Winston Churchill, in a speech delivered after the Battle of Egypt, Britain's first major victory in the Second World War, uttered these immortal words: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Something similar might be said about the recent bankruptcy filing of Corinthian Colleges, one of the largest chains of for-profit colleges, which once had enrollments totally more than 100,000 students. Corinthian's collapse does not signal the end of federal funding for the for-profit college industry. The Department of Education will continue pouring money down the rat hole of for-profit higher education at an enormous rate--more than $30 billion per year. And the for-profits will continue to use litigation, lobbying, and strategic campaign contributions to protect their interests.
But the Corinthian bankruptcy does mark a new phase in the downward spiral of the federal student loan program. First of all, Corinthian is one of the largest for-profit college chains in the United States, with 350,000 former students. Under federal law, its closure will require the Department of Education to forgive the student loans of at least some of those students. According to the New York Times, if all 350,000 apply for loan forgiveness and those applications are granted, Corinthian's collapse will cost taxpayers about $3.5 billion.
Thus far, DOE has granted loan forgiveness to 3,000 former Corinthian students, which will cost the taxpayers about $40 million (as reported in Chronicle of Higher Education). But that's only a drop in the bucket.
Let's say half of Corinthians' ex-students are entitled to a loan discharge on the grounds that they were victims of misrepresentations or did not receive fair value for their tuition dollars, which, it seems to me, would be a reasonable estimate of the percentage who are entitled to relief. Half of all of Corinthian Colleges' former students is about 175,000 people. And if all those people's loans were forgiven it would cost the American taxpayers well over $2 billion. And Corinthian is just one of many for-profits who have given students very little of value for the tuition that was paid with federal student loans.
But of course the Department of Education will never grant relief on that scale. It will bustle about the edges of the for-profit scandal, making sympathetic clucking noises while failing to confront this huge crisis. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, DOE has received just 12,000 applications for some kind of loan relief from former Corinthian students, a small fraction of the total number of people who deserve assistance.
Meanwhile, as DOE bureaucrats grant loan relief to a handful of student-loan debtors who attended Corinthian campuses, DOE lawyers go into the federal bankruptcy courts again and again to oppose bankruptcy discharge for the few desperate individuals who have the temerity to seek justice through the bankruptcy process.
Nevertheless, to paraphrase Churchill, the Corinthian debacle is the end of the beginning. Whether DOE wants to admit it or not, the federal student-loan crisis is gathering steam like a locomotive and thundering down the tracks toward a disaster for America's colleges and universities.
Fortunately for President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan, they have time to get off the tracks before the train arrives. By the time the student-loan program blows up in America's face, they will be out of office and safely ensconced in cushy academic posts at one of the elite universities that made their own contributions to the student-loan catastrophe.
|Arne feels your pain--just a little bit of your pain.|
Kelly Field, "U.S. Has Forgiven Loans of More Than 3,000 Ex-Corinthian Students, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2015. Accessible at: http://chronicle.com/article/US-Has-Forgiven-Loans-of/232855/?cid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en
Tamar Lewin, "Government to Forgive Student Loans at Corinthian Colleges," New York Times, June 8, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/09/education/us-to-forgive-federal-loans-of-corinthian-college-students.html?_r=0