Saturday, March 23, 2019

Don't want no stinkin' Louisiana driver's license: Andrea Ballinger, LSU administrator with six-figure salary, quits her job rather than get Louisiana driver's license

Louisiana law requires unclassified state employees who earn salaries over $100,000 per year to obtain Louisiana drivers licenses and register their cars in Louisiana.

A few days ago, four LSU administrators, all making six figures, quit their jobs rather than comply with the law. All four claim Illinois as their primary residence, and three of them worked for LSU at least part of the time from Illinois.

Who are these jokers?

Andrea Ballinger, LSU's Chief Technology Officer, makes $268,000 a year. She left Illinois State University in 2017, where she made $193,424.  Apparently, LSU was so desperate to hire Ballinger that it gave her a $20,000 moving stipend.

Matthew Helm, LSU's assistant vice president in information technology services, draws a salary of $202,085.

Susan Flanagin, director in information technology services, makes $149,000.

Thomas Glenn, LSU's director of information technology services, gets paid $144,000 a year.

If I were making more than a quarter of a million dollars to work at a Louisiana university, I would damn well get a Louisiana driver's license and put a Louisiana license plate on my humble Subaru.

So why would these knuckleheads quit their jobs rather than register their cars in Louisiana?  Their lame explanation: Getting Louisiana driver's licenses and registering their cars in Louisiana would violate Illinois law!

I doubt we will ever know the full story, but here is my guess: All four of these characters have some sort of financial tie to Illinois that would be jeopardized if they established legal residence in Louisiana. If so, those ties must be substantial for them to give up their high-paying gigs at LSU.

Apparently, all four former LSU employees are leaving the Pelican State and heading back to the Land of Lincoln. I say good riddance!

Andrea Ballinger, LSU's former chief technology officer


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Take out student loans, get a college degree, and then go to work for a rental car agency: Is this the American Dream?

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is the number one employer of college graduates in the United States. According to Chronicle of Higher Education, Enterprise expects to hire 8,500 college graduates in 2019. In fact, three of the top ten companies for hiring college graduates are car rental companies: Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis.

For Enterprise, CHE reported, "a college degree matters mostly because it suggests that a candidate has acquired the right mix of skills to succeed in an entry-level job--and to move up the ladder from there." However, CHE explains, Enterprise does not care much about where its new hires went to college, what they studied, or their grades. Enterprise just wants people who obtained a degree.

Over the course of my working life, I've interacted with hundreds of car-rental agents. In my opinion, these agents don't need college degrees to rent cars. The idea of someone taking out student loans and spending four or five years in college just to get a trainee's position at Enterprise, Hertz, or Avis is absurd.

In my opinion, Enterprise's hiring policy is an example of credential creep. Companies don't require new hires to have college degrees because colleges teach useful job skills; for the most part they don't.

Rather a college degree is just a credentialing signal; it tells employers that an individual has the stamina to endure boredom, lackluster instructors, and mindless bureaucracy for four or five years--attributes that fit them perfectly for a trainee's job at Enterprise.

In fact, a high percentage of college graduates are now taking jobs that don't require a college degree. According to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issued less than two years ago, 43.5 percent of college graduates are in jobs that typically don't require a college education.

And yet millions of young Americans are willing to take out student loans to go to college--on average, about $37,000.

So if you are a college student, you should ask yourself this question: Are you willing to borrow $37,000 in order to get a college degree and then go to work for a company that doesn't care where you went to school, what you majored in, or what your grades were?

If you answered yes, you are qualified to be a car-rental agent.

Photo credit: Thrillist.com

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

USA Today reports that millennials are having trouble buying cars and homes due to burdensome student loans---that ain't the half of it

According to a story published yesteerday in USA Today, fewer millennials are able to buy cars and homes because they are burdened with high levels of student debt.

This problem is well documented. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that declining home ownership is partly due to student debt, and the American Enterprise Institute published a paper last December showing that student loans partly explain declining birth rates in the United States.

The USA Today story began by spotlighting Amanda Hill, a 27-year-old college graduate who amassed $90,000 in student-loan debt to get a bachelor's degree from Hampton University in Virginia. Ms. Hill said she is reluctant to take on any more debt because she owes so much on her student loans. Instead of buying a new car--the first major purchase for most college graduates--Ms. Hill bought a used Saturn for $500.

As USA Today reporter Susan Tompor reported, many millennials are constrained by their student loans from buying big-ticket consumer items. "Plain and simple," Tompor wrote, "many young consumers just aren't ready to consume."

But the plight of millennials is much worse than USA Today portrayed it. Not only are many young Americans unable to buy consumer goods because of their student loans, millions will never pay off their debt.

Let's look more closely at Amanda Hill's situation. She enrolled in an income-based repayment plan that set her monthly loan payments at only $200 a month. USA Today didn't report whether Hill is in a 20-year or a 25-year repayment plan, but it doesn't really matter.  If interest accrues at 5 percent (the current rate for federal student loans), Hill will have to pay $4,500 a year just to cover accruing interest.

But Hill is only paying $200 a month--or $2,400 a year. Thus, with each passing month, Hill's debt is growing larger. In three years or so, Hill will owe $100,000 even if she makes every payment on time.

USA Today did not disclose Hill's college major, her current salary, or her job title; but clearly she must be working in a low-paying job to be making payments of only $200 a month on a $90,000 debt.

Hill might find a better job that will allow her to make larger monthly loan payments. But that will have to happen soon if Hill is going to be in a position to make payments large enough to cover accruing interest and pay down some of the principle on her debt.

The chances are very good that Amanda Hill will make regularly monthly payments for 20 or 25 years under an income-based repayment plan and owe far more than she does now when her payment obligations come to an end. Her remaining debt will be forgiven, but she will get a huge tax bill because the IRS considers forgiven debt to be taxable income.

In short, Amanda Hill's problems are a lot more serious than an inability to buy a new car. She very well may be looking at a lifetime of indebtedness. That's a high price to pay for a bachelor's degree from Hampton University.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

Rich parents paying bribes to get their kids into elite colleges: Why risk jail for kids to get a mediocre education?

I live in Louisiana, where the most heinous thing a person can do is buy Chinese crawfish.

So I shouldn't have been shocked by the reaction of my Louisiana friends to the college-admission scandal that is roiling the national media. Several Louisianians expressed surprise that it is illegal to bribe your way into an elite college.  After all, my friends pointed out, it is well known that wealthy people get their kids into Baton Rouge's exclusive private high schools by making big donations.

What's the difference, one chum asked me, between bribing a soccer coach to get admitted to Yale and making a $5,000 donation to Catholic High School to make sure one's child gets admitted?

Not much, I admit.

Nevertheless, why pay bribes to get your kid into an elite college? After all, it is not the end of the world if your child does not get into Yale, USC, or Georgetown. There are a lot of prestigious universities in this country, and a well-qualified high-school graduate has a shot at getting into one of them.

Moreover, today's elite colleges are not what they used to be. Grade inflation, identity politics, and an atmosphere of political correctness have watered down the curriculum at colleges that once maintained rigorous academic standards.  According to a Boston Globe article published 18 years ago, 91 percent of Harvard's students graduated summa, magna or cum laude in 2001. 

How could that be? According to the Globe writer, "It takes just a B-minus average in the major subject to earn cum laude -- no sweat at a school where 51 percent of the grades last year were A's and A- minuses."

Maybe Harvard tightened standards since that article was written in 2001. Or maybe not. According to a Harvard Crimson article published in 2017, "more than half of surveyed [Harvard]seniors reported a GPA of 3.7 or greater, which is higher than an average grade of A- for every course."

So what's my point? I suppose it is this. America's elite colleges are nothing special, and families shouldn't turn them selves inside out to get their children into these overpriced diploma factories. They shouldn't go into ruinous debt to pay tuition bills at these hot-air palaces, and they certainly shouldn't pay a bribe to get their kids into Yale.

I did not get my undergraduate degree from a prestigious university. I did, however, get a doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education; and it was nothing special.

I realized before I graduated that I had made a major mistake when I enrolled at Harvard. I feel very sorry for parents who took out Parent PLUS loans or co-signed their children's student loans in order to pay tuition at some overpriced, high-prestige university.

As for the parents who face criminal charges in the college-admission scandal, I do not think they should go to jail. Rather. their children should be forced to attend the colleges they bribed their way into, and parents should pay the full tuition cost. Four years later, when the parents see how their kids turned out after graduating from one of these elite schools, that will be punishment enough.

Felicity Huffman (photo credit: David McNew/ AFP/ Getty Images)



Wednesday, March 13, 2019

It's Magic! Betsy DeVos' Department of Education allows Grand Canyon University to call itself non-profit while its parent company reports profit margin of 27 percent

David Halperin, the nation's best investigative reporter on the for-profit college industry, wrote an article recently on Grand Canyon University, which has been advertising lately that it is a non-profit university.

Well, sorta. As Halperin explained, Betsy DeVos' Department of Education "has blessed a series of troubling deals that allow a [not-]for profit college to be 'serviced by connected for-profit companies."

To what purpose?As Halperin reported:
The non-profit school benefits from the elimination of the for-profit stigma, reduced regulations, elimination of taxation, and eligibility for more state and charitable grants. Meanwhile, the for-profit, and its owners and executives, get to siphon off a lot of the revenue, much of it from taxpayer-funded grants and loans.
Thus in the fairyland world that Betsy DeVos has created, Brian Mueller wears two hats. He is president of Grand Canyon, a non-profit entity. He is also CEO of the university's parent for-profit corporation, Grand Canyon Education.  GCE trades on NASDAQ at $115 a share and reported a profit margin of 27 percent at the end of 2018.

Mueller conducted an earnings call to his investors recently in which he complained about non-profit colleges warning potential students not to enroll at a for-profit college. Through DeVos' mumbo jumbo, Grand Canyon can now call itself a nonprofit college, which has boosted its enrollment.

As Mueller boasted: "They see our ad & call Grand Canyon and within 72 hours everything is done. Applications filled out. Transcripts evaluated. Financial aid is done. They go to our website, they see who Grand Canyon is and say, 'this sounds good,' and they start."

As Halperin accurately observed, "the Donald Trump-Betsy DeVos Department of Education . . . has done everything possible to eliminate rules that protect students and taxpayers from predatory college abuses."

In fact, according to a Century Foundation report, which analyzed colleges with large online enrollments, Grand Canyon only spends 17 percent of its tuition money on educating students (as summarized by Halperin). Some non-profit!

I once thought that DeVos was simply incompetent and making decisions that benefited for-profit colleges out of ignorance. But DeVos knows exactly what she is doing, and she must know that the for-profit college industry as a whole is committing economic rape on unsophisticated young people, including first-generation college goers.

In a November speech, DeVos admitted that the student-loan program is in crisis. This is what she said:
  • The federal government holds $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loans, one third of all federal assets.
  • Only one in four federal student-loan borrowers are paying down the principal and interest on their debt.
  • Twenty percent of all federal student loans are delinquent or in default. That's seven times the delinquency rate on credit card debt.
Of course, the for-profits aren't responsible for all the carnage in the student-loan program, but they are responsible for a lot of it. Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis, writing for the  Brookings Institute, reported awhile back that the 5-year default rate for one cohort of students who attended for-profit colleges was 47 percent! Several for-profits have been shut down in a shower of fraud allegations.

But even for DeVos, this latest scheme, which allows a college to call itself non-profit while its for-profit parent reports a profit margin of 27 percent, is outrageous.


President of Grand Canyon University and CEO of Grand Canyon Education.










Monday, March 11, 2019

What the hell? Financing a Harley at 22 percent interest!

Steve Rhode, the Get Out of Debt Guy, answers questions from his blog-site readers about consumer complaints. A few days ago, a woman named Mary wrote Steve about a Harley Davidson motorcycle her husband bought and financed at an interest rate of 22 percent.

Mary asked Steve if it was legal to apply an entire monthly loan payment to interest just because the payment was a few days late. She also asked if her husband could simply return the motorbike.


First of all, he pointed out, most loan payments typically go primarily to interest in the early months of the repayment period. "This is especially true," Mr. Rhode added, "if the outstanding balance includes late fees that get added to the account balance.

Taking the Harley back to the dealer, Mr. Rhode advised, is usually a bad option because a voluntary repossession will lead Mary and her husband with a big bill. The couple could sell the bike but they would need to sell it for at least enough to cover what they owe or come with the difference between the sales price and what they owe. Otherwise, they could not get the title to transfer.

Rhode then went on to estimate what the Harley is going to cost Mary and her husband if they continue with their repayment plan. Assuming, they financed the bike with a 72-month note, monthly payments would be $628 a month for 72 months. When they paid off the note after six years, they would have made payments totally $45,000 to pay off a $25,000 purchase.

Since Mary and her husband seem willing to just to give the bike back to Harley, they obviously realize they made a bad deal. They would have been better off to have saved enough money for a hefty down payment so they could have taken out a smaller loan. And assuming they had good credit, they could have financed the bike with a credit card at a lower rate of interest.

Some people reading Mary's story might conclude that she and her husband made a bad decision and have no one to blame but themselves. But I disagree. In a fairer and more just economy, laws and regulations would have prohibited this very bad transaction.

People forget that not too long ago, states had usury laws that placed strict limits on the interest that could be charged for a consumer transaction. In the state where I practiced law, a statute limited the interest rate to 10.5 percent--less than half the rate that Mary and her husband were charged.

But the banks figured out how to base their operations in states that permitted very high interest rates. Remember sending those credit card payments to South Dakota or Delaware? Then, in 1978, the Supreme Court allowed out-of-state credit card companies to charge interest rates that were higher than the interest rate allowed in their customers' own states. (Pat Curry explains this in a 2010 essay.)

Even student-loan debtors can fall into the trap of paying high interest rates. I've read a couple of recent bankruptcy court decisions in which people refinanced their student loans at 9 percent--a hefty rate indeed when we consider that the interest rate on a 10-year treasury bond is less than 2.7 percent right now.

Tragically, millions of Americans are financing consumer transactions to purchase stuff they don't need or is virtually worthless. This is also true for people who take out student loans to attend for-profit colleges that are not providing students with fair value--or any value at all in many cases.

As the 2020 political season heats up, voters need to ask presidential candidates if they endorse legislation that would effectively regulate consumer transactions and the student-loan industry. If a candidate has nothing to say about the massive exploitation of ordinary Americans by the banks, the student-loan racket, and the consumer-finance industry, voters need to find someone else to vote for.


Photo credit: Harley Davidson

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Misinformation: Some commentators inaccurately say that student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy

Last month, Mises Institute, an Austrian think tank, posted an interesting article on the American student-loan crisis. For the most part, the article contains interesting and accurate information; but it also said student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy--which is not true.

The Mises Institute article focuses on student-loan debt owed by older Americans, As author Andrew Moran explained, these debts fall into two categories: student loans that seniors take out to finance their own education and Parent PLUS loans, which are loans older Americans take out for their children's postsecondary studies.

"It is the Parent PLUS program that seems to be wreaking the most havoc on older Americans," Moran wrote. These loans are marketed to parents of college students and carry a fixed interest rate of 7.67 percent plus an origination fee equal to 4.2 percent of the loan. As Moran noted, there is no cap on the amount of money parents can borrow through Parent PLUS.

American seniors who fall behind on their student-loan payments face serious consequences. As Moran reported, the federal government can seize income-tax refunds from senior Americans who default on their student loans (either their own loans or the loans they took out for their children). The feds can also garnish Social Security checks. True enough.

Moran then went on to state that student-loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. But this is not accurate. The Bankruptcy Code states that students  cannot be discharged unless the debtor can show that paying the loans would create an "undue hardship."

It is true that discharging student loans in bankruptcy is very difficult, and the Department of Education or its agents oppose bankruptcy relief in almost every instance. But in recent years, bankruptcy judges have discharged student-loan debt in a number of cases.

For example, in the Abney case, a Missouri bankruptcy judge discharged student loans owed by a man in his 40s who was living near the poverty line and had actually slept in his employer's truck for a time. In the Lamento case, an Ohio judge discharged student loans owed by a 35-year-old, single mother with two children who had taken out loans to get a college degree she had been unable to obtain.

In Kansas, a bankruptcy judge discharged accumulated interest on student loans owed by a married couple in their late 40s, and the decision was upheld on appeal. Later, a second Kansas bankruptcy judge forgave accumulated interest on student loans owed by V icky Jo Metz, a 59-year-old woman who had taken out student loans in the 1990s to attend a community college.

One might argue that isolated decisions by compassionate bankruptcy judges are anomalies, and that the common belief that student loans are nondischargeable is overall still true. But several federal appellate courts have expressed sympathy for distressed student-loan debtors. The Roth decision by the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Court, the Krieger ruling out of the Seventh Circuit, the Fern case from the Eighth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Court, and the Tenth Circuit's Polleys decision all approved bankruptcy relief for overburdened student debtors.

I do not wish to criticize Mr. Moran for the error in his Mises article. The Department of Education has done nothing to dispel the myth that student loans are nondischargeable; and in fact DOE has uniformly opposed bankruptcy relief, even for people in desperate circumstances. In the Myhre case, for example, DOE opposed bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic who was gainfully employed but not making enough money to pay for the full-time care he needed to feed and dress himself.

And a pattern has emerged for student-loan creditors to assign student loans to Educational Credit Management Corporation, who often steps in to oppose bankruptcy relief after the debtor files for relief. Why? I think it is become ECMC, with its network of lawyers and ample resources for paying attorneys, has become the Department of Education's hired thug to beat down destitute student-loan debtors, who often come to court without attorneys.

So keep reporting on the student-loan crisis, Mr. Moran. You are doing good work. And don't feel bad about the error in the Mises article. The myth that student loans are nondischargeable in bankruptcy has been circulated many times by experts, even by attorneys who should know better.









Friday, March 8, 2019

"Robbery at its finest": Western State Law School May Close in Mid-Semester

Western State College of Law, a nonprofit law school located in California, may shut down soon. If it does, Above the Law reporter Staci Zaretsky observed, it will be the first time an ABA-accredited law school closes its doors in mid-semester.

What's going on? Well, its complicated. Western State is part of Argosy University, which is a nonprofit institution owned by Dream Center Education Holdings, a nonprofit Christian group. Dream Center bought Argosy from Education Management Corporation (EMC), a for-profit entity. EMC, once the second largest for-profit-college operator in the United States, sold out after it ran into trouble over its recruiting tactics.

Dream Center discovered that its purchase was not as profitable as it anticipated. As reported by Stacy Cowley and Erica L. Green of the New York Times, Dream Center expected to make a $30 million profit in the first year. Instead, it suffered a $38 million loss.

Dream Center could not pay all its bills, and a creditor put it into receivership in January. A federal judge in Ohio appointed a receiver, and the receiver wants to sell at least some of Dream Center's holdings.

Then, late last month, the Department of Education announced that it would yank all federal student-aid money from Dream Center, which will strangle all of its educational institutions.  DOE took this action due in part to the fact that Dream Center had not disbursed student aid money to students in a timely manner. According to DOE's letter of February 27, Dream Center failed to distribute more than $16 million in student stipends to Argosy University students, including law students at Western State College of Law. Meanwhile, the DOE letter said, Argosy continued paying its staff and vendors.

Naturally, the announcement that Western State might close in mid-semester, threw students into a panic."[W]e as students are suffering the never-ending consequences physically, emotionally mentally, and spiritually," said Kim Davoodi, a third-year last student. "This is robbery at its finest."

Without question, the precipitous closing of a law school is a disaster for students. But Davoodi may be misinformed about when this alleged robbery occurred. Western State, a third-tier law school, is shockingly expensive. Accord to Law School Transparency, which reports on law schools' costs and outcomes, it will cost an entering first-year student $282,000 to get a law degree from Western State.

Thus, almost all Western State students must borrow prodigious amounts of money to finance their studies. In fact, by Law School Transparency's calculations, a Western State graduate would have to make monthly payment of $3,329 for ten years to pay off this debt. (Of course some students receive tuition discounts, which reduces the amount of student loans they would need.)

Obviously, Western State law graduates must find very good jobs in order to service their student loans. But a law school graduate must pass the state bar exam to become a practicing attorney; and Western State's bar pass rates are abysmal.

How abysmal? Only 51 percent of Western State's first-time takers passed the California bar exam in the summer of 2018. And Western State's bar pass rate is going down. The school's bar pass rate declined by 5 percent from the previous year.

So if a robbery occurred (metaphorically speaking), it took place on the day Western State law students took out their first student loans. It is recklessly irresponsible for a law school to charge students outrageously priced tuition, when only about half of their graduates pass the state bar exam the first time they take it.

A few days ago Western State's Dean Allen K. Easley sent students an email alerting them that the law school was "finalizing plans" to stay open for at least two more weeks. Dean Easley also told student that Argosy's receiver was in "active discussions with a potential suitor interested in acquiring the law school."

Perhaps an investor will buy Western State and keep the law school open awhile longer. But speculation about a buyer for Western State reminds me of a scene from True Grit. Rooster Cogburn (played by Jeff Bridges) and Mattie (played by Hailee Steinfeld) come across a corpse hanging from a rope tied to a tall tree. Cogburn orders Mattie to cut the cadaver down, which she does; and then he slings the carcass on the back of a horse.

Why was he keeping the corpse, Mattie asked. If my recollection of the scene is correct,  Cogburn replied: "A dead body might be worth something."



Thursday, March 7, 2019

I know more about farting cows than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What does AOC know about the student-loan crisis?

Let me begin by saying I recognized global warning a long time ago--before Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born. I lived in Alaska in the early 1980s, and we all saw the glaciers retreating.

The planet is heating up, we observed--not a political statement, just an acknowledgement of fact. Some of us naively believed global warming might even be a good thing. Alaska is such a great place to live, we told ourselves, but it would be so much nicer if the winters were just a wee bit warmer.

I also know a whole lot more about farting cows than AOC. My father was a cattle raiser, and I saw a lot of flatulent bovines in the stock pens. In fact, I admit that my father's Angus herd is at least partly responsible for a rise in global temperatures. Mea friggin' culpa.

But will AOC reverse global warming with her Green New Deal? No she won't.  Everybody knows that--even the wax-museum Democrats in Congress.

Better questions to ask are these: What does AOC know about the student-loan crisis, and what will she do about it?

I think the answer to both questions is "Not much." Our national politicians--with AOC in the forefront--bray on and on about problems they know they will not fix. Meanwhile millions of Americans--more than 20 million--have had their lives ruined by student loans that enriched the venal and corrupt higher education industry.

The student-loan crisis is complicated; I acknowledge that. But there are some small things Congress can do that would alleviate the suffering. For example:

Congress could pass Representative Katko's bill to allow distressed debtors to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. Or if that lift is too heavy, Congress could at least allow parents who cosigned their children's student loans  to shed those debts in bankruptcy if they are insolvent.

Congress could also pass legislation barring the Department of Education from garnishing elderly student-loan defaulters' Social Security checks, which Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed in a bill that got nowhere in the U.S. Senate. AOC could endorse that bill, and it would probably be passed in the House of Representatives.

And here is another thing Congress could do. It could pass legislation requiring Betsy DeVos' Department of Education to streamline the process for forgiving student loans owed by people in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

I suspect AOC has never thought about the student-loan crisis, even though a lot of the sufferers reside in her congressional district. And I will close by saying again that politicians who won't do something tangible toward solving the student-loan crisis don't deserve our votes.

It's farting cows, stupid!





Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Southern Vermont College is closing: Shrinking demand for expensive liberal arts degrees

Inside Higher Ed has done a terrific job reporting on the demise of small liberal arts colleges, and Greg Toppo's recent story on the closure of Southern Vermont College is a fine Inside Higher Ed story on this sad phenomenon.

As Toppo reported, David Rees Evans, Southern Vermont's president, announced that the college is closing at the end of the spring semester. The college has been buffeted by a series of blows: an embezzlement scandal, accreditation problems with its nursing program (which the college resolved), and news that the college's principal accrediting body is planning to put the school on probation.

Closing was the right decision. After all, Southern Vermont only has 332 enrolled students--down from a peak of 500 students just nine years ago. President Evans candidly admitted that the trustees decided to announce its closure now rather than later due in part to fear of being sued if it continued recruiting new students and then shut down precipitously. That's what happened to Mount Ida College, and Southern Vermont wisely decided to wind down its affairs more transparently than Mount Ida apparently did.

President Evans partly blamed negative demographics for its predicament. "New England is in a bad way--especially the rural parts of New England," Evans said. Vermont's high school population, which provides Southern Vermont with about a third of its students, has declined dramatically, and it will decline even more in the years to come.

But demographics doesn't fully explain why so many small liberal arts colleges are closing. There are two more major dynamics in play--and small colleges have no means to counter either of them.

Small, private colleges are too expensive.  First, small, private colleges are simply too expensive for the average family to pay. Most of these small institutions charge somewhere north of $30,000 a year for tuition, fees, and room and board--around $120,000 for a four-year degree. Few families have the resources to pay these costs out of pocket, which means students must take out loans to finance their education.

It is true that small private colleges are discounting tuition drastically--on average by about 50 percent. But $13,000 a year in tuition (about half of Southern Vermont's posted rate) is still a big nut to crack. Increasingly, families are sending their children to attractively priced, regional public universities, which look pretty appealing compared to a rural college with less than 400 students.

A liberal arts education has lost its appeal.  Secondly, some would say tragically, a liberal arts education has lost its appeal in the minds of most Americans. There was a time when most Americans believed that a liberal arts education has intrinsic value. People once believed that a grounding in the liberal arts nurtured civic values, cultivated an appreciation for beauty, and promoted rational thinking. Liberal arts, it was generally believed, helped prepare young people for a fuller and richer life.

I don't think many people believe that anymore. Most young people are keenly aware that they will go into debt to get their college degrees, and they know they must get a degree that will lead to a well paying job or they will be in big financial trouble.  More and more undergraduates are majoring in business, and fewer and fewer are majoring in English, history, and philosophy.

Indeed, colleges themselves are finding it increasingly difficult to articulate exactly what a liberal arts education is these days. For example, there was once a broad consensus about what constitutes the canon of American literature. Scholars might disagree on the details, but most would identify The Great Gatsby as a great American novel--perhaps the great American novel. And most would agree that a basic knowledge of American literature includes at least a passing acquaintance with the works of Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner, and perhaps Steinbeck.

That's not true anymore. After all, these authors are all dead white men. Where are the works of African American writers, Hispanic writers, women writers, LGBTQ writers?

Of course colleges can add books by marginalized writers to the curriculum, and most are doing so. But students can only read so much, and somewhere on the road to greater relevancy in the liberal arts students start asking--what's the f-cking point?

In fact, I have great sympathy with the critics of traditional liberal arts. I for one would rather be shot than read a novel by William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, or Henry James.

Moreover, literature that is particular to my own life experience means more to me than the so-called great works of American literature. I am a Catholic, and I have read widely in the works of Catholic writers: Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham, Walker Percy, and Alice McDermott. I am a great fan of Myles Connolly's Mr. Blue, a hidden treasure of Catholic literature that is sadly out of print.

But I would not argue to anyone that the Catholic novels that mean so much to me should form part of the liberal arts curriculum. So how can anyone argue that every educated American should read The Great Gatsby?

And so the liberal arts colleges are dying--victims of demographics, soaring costs, and perhaps most of all by our increasingly diverse society that has become fragmented with regard to our understanding of what it means to be an educated American.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Dying with Dignity: College of New Rochelle will probably close

Over the course of my life,  I have witnessed the death of several friends and relatives; and some of them did not die a good death.

My father expired miserably in a VA hospital because his government doctors did not diagnose his treatable cancer in time to save his life. He had survived the Bataan Death March and three years in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II, but that sacrifice did not entitle him to decent medical care in his final years.

I witnessed the death of a relative who died in a ramshackle house he inherited from his mother--a house that smelled of urine and dirt. I was the only person with him when he closed his eyes for the last time.

America's small liberal arts colleges are dying too--brought down by a host of maladies for which there is no cure. And like too many people, many of these colleges are closing their doors without dignity--a fate I don't think they deserve.

William Latimer, president of the College of New Rochelle, sent a memo to the campus community last week, announcing that the college will probably close this summer.  The college was doomed two years ago when campus officials revealed that the college had a huge tax liability because it had failed to pay federal payroll taxes--a $20 million tax bill. Judith Huntington, New Rochelle's president at the time, resigned; and a senior financial officer precipitously retired.

Soon after that revelation, the college received an anonymous $5 million gift, which might have been a payout from the college auditor's malpractice insurance (just a guess), but the infusion was not enough to restore the College of New Rochelle to financial health.

That was two years ago. The college tried to lay off some faculty members to stem the flow of red ink, but the professors sued; and a judge ruled that the college had fired the professors in violation of the faculty handbook. But of course, the professors won a Pyrrhic victory. A college with no money can't pay its faculty, no matter what the faculty handbook says.

New Rochelle's fate is somewhat similar to the fate of Mount Ida College, a tiny little institution located in a Boston suburb. Mount Ida sold out to the University of Massachusetts amid accusations that it had misled professors and students about its imminent demise.  Maura Healy, the Massachusetts Attorney General, expressing the self-righteous indignation so typical of New England bureaucrats, launched an investigation. But to what purpose? Mount Ida still closed.

Other small colleges are cutting academic programs in an effort to stay alive--particularly programs in the liberal arts.  McDaniel College announced a few days ago that it is eliminating five majors and three minors--all in the liberal arts. Students responded as they always do to bad news--by lecturing their elders.

"As students at a liberal arts college," McDaniel  students said in a priggish statement,  "we believe firmly in the first principles of this institution, which advocate for the importance of a liberal arts education."

In ringing tones of high-mindedness, the students sermonized about the importance of the liberal arts. "As you all know, having the opportunity to take courses across many disciplines creates students who are flexible, knowledgeable and able to think critically in the face of all that the world has to throw our way." Music and German, two programs that were cut, "are both living, breathing, culturally relevant languages," the students pointed out. As for other programs being jettisoned,they too are "integral to the creation of well-informed citizens and academics."

Blah, blah, blah. The students who penned that blather ought to take some responsibility for the decisions they made to enroll at McDaniel--just another wobbly and obscure liberal arts college. And what do they think a McDaniel degree in German is worth on the job market? Not enough to pay off their student loans, I wager.

Students can express their rage about programs being slashed and colleges closing. Attorney generals can launch investigations. And professors can sue to try to save their jobs. But the colleges that are closing or downsizing are not generating enough revenue to keep their doors open. That is the stark reality.

Let's let these little institutions die with dignity--because they are dying anyway.

College of New Rochelle (photo credit Inside Higher Ed)


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Congressman John Katko introduces bill to make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. Will presidential candidates endorse the bill?

Last month, John Katko, a Republican congressman from New York, filed H.R. 770, a bill that would make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy like any other consumer debt.

Titled the "Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act," Katko's bill is quite simple. It merely strikes the "undue hardship" clause from Section 523(a) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Congressman Katko filed the same bill two years ago. When he filed the bill in 2017, it had ten co-sponsors, including Maryland Congressman John Delaney. When Katko refiled the bill last month, he only had two co-sponsors.

If H.R. 770 becomes law, millions of Americans who are overwhelmed by student loans will get relief in the bankruptcy courts. They will have an opportunity to start families and buy homes. They will get the fresh start that bankruptcy is intended to provide.

Let's make Katko's bill the litmus test for everyone who is running for president or is thinking about running. Let's ask them one simple question: Do you support Katko's bill or not?

  • President Donald Trump, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Senator Kamala Harris, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Senator Bernie Sanders, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Michael Bloomberg, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Beto O'Rourke, do you support H.R. 770?
  • John Delaney, former Maryland congressman who co-sponsored Katko's bankruptcy-relief bill in 2017, you are now running for president. Do you support Congressman Katko's bill?
Our federal legislators are fond of holding committee hearings where they bully witnesses by demanding yes-or-no answers to all their hectoring questions.

Well, here is a question to everyone who wants to be president, and we should demand a yes-or-no answer. Unless a presidential candidate can say "Yes, I support H.R. 770 without qualification," that person is nothing more than a windbag who doesn't care about average Americans and does not deserve our vote.

*****

Note: I am grateful to Phil Uhrich for calling this bill to my attention.  Mr. Uhrich wrote a provocative essay on national politics in 2016 that is still timely.

Representative John Katko (R-NY)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Cooking the Books: Federal Reserve Bank Says $166 Billion in Student Debt is Delinquent, But the Crisis is Worse Than That

Most Americans have confidence in what the Federal Reserve Bank says about the national economy. I know I do. But when the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that $166 billion in student debt is delinquent, it vastly understated the enormity of the student-loan crisis.

In its most recent quarterly household debt report, the Fed pegged total outstanding debt at $1.46 trillion as of the end of December. According to the Fed, about 11 percent of that debt ($166 billion) is delinquent or in default. That's a startling number. But the picture is far bleaker than that.

Just two months ago, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos stated publicly that only one out of four student borrowers (24 percent) are paying down the principal and interest on their loans. "As for FSA's portfolio today," DeVos said, "too many loans are either delinquent, in default, or are [in] plans on which students are paying so little, their loan balance continues to grow." In total, DeVos admitted, "43 percent of all loans are currently considered 'in distress,'" and 20 percent of all federal student loans are delinquent or in default.

DeVos also implicitly acknowledged that the federal government is cooking the books by classifying a lot of student debt as performing loans even though millions of people are not paying them back. "Only through government accounting is this student loan portfolio counted as anything but an asset embedded with significant risk," DeVos observed. "In the commercial world, no bank regulator would allow this portfolio to be valued at full, face value."

In addition to the millions of people who have defaulted on their loans, millions more are in various plans that allow borrowers to skip their loan payments without being counted as defaulters. As of last summer, 7.4 million people were enrolled in long-term income-based repayment plans who are making payments so low that interest continues to accrue on their loans.

Think about that: 7.4 million people whose loans are labeled as performing even though their loan balances get larger with each passing month. You can label that scenario any way you like, but we're talking about 7.4 million additional defaulters.

The Department of Education has been scamming the public for a quarter of a century regarding student-loan defaults. For years, it only reported the percentage of loans that defaulted within two years of entering repayment. To keep their default rates down, colleges encouraged their former students to enter into economic-hardship deferments, which excused them from making payments without officially putting them in default.

Then DOE began reporting three-year default rates, which showed defaults ticking up slightly to the neighborhood of 11 percent. But the Brookings Institute (in a paper written by Looney and Yannelis) reported in 2015 that the 5-year default rate for a recent cohort was 28 percent--more than double the three-year rate.

In other words, for a cohort of borrowers that the Brookings researchers analyzed, more than one out of four student borrowers was officially in default after five years. According to the same Brookings report, the five-year default rate for students who attended for-profit colleges was 47 percent--nearly half!

Of course, loan default rates vary some from cohort to cohort, but there is no sign that the percentage of student borrowers paying off their loans is going up. In fact, the data show the opposite.

In short, the Fed's recent report may be technically accurate but it understates the magnitude of the student-loan crisis. When the Department of Education finally comes clean and gives us some accurate figures, I think we will find that half of all outstanding student loans are not performing--about 20 million borrowers with collective debt totally three quarters of a trillion dollars.



 


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Congressman Alcee Hastings introduces bill to abolish corporal punishment in schools, but the bill will go nowhere

Congressman Alcee Hastings, dean of the Florida congressional delegation, introduced a bill last month to abolish corporal punishment in the schools. Titled "Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act," the bill would cut off federal funding to any state that permits corporal punishment in the public schools.

Hastings, you may not remember, was once a federal judge. In 1989, Congress impeached him and removed him from the bench based on charges of bribery and lying under oath.

But that was 30 years ago; and, as the Psalmist observed, if God kept a record of all our sins, "who could stand?" Hastings' constituents must share that sentiment; they've sent Hastings to Congress for 25 years.

I hope Hastings' bill becomes law. Irrefutable evidence shows that beating children with sticks and boards is not good for them. Research has documented that African American students and children with disabilities get a disproportionate share of corporal punishment.

Moreover, all the leading child advocacy organizations and educational groups oppose the corporal punishment of children. Even the Catholic Church, which has a high tolerance for child rape, does not permit Catholic school administrators to paddle school kids.

Most states have abolished corporal punishment in their public schools.  Nineteen states still allow it, but the practice is mostly confined to rural communities in five Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana Mississippi, and Texas. Hastings' bill, if it becomes law, would wipe it out across the whole United States.

Hastings' bill, labeled H.R. 727, has six co-sponsors--all Democrats. Surely some House Republicans can step up to support H.R. 727.  On the Senate side, perhaps some lawmaker running for president might stop campaigning for a couple of moments and endorse Hastings' proposal to stop corporal punishment in the schools. Senators Harris, Warren, Booker, Gillibrand, and Klobuchar--are you listening?

But here is my prediction. No Republican congressperson will join Democratic colleagues as co-sponsors of  Hastings' bill. The bill will never get out of committee. In spite of the fact that Democrats control the House of Representatives, HR. 727 will never come to a vote on the House floor.

Our elected representatives are now so intent on destroying their political enemies, so obsessed with getting a few seconds of media attention, that they have forgotten that there are some simple and noncontroversial things they can do to make America a better country.

Dorothy Day, the great Catholic social justice activist, once had this to say about people's talk and people's deeds. "I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions."

So, as the 2020 election season begins, let us judge all our braying politicians by what they have done, not by what they are saying. And if Representative Hastings gets a law passed to stop children from being assaulted in the schools, he will have redeemed himself in my mind for his misdeeds as a federal judge long ago.


Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.)



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

We are all peasants now: The student-loan crisis is destroying the middle class

As the world changed, we reverted to social divisions that we'd thought were obsolete.  . . . A plain majority of the townspeople were laborers now, whatever in life they had been before. Nobody called them peasants, but in effect that's what they'd become.
World Made By Hand
James Howard Kunstler 

American higher education is the emperor who wears no clothes. College leaders boast that our nation's universities are the envy of the world while they rake in so-called federal "student-aid" and parade about in medieval regalia peddling worthless degrees.



And America's young people are the losers. They've been gulled into thinking they can gain a middle-class lifestyle by getting a college degree and maybe a graduate degree as well. But millions are finding that their college degrees gained them little more than massive debt. And those online MBAs and doctorates they purchased with borrowed money--just junk.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank, outstanding student-loan debt reached $1.56 trillion last January. Around 45 million Americans have student-loan obligations and 7.4 million are enrolled in long-term repayment plans that stretch out for as long as a quarter of a century.  As Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos admitted with shocking candor last November, only one out of four student borrowers are paying off the principal and interest on their loans.

It is now well documented that student-loan debt is contributing to the nation's declining birth rates--now near a record low. People can't afford children because they're paying off student loans.

Young people can't afford to buy homes, they can't save for retirement, they can't pay off their debts.  Their liberal arts degrees, their shoddy law degrees, their fluffy MBAs and doctoral degrees qualify them to become baristas and clerical workers.

We are now in the early stages of the 2020 presidential election season, and what do our politicians talk about? Russia, border walls, free health care, and the Green New Deal.  We should be discussing the New Raw Deal--the deal our government and our universities have imposed on guileless young people.

For too long, Americans have bought the line that our colleges and universities operate for the public good and that the people who run them are wise and kindly. We particularly revere the ivy league colleges where we get nearly all our prune-faced Supreme Court justices and most of our presidents.

But if the folks who run Harvard are so goddamned wise, how could they have fallen for Elizabeth Warren's scam that she's a Cherokee? And if our elite college leaders are sensitive and kindly, how did little boys wind up getting raped in a Penn State shower room? And how could dozens of female athletes get groped by Larry Nasser while he was on Michigan State's payroll?

No, let's face the truth. Many American colleges and universities are not run by wise and kindly people; most are run by administrators who are primarily concerned with the bottom line. And far too often, higher education is not preparing young Americans to enter the middle class. On the contrary, by forcing people to take on oppressive levels of debt to get a college degree, colleges are setting up millions of Americans for a lifetime of peasantry.








Sunday, February 10, 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren can survive Cherokee-Gate if she focuses on student-loan crisis

To my surprise, Senator Elizabeth Warren officially announced she is running for President, her head "bloodied but unbowed" by the scandal about her ethnic heritage, which I will call Cherokee-Gate.

Warren is a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, which is remarkably tolerant of screw ups. Senator Ted Kennedy's political career survived Chappaquiddick (although Mary Jo Kopechne did not). Congressman Barney Frank continued serving in Congress after he admitted hiring a male prostitute as a personal aide. Representative Gerry Studds was elected to Congress six more times after he was censored by the House of Representatives for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year old page (the vote was 420 to 3). In fact, Studds' constituents on Martha's Vineyard gave him a standing ovation after his sex scandal broke.

So Liz came take comfort from the fact that Massachusetts probably doesn't give a damn whether she advanced her career by calling herself an American Indian. The Bay State likes to send moral reprobates to Washington DC.

But playing footsie with one's race to get ahead in the Ivy League won't play well in the Rust Belt, where the children of unemployed steel workers lack the temerity to call themselves Chippewas in order to get a college scholarship.

Thus, if Warren's presidential bid is to have legs, she needs to develop a substantive campaign platform to distract potential voters--and she needs to do it fast. How about focusing on the student-loan crisis?

Senator Kamala Harris stole a march on Warren when she came out for free college, so Liz has got to think of something sexier regarding the student-loan fiasco.  Here are some suggestions, which I hope she will embrace:

1) Legislation barring the federal government from garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters, a proposal that Senator Warren and Senator Claire McCaskill proposed a few years ago.  That's a no-brainer, in my view.

2) Amending federal law to stop the IRS from treating forgiven student-loans as taxable income. Who could argue against that?

3) Capping accrued interest, penalties and refinancing fees on student loans to no more than 50 percent of the original amount borrowed. Currently, we see college borrowers whose student-loan balances have ballooned to three or four times the original loan amount. Surely that' a reasonable proposal.

4) Revising the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student-loan debtors to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy like any other unsecured consumer debt. Or if that lift is too heavy, at least let borrowers discharge their private student loans in bankruptcy.

5) Allowing parents to discharge their Parent Plus loans in bankruptcy if they run into financial trouble and can't pay off the loans they took out for their children's college education.

I admit I hold a grudge against Senator Warren for her Cherokee scam. After all, I grew up in Anadarko, Oklahoma; and it never occurred to me to call myself a a Nadarko Indian. Just like Liz, I've got a law degree; and Liz's eyes are bluer than mine.  If I'd played my cards right, I too might have become a Harvard law professor.  I might have been Harvard Law School's first cisgendered person of color!

But all will be forgiven as far as I'm concerned if Senator Warren will only endorse some of the proposals I've listed. And if she would do that, I think she might do very well in the Iowa caucuses.



Friday, February 8, 2019

Kinney v. National Collegiate Master Student Loan Trust: Iowa bankruptcy judge discharges student loans that a man cosigned for his niece

Anthony Kinney, a 52-year-old working guy with a modest job in the plastic industry, co-signed three student loans for his niece. His niece defaulted, and National Collegiate Master Student Trust I (probably an investment fund) began efforts to collect on two of the loans from Kinney.

Kinney filed for bankruptcy to discharge the loans, and he made two arguments. First, he argued that the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" rule didn't apply to him because he only cosigned the loans and received no benefit from them. Second, Kinney maintained that paying back his niece's loans would be an undue hardship.

Bankruptcy Judge Thad Collins declined to rule on Kinney's first argument, but he agreed with Kinney that repaying the loans would be an undue hardship. In ruling for Kinney, Judge Collins interpreted "undue hardship" under the "totality of circumstances" standard, which is the standard used in the Eighth Circuit.

Judge Collins noted that Kinney made about $37,000 a year and was never likely to make more than $40,000. Moreover, Kinney had no financial resources other than his job, and his 401K retirement account only contained about $3,000.

Judge Collins also examined Kinney's living expenses, which he found to be reasonable and necessary. Kinney's resources were adequate to maintain a modest living standard, the Judge determined, but not enough to maintain a minimal standard of living if forced to pay his niece's student loans, which were accruing interest at  more than 12 percent. In addition, Kinney was living with an aunt and uncle while he went through bankruptcy, but this was a short-term solution to his housing needs. Kinney's future housing costs were definitely headed upward.

Judge Collins concluded his brief opinion by observing that Kinney was "in a very precarious financial situation," with no savings and minimal retirement funds. Having found that Kinney had no capacity to make loan payments, the Judge ruled that "requiring [Kinney] to repay either of the two loans . . . would result in undue hardship."

Judge Collins ended his opinion with a brief comment about the fact that Kinney was a cosigner of his niece's student loans. Although Kinney's cosigner status was legally insignificant to the Judge's undue hardship determination, Judge Collins found it relevant that Kinney received no educational benefit from his niece's student loans. In the Judge Collins' opinion, the lack of educational benefit weighed against Kinney's creditor.

Why is the Kinney case important? Two reasons:

First, the case illustrates the terrible consequences that people can face when they cosign a relative's student loans. The original lender probably didn't care whether Kinney's niece could pay back her loans because it knew that Kinney was also on the hook.

Second, Judge Collin's succinct decision went to the heart of the matter concerning student-loan debt. It was quite clear that Kinney would never be able to pay back his niece's student loans, which were accruing interest at 12 percent and which had nearly doubled in size since she originally borrowed the money.

Isn't ability to repay a student loan the only reasonable consideration when an overwhelmed student-loan debtor files for bankruptcy? And when it is clear that a college-loan borrower cannot repay his or her student loans, why not give that borrower the fresh start the bankruptcy courts were established to provide?

Thank God for bankruptcy judges like Judge Thad Collins. We need more judges like him.

Don't cosign a student loan!


References

Kinney v. National Collegiate Master Student Loan Trust I, 593 B.R. 618 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa 20180.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The great national shakedown: Student loans are dragging down both young and old

According to New York Times writer David Leonhardt, the Millennial generation is being "fleeced" by an economic system that favors the old over the young. For Millennials, Leonhardt points out, incomes are stagnant, and the wealth gap between Baby Boomers and younger Americans is growing.

"Given these trends," Leonhardt writes, "you'd think the government would be trying to help the young." But it is not doing that, Leonhardt argues. Instead government policy is making it harder for younger Americans to climb the economic ladder.

The biggest example of this myopic governmental policy, according to Leonhardt, is higher education. "Over the past decade, states have cut college funding by an average of 16 percent per student," Leonhardt writes, forcing students to borrow more and more money.

Of course Leonhardt is right. Burdensome student loans are making it more and more difficult for young Americans to buy homes and start families. Literally millions of Americans are not able to service their student-loan obligations and are being forced into long-term income-based repayment plans that can stretch out for two decades or even longer.

But we should be careful about characterizing the student-debt crisis as an outcome of inter-generational injustice because in fact Americans of all ages are being dragged down economically by student-loan debt. As a zerohedge.com writer observed recently:
Though millennials catch the most flack for taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for worthless college degrees that do little to improve their financial prospects in the "real world," for older Americans who take out loans to finance their education later in life, the repercussions can be ten times worse.
On average, the writer reported, student borrowers in their 60s owed almost $34,000 in student loans in 2017, up 44 percent in just seven years. About 200,000 people age 50 or older are having Social Security checks or other government payments garnished due to student-loan defaults. Total student-loan indebtedness by people in their 60s and older more than doubled in just seven years--from $33 billion in 2010 to $86 billion in 2017.

Most elderly college-loan borrowers accumulated debt to finance their own postsecondary studies but thousands of parents took out Parent Plus loans to finance their children's college education. According to Josh Mitchell of the Wall Street Journal, 330,00 Americans, representing 11 percent of Parent Plus borrowers, had gone at least a year without making a payment on their Parent Plus loans as of September 2015.

Insolvent older Americans have filed bankruptcy to discharge their massive student-loan debt, but the Department of Education and its contracted debt collectors almost always oppose bankruptcy relief. In a Kansas bankruptcy action, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) fought bankruptcy relief for Vicky Jo Metz, a 59-year-old woman who had borrowed about $17,000 to attend community college in the early 1990s and had seen her total debt quadruple in size due to accruing interest.

Put Ms. Metz in an income-based repayment plan (IDR), ECMC demanded. But a Kansas bankruptcy court disagreed.  If Metz entered into a 25-year IDR plan, the court observed, she would be 84 years old before her repayment obligations came to an end. Moreover, her debt would continue to grow even if she faithfully made her monthly loan payments for a quarter of a century. The judge sensibly forgave all the accumulated interest on Ms. Metz's debt, requiring her only to pay back the principal.

We should be careful about framing the student-loan crisis as a burden that falls mainly on the young. People of all ages are burdened by staggering levels of student-loan debt.  And it is the elderly who most merit relief.

Our government could implement some modest reforms to help relieve the suffering of older student-loan debtors. For example, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Clair McCaskill supported legislation to stop the garnishment of Social Security checks due to student-loan default.  And the Department of Education could stop opposing bankruptcy relief for older student-loan debtors like Ms. Metz.

As for me, I will support any candidate for the presidency who endorses substantive relief for the millions of Americans of all ages who have been fleeced by the federal student-loan program. In my view, free college in the future, which Senator Kamala Harris proposes, does not go nearly far enough toward reforming the federal student loan program--now totally out of control.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Kamala Harris, presidential candidate, promises cost-free college for most Americans. What will she do for millions of student debtors who are suffering right now?

Senator Kamala Harris (D. Cal.) is running for President, and she promises a free college education for most Americans if she gets elected.

How will that work? Back in 2017, Senator Harris and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt) introduced legislation for free college, and here are the details:
  • Attendance at a public institution will be free for families making $125,000 or less, which Harris claims will benefit about 80 percent of all Americans.
  • The federal student-loan program will remain in place, but interest rates on loans will be slashed to less than 2 percent.
  • Students from low-income families can attend private colleges and universities that serve "underrepresented minority communities" (she probably means HBCUs) at reduced tuition rates.
  • The Harris-Sanders plan will also help students "afford books, housing, and transportation, and other fees." 
Free college! It's like bourbon flowing out of the office water cooler. Who could oppose that?

But here's the big problem with the Harris-Sanders proposal. Their plan would leave the current student-loan program in place.

The federal student-loan program is a colossal disaster, as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos admitted last November; and it needs to be radically reformed.

Secretary DeVos said only 1 out of 4 student borrowers are paying down principal and interest on their loans, and 43 percent of outstanding federal loans are "in distress." The Harris-Sanders plan won't do anything to relieve the suffering of millions of Americans who are being crushed by student loans except cut interest rates.

In any event, Senator Harris's free college plan is never going to happen. It simply is not possible for the federal government to finance free college education to millions of Americans while we have $1.56 trillion in accumulated student loan debt--at least half of which will never be repaid.

However, there are specific things that Congress and our President can do to relieve the suffering of distressed student-loan borrowers, and I will support any presidential candidate who promises to "treat the wounded."

Two things need to be done:

1) Congress must eliminate the "undue hardship" language from the Bankruptcy Code so that overburdened college debtors can discharge their student loans in the bankruptcy courts.

2) The for-profit-college industry must be shut down.

Kamala Harris says she is "for the people." And in fact, she aggressively prosecuted Corinthian Colleges, a predatory for-profit college racket, when she was California's attorney general.  Her office obtained a billion dollar judgment against Corinthian, which filed for bankruptcy and shut down.

Very impressive!

Nevertheless, as a presidential candidate, Harris must continue to attack the sleazy for-profit industry. And she should endorse bankruptcy relief for millions of honest Americans who have been victimized by student loans.

Right now, Harris's higher education platform is nothing more than "Free beer tomorrow." Let's see if she proposes substantive reforms for the federal student-loan program and a serious crackdown on the for-profits.






Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why is the Department of Education Sugar Coating Student Loans? Essay by Steve Rhode

By  (Originally posted at Get Out of Debt Guy on January 21, 2019)

I’d love to take credit for this observation but a reader sent me an email and said, “My granddaughter got this email. The Department of Education is marketing their product by saying “maximize the financial aid you may receive.” Nowhere in here does it use the word “loan.” Just the DOE looking for prey among uninformed young almost adults.”
The reader has a very good point.
The term “financial aid” certainly can have a different meaning than “student loan.”
For example, the Department of education also talks about free education benefits as financial aid. This includes educational awards, training vouchers, scholarships, military service aid, etc.
The government website says, “The U.S. Department of Education awards more than $120 billion a year in grants, work-study funds, and low-interest loans to more than 13 million students. Federal student aid covers such expenses as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. Aid also can help pay for other related expenses, such as a computer and dependent care. Thousands of schools across the country participate in the federal student aid programs; ask the schools you’re interested in whether they do!” – Source
And while the marketing hype from the government does say student loans, it also says low-interest which is also a bit of a sugar coat on reality.
While the interest rates are in the 5% to 7.6% range there is no warning that you will be easily eligible to borrow more than you may be able to afford to repay.
For once maybe I’m not blaming the Department of Education for poor rules and horrible service. This issue about talking factually about money for higher education permeates all of society from schools to parents to high school counselors.
I wonder if student loans were portrayed accurately instead of sweet frosted “financial aid” if the very people blamed for taking out excessive loans, the 18-year-olds, would get a real jolt?
Consider this. Instead of talking about access to financial aid, prospective students received a cigarette package like warning notice.

WARNING: This product may cause life long debt and keep you from saving for retirement or buying a house.

At the very least, what if borrowing money for college had a window sticker on it like when you purchase a car.
We want the borrower to be held responsible for taking out the loan so let’s give the borrowers the facts.
Fact 1: This is a loan. You will have to repay this loan with interest. The repayment cost of this loan will be more than the amount you borrow. It may be substantially more.
Fact 2: If you don’t finish school or obtain your degree you will still have to repay this loan.
Fact 3: The degree program you are enrolling in typically results in a salary of $X. This may be insufficient to be able to afford to repay the amount of money you are borrowing. Your chosen school has an X% graduation rate for this degree program.
Fact 4: Your obligation to repay your student loans may result in the reduced ability to save for retirement, purchase a home, or live on your own.
Fact 5: Failure to repay your federal student loans may result in a garnishment of your wages, forfeiture of any tax refund, and the garnishment of future Social Security payments.
The terms parents and schools use when freshman are headed to college don’t accurately reflect the financial reality of borrowing for education. If we want to blame borrowers then let’s give them the facts and not sugar coat it before they leap.

******


I highly recommend Mr. Rhode's blog site, getoutofdebtguy.org--a robust ongoing commentary on consumer debt issues.