And ponder this: 45 percent of the students in the University of Phoenix's 2009 cohort defaulted on their student loans within five years (Looney & Yannelis, 2015, table 5).
These are astonishing figures. And when we consider that a lot of former students who attended for-profit schools are enrolled in economic-hardship deferment programs and are not making loan payments, this sobering fact seems indisputable: more than half of the people who borrow money to attend for-profit colleges eventually default on their loans.
The Brookings Institution argues that the nation's high student-loan default rate can mostly be attributed to students who are "non-traditional borrowers," which it defines as students who attended for-profit colleges or two-year schools. Among all students who began repayment on their loans in 2011 and defaulted by 2013, 70 percent were nontraditional borrowers.
Loaning money for students to attend for-profit schools is irresponsible.
Based on these numbers, even a child can conclude that the federal government should not be loaning money to students who enroll in for-profit programs because taxpayers are going to get less than half of it back. And--what is far worse--a lot of minority students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds will have student-loan debt hanging around their necks for the rest of their lives. For these students, attending a for-profit school did not improve their lives; attending a for-profit school made their lives worse.
Arne Duncan's Department of Education knows that the for-profit college sector is out of control, and it is made some efforts to provide student-loan debtors a little relief. For example, DOE granted loan forgiveness to about 3,000 students who attended one of Corinthian Colleges' campuses after Corinthian went bankrupt earlier this year. But there are more than 300,000 former Corinthian students.
Reasonable bankruptcy relief is the only humane remedy for non-profit students who default on their loans.
I do not think Congress or the Department of Education will ever shut off the federal-loan spigot to the for-profit colleges. This industry has protected itself with lobbyists, attorneys, and strategic campaign contributions. Year after year, misguided students will continue to enroll at for-profit schools, and at least half will eventually default.
But in the name of common decency, can't we at least give student-loan defaulters, who are suffering by the millions, some effective relief? Do we have to make it so difficult for student-loan defaulters to file for bankruptcy and get a fresh start? Do we really want to force them into 25-year repayment plans, basically turning them into economic serfs for the balance of their working lives?
Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis, A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising default rates. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015). Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/bpea/papers/2015/looney-yannelis-student-loan-defaults