back.

For a long time now, Americans have been living like "the road goes on forever, and the party never ends." But the party is over. At the governmental level and the personal level, we've borrowed too much money, and we can't pay it back.

We can take out more credit cards and print more money, but our reckoning day is near. When will it be time to start stocking up on canned goods and ammunition? Perhaps when the California and Illinois pension funds collapse.  Or when China starts dumping U.S. bonds.






Monday, March 30, 2020

God Bless John Prine!

The lonesome friends of science say
"The world will end most any day."
Well, if it does, then that's okay
'Cause I don't live here anyway

John Prine is one of the three greatest American songwriters of the past century. With Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, Prine sang (and still sings) about the world where most of us really live.  He will be remembered long after the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and Elton John are forgotten.

And now John Prine has the coronavirus.  

When I heard the news this morning, one of his lyrics immediately came to mind. "The lonesome friends of science say the world will end most any day." 

And indeed, American life as we know it has ground to a halt.  The world of easy credit, Caribbean cruises, and an ever-rising stock market has been swept away. 

Without a doubt, the world where I made a living--the world of higher education--is fast sinking into oblivion.  As the nation's unemployment rate rises, who will take out student loans to study transnational sexualities and queer theory at Mills College?  Who still wants to borrow money to study sociology, anthropology, fine arts, art history, etc.  Who even needs an MBA?

And if the world of American higher education comes to an end, that's okay with me. I never lived there anyway. I never understood academia's obsession with race and sexuality, its neurotic fixation on victimhood, or the mean-spirited arrogance that permeates our nation's most elite colleges.

In the years to come, most Americans are going to get a lot poorer, and many of us have figured out that a college degree or a graduate degree from an overrated university may not improve our life's trajectory.  

So what should we do? Voltaire said we should cultivate our gardens, but John Prine expressed this sentiment better in the lyrics of Spanish Pipe Dream.  Yes--let's blow up our televisions, throw away our newspapers, plant a little garden, and try to find Jesus on our own.

John Prine assures us we will be fine.







Thursday, March 26, 2020

"It ain't pretty, and it ain't effective": Expert urges colleges not to assess the quality of online instruction during coronavirus pandemic

Even before President Trump declared a national emergency, some American colleges and universities closed their doors, kicked students out of their dorms, and sent them home. In response to the COVID-19 virus, the nation's schools swiftly shifted from face-to-face instruction to distance learning.

Without question, it was the responsible thing to do. A few college leaders even framed their actions as almost heroic. The presidents of Harvard, Stanford, and MIT published an op-ed essay in the New York Times titled "We Lead Three Universities: It's time for drastic action." Yuh think?

Of course, the universities had no choice but to move to online teaching. Unless the colleges want to refund their students for missed instructional time and closed libraries, the coronavirus gave them only one option: immediately switch from face-to-face teaching to online instruction. And this they speedily did.

Jonathan Zimmerman, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, pointing out that the coronavirus outbreak provides a perfect opportunity to conduct research on the effectiveness of online learning. That seems like a good idea.

But a few days later, Thomas J. Tobin, a Wisconsin professor, rebuked Zimmerman in the pages of The Chronicle  "Now is Not the Time to Assess Online Learning, "  Tobin titled his rebuttal essay. Many professors are not adequately trained for online teaching, Tobin argued, and the "impact of throwing untrained or poorly trained instructors into online teaching" is not good. "The short version," Tobin emphasized: "It ain't pretty, and it ain't effective."

But I agree with Professor Zimmerman. American students have been lab rats for distance learning for more than 25 years. It's time we gave serious thought to what in the hell we are doing to the kids.

The for-profit colleges were the first to get in on the online-learning scam. They figured out that teaching hundreds of students asynchronously is considerably cheaper than teaching a few students on an actual college campus. Who needs all that ivy; all those drafty,  neo-gothic buildings; those grumpy, overpaid professors? Who needs all those union-wage cops and custodians, those dorm mothers, a book store?

 No, let's persuade pajama-clad kids to just stare at their computers all day in their own apartments. They can pay their tuition online and not show up on campus until graduation day!

Public colleges, alarmed by the competition from the venal for-profits, jumped into online learning as well.  Soon online degree programs were being advertised all over the country--especially on urban billboards and public buses.

Now--and this is literally true--an American student can get a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and a doctoral degree without ever stepping inside a classroom.

And here's the beauty of the New Age when students and teachers don't need to meet.  Online education can be just as expensive as face-face-to-face! That's right: you can pay the price of a Harvard education without ever having to put your clothes on in the morning.

Let's return now to the debate between Profesor Zimmerman and Professor Tobin. Notice that Professor Tobin did not argue that we should stop online instruction.  In fact, I'm sure he loves it. No, Tobin is merely saying we shouldn't evaluate it right now.

I'm with Professor Zimmerman. Let's see if anyone is getting their money's worth from taking courses in front of their commuters. And why not do it now?

"Oh, my God! I forgot to fill out my FASFA application."



Monday, March 23, 2020

This Recession is different: Unemployed Americans should be wary about going to graduate school

Traditionally, graduate school has been an excellent place to hang out for people who are unemployed or clueless about their life's vocation.

 In the old days, tuition was cheap, and a grad student had a good chance of picking up an instructor's job or a research assistant position to help pay the bills. The cost of living was low in a lot of college towns, and there were plenty of bars, live music, and sexually active young people.

Not a bad life! And you could tell your parents that you were in graduate school instead of admitting that you were out of work.

It's not surprising then that in the recession of 2008-2009, a great many unemployed Americans flocked to graduate school.  Graduate school seemed like the right place to park until the economy rebounded. And a master's degree, students told themselves, would help them get back in the job market.

To meet the growing demand, the universities ramped up their graduate programs. Like a medicine-show huckster at the county fair, the colleges rolled out all sorts of new master's degree programs in such fields as sports management, emergency management, hospital administration, criminal justice, and law enforcement.

And of course, the big lure for a lot of young people struggling in a faltering economy was the MBA degree.  All the elite universities have had MBA programs for years: Harvard, Stanford, M.I.T., etc.  But, a few years ago, the regional public universities and second-rank private colleges got in on the act. Some rolled out online MBA programs or so-called "executive" MBAs that offered classes on weekends.

Unfortunately, many of the people who got graduate degrees over the past decade saw little or no economic benefit. So many people obtained them for a time that employers saw them as nothing special. As The Economist observed in an article published almost four years ago, "Simply put, MBAs are no longer rare, and as such are no longer a guarantee for employment."

But the most significant danger of going to graduate school is cost. Under the Grad Plus program, students can take out federal student loans for the entire cost of their degrees, including living expenses, no matter how much tuition that a college or university charges.

The University of Texas, for example, now pegs the cost of getting an MBA degree at its Austin campus at $100,000 for its two-year program. Graduates who borrow the entire sum will enter the job market with $100,000 in debt.

So if the current Recession throws you out of work, don't go to graduate school without giving it a great deal of thought. A master's degree might improve your chances of getting a good job, but it might leave you with no prospect of a job and a mountain of student-loan debt--debt that is virtually nondischargeable in bankruptcy.


Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and sign up for our prestigious executive MBA program.





Saturday, March 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic and broad relief for battered student-loan debtors: Congress needs to go big or go home!

The coronavirus pandemic rolls along like a tropical storm gathering force in the Gulf of Mexico.
Every day, it kills more Americans and further batters the national economy. The airline industry, the travel industry, and the restaurant business are begging for financial assistance to help them survive an economic crisis that no one saw coming.

PresidentTrump and Congress are working on a $2 trillion aid package to assist industries that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak and provide cash assistance to individuals who lost their jobs or their businesses due to the pandemic.

Lawmakers also recognize that student-loan debtors need relief. Even before the pandemic, millions of college-loan borrowers were struggling to pay off their loans. Now--as the unemployment rate rises and whole industries collapse, a lot of student-loan debtors have their backs to the wall.

Republicans and Democrats have both proposed some form of assistance for student debtors. The Republicans recommend giving students a three-month break from their student-loan payments with no interest accruing.  The Democrats want the Department of Education to make student-loan payments on borrowers' behalf for as long as the national emergency lasts.

These proposals are a good start, but they do not go far enough. More than 45 million people have outstanding student loans, and less than half of them can pay them back. As President Trump might say, it's time to "go big" when we think about student-loan relief.

First of all, let's take a look at Senator Bernie Sander's proposal for total student-loan forgiveness—a $1.6 trillion-dollar bailout. Let's also examine Senator Elizabeth Warren's plan for loan forgiveness up to $50,000 per debtor. These ideas are not as wacky as some commentators have made them sound.

Regarding Bernie's idea, let's face facts. More than 8 million people are in long-term, income-based repayment plans, and most of these people are not paying down the interest on their loans. In fact, their loan balances grow with each passing month due to accruing interest. Millions more are in default or have their student loans in deferment. They're not paying their loans back either.

What's the point of pretending the student-loan scheme is a solvent federal program? It's not.  Bernie's plan to wipe out all student debt and offer a free college education is a logical proposal.

Senator Warren's plan to help student debtors also makes sense.  She wants to cap debt relief at $50,000, and that would help a great many people. After all, as  Don Trooper and colleagues recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, people with small loan balances are more likely to default on their loans than people who owe $100,000 or more.

Forgiving student debt for individuals who ow relatively small amounts would help a lot of debtors who took out student loans to attend for-profit colleges and trade schools and didn't benefit from their educational experience.  That would be a good thing.

But if we really want to "go big," Congress must do two straightforward things. First, it must strike the"undue hardship." language from the Bankruptcy Code and allow insolvent student-loan borrowers to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured consumer debt. Second, it must repeal those provisions of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act that made it more complicated and more expensive for beaten-down debtors to file for bankruptcy.

The very purpose of bankruptcy in American law is to give honest but unfortunate debtors a fresh start. Lawmakers need to remember that now as we enter into this century's Great Depression.

The 2020 Depression will look a lot like the Depression of the 1930s.









Thursday, March 19, 2020

Goodbye to all that: The coronavirus will sink many small colleges

Three presidents of elite colleges--Harvard, M.I.T., and Stanford--published an op-ed essay in the New York Times a few days ago, justifying their decisions to close their campuses. To increase social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, the three university presidents wrote, they were forced to take drastic action:
That meant turning university life upside down: suddenly sending virtually all of our undergraduates home; asking faculty to swiftly bring all instruction online; canceling academic, athletic, artistic and cultural events, and virtually all in-person meetings; shutting our libraries; and asking everyone who could work remotely to do so right away.
The elite presidents basically did what most college presidents did over the past couple of weeks; they shut down their campuses. Of course, this was a severe inconvenience; but Harvard, Stanford, and M.I.T. will weather this disruption.  All three have enormous endowments, wealthy donors, and millions of dollars in federal research grants. When the coronavirus crisis is over, life for them will quickly return to normal.

But a lot of small colleges were teetering on the brink of closure even before the coronavirus pandemic began. As Scott Carlson recently reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, six out of ten colleges failed to meet their enrollment goals last fall, and two-thirds of the colleges were unable to achieve their revenue goals.

This crisis will push many small colleges over the edge. According to Education Drive, which keeps track of college closings, 95 nonprofit colleges have merged or closed since 2016. This trend will surely accelerate. I think at least 100 small colleges will close within the next two years.

Many small colleges will suffer death from a thousand cuts. To begin with, the demographics for higher education are not good. The number of people in the traditional college-going age has shrunk, and college enrollments have suffered. Colleges have experienced enrollment declines for eight consecutive years.

These declines were not distributed evenly across the higher education community. By and large, the public flagship universities have continued to grow at the expense of small private colleges and regional public institutions.

Colleges have tried various tactics to grow their enrollments. Several years ago, the small, private colleges began discounting their tuition rates to lure students through the doors. The average discount for first-year students at small private colleges is now about 50 percent. But for many colleges, this tactic did not allow them to balance their budgets.

 In addition, a lot of colleges recruited international students to juice their enrollments and their revenues.  Most international students pay the full freight, compared to Amerian students who often receive grants, scholarships, or discounts. But foreign-student enrollment has declined substantially in recent years, and the federal ban on international travel will likely accelerate this trend.

Spring is recruiting season for both public and private colleges, the time when college recruiters strive desperately to sign up enough students to have a healthy sized freshman class. But these recruiting drives are being canceled due to the pandemic, and many colleges will have fewer first-year students as a result.

The coronavirus pandemic itself has a financial cost, and this cost will hit small colleges hard. Colleges that close their dormitories will be forced to pay out refunds to students who live in campus housing. Some schools may not have the liquidity to make these payouts.

Although circumstances will vary, the virus will force many colleges to pay employees to work less productively from home or cease work altogether. Sanitizing college buildings, athletic facilities, and residence halls will be costly. College professors are being ordered to teach their face-to-face classes online, and many professors do not have online teaching skills. Retooling professors to teach their courses in a new way is an unanticipated expense.

Kent Chabotar, a nationally recognized higher-education expert, summarized the pandemic's impact this way: "We've run into a crisis, and our flexibility is shot because we've already given away the store" [with high tuition-discount rates and other desperate measures].

In short, the coronavirus pandemic is an existential crisis for America's small colleges. When the crisis is over, a significant number of them will be closed.

This is my advice. If you are a young person thinking about attending a small, private college with high tuition, you might think again. Enrolling at a state university might make more sense because a public university is less likely to close than a small, private school.

If you are a college professor employed by a struggling, small nonprofit college, it is probably time to develop your Plan B. Think about what you will do if you are laid off, or your college closes.

For everyone who works or studies at a small, private college, it is time to face facts. The future is not bright at the nation's little colleges and universities, whether they are public or private. If you link your future to one of these struggling institutions, you may go down with the ship.