Paula Edwards, a single mother with two children, obtained a bachelor's degree in education from Newman University, a small Catholic college located in Wichita, Kansas. Newman's tuition rates are higher than public universities in Kansas, but Edwards chose Newman because she could take most of her classes in the evening while continuing to work as a paralegal.
Edward's education degree qualified her for a job in education, and in the fall of 2016 she was in her fourth year as an elementary school teacher in Wellington, Kansas. Edwards' teaching job does not pay well; she makes only $35,300 a year. Moreover, unless she obtains more education, Edwards' salary will not go up much. In fact, her salary is capped at $35,700--only $400 a year more than she is making now.
Most people who choose the teaching profession are attracted by the intangible rewards of educating children; they realize they will never become rich. Unfortunately, Edwards chose to get her teacher training at an expensive college, and she had to borrow a lot of money to get her degree. In fact, in 2015, when she filed for bankruptcy, Edwards owed $151,000 in student loans.
Obviously, there is no plausible scenario whereby Edwards can pay back $151,000 on a salary of $35,000. In fact, she seems like an ideal candidate for bankruptcy. But when Edwards filed for bankruptcy in 2015, she was confronted by a major obstacle. Under Section 523(a)(8) of the Bankruptcy Code, debtors cannot discharge their student loans in bankruptcy unless they can show undue hardship. And this is very hard to do.
Remarkably, Edwards won something of a victory in a Kansas bankruptcy court. Although the bankruptcy judge refused to relieve her of $72,000 in federal student loans, the judge did discharge her private student loans--about $58,000. Essentially, the judge forced Edwards to sign up for an income-driven repayment plan (IDR) for her federal loans with monthly payments set at only $21 a month based on her current salary. If she makes regular payments for 20 years, the balance of her loan will be forgiven.
But here's the problem with Edwards' IDR--assuming she enrolls in the plan the government offered. Interest is accruing on the $72,000 Edwards owes on her student loans, and $21 a month doesn't begin to pay that interest. All unpaid interest will be capitalized and added to her loan balance.
Given her likely income trajectory as a Kansas school teacher, Edwards will probably owe twice what she borrowed when her 20-year repayment plan comes to an end in 2036.
But it gets worse. The federal government considers a forgiven loan as taxable income. Thus, Edwards could be forced to pay taxes on $150,000 in so-called "income," because that is probably the amount she will owe when her 20-year repayment plan is concluded.
If Edwards were indebted for any reason other than her student loans, she could shed her debts in bankruptcy and get the "fresh start" that bankruptcy is intended to provide. But the "undue hardship" rule in the Bankruptcy Code has probably forced her into a repayment plan that will stretch over the majority of her working life. She will be 56 when her payment obligations stop and she will face a whopping tax bill.
Tuition and fees at Newman amount to almost $28,000 a year; and that does not include books and living expenses. No wonder Edwards owes $151,000 in student loans.
Does Newman University bear any responsibility for what happened to Edwards? I think it does. Surely Newman officials should have warned Edwards that it would not work out for her financially if she borrowed money to get a Newman degree in order to become a school teacher.
Nicholas Eberstadt, writing for zerohedge.com, reported recently that a lot of graduates believe their college studies were not worthwhile. People who graduated in liberal arts or social studies were particularly dissatisfied. In a survey of 1800 graduates, more than two thirds of psychology graduates said their degrees were "not worth it." And almost half the people who graduated in fine arts, history, geography, and politics expressed the same view.
Eberstadt's report did not include any data for people who graduate in the field of education, but I feel sure a great many people who chose to get education degrees from expensive private colleges regret their decision. More than 20 years after getting a doctorate in education policy from Harvard, I can assure you that my Harvard experience was extravagantly overpriced.
Eberstadt argues persuasively that the federal government has fueled the demand for postsecondary education by offering students cheap money to go to college. "Loaning these funds at below market interest rates and backing up these risky loans has led to massive malinvestment . . ." Eberstadt wrote.
Eberstadt is right. And Paula Edwards, who borrowed more than $100,000 in good faith to attend an expensive private college in order to become an elementary-school teacher, is just one among millions of casualties of our disastrous federal loan program.
|Harvard Graduate School of Education: an elite school for suckers|
Tyler Durden. The Most (And Least) Worthwhile Degrees. zerohedge.com (March 5, 2017).
Edwards v. Navient Solutions, Inc., 561 B.R. 848 (D. Kan. 2016).
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