Showing posts with label Betsy DeVos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Betsy DeVos. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Department of Education slow rolls the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program: Like a drunk weaving through traffic

For many years, the Department of Education has managed the federal student-loan program like a drunk creeping through heavy traffic. It has stumbled, reeled, dissembled, weaved and bobbed, but always avoided a head-on collision with reality.

But that time is over. Under Betsy DeVos's colossal mismanagement (and her predecessors), DOE has messed up the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), thereby telegraphing to 44 million student-loan borrowers that Betsy Devos is either fiendishly devious or spectacularly incompetent.

The PSLF program is not complicated.  Under federal law, student-loan borrowers who work for a qualified employer (governmental agency or non-profit) and make 120 student-loan payments under an approved repayment plan are eligible to have remaining student-loan debt cancelled. (It's a little more complicated than that, but not much.)

Almost 1.2 million borrowers have applied to have their employment certified for PSLF eligibility. More than a quarter million applications were denied. That alone is a startling fact.

But it gets worse. About 28,000 people who are in the PSLF program (or at least believe they are in it) applied to have their student loans forgiven based on their representation that they had made the 120 required student-loan payments. How many people have obtained debt relief so far? Less than 100!

What are we to make of this gigantic snarl?

First, DOE has made the PSLF program needlessly complicated. After all, the government only needs to answer two questions to determine who is eligible for debt relief. Did the applicant work for an approved employer for 10 years? Did the applicant make 120 one-time payments on his or her student loans?

Second, the PSLF program was poorly designed, and DeVos's DOE has reached the startling realization that the program is astonishingly expensive.  In my opinion, DOE is dragging its feet about processing PSLF claims to postpone the reckoning day, when it will have to publicly admit that PSLF is going to cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report almost two years ago that concluded DOE had underestimated the cost of various student-loan repayment options. I'm guessing DOE did not figure on the huge debt loads some PSLF applicants were accumulating from going to graduate school: MBA degrees, medical degrees, law degrees, etc.

According to GAO, the average amount of forgiven debt for the first 55 people who received student-loan forgiveness is almost $58,000. If  this average continues to hold, and all 890,000 people whose loans and employment were certified eventually get debt relief, the cost will be $50 billion! Meanwhile, DOE can expect PSLF requests for certification and debt relief to continue being filed into the indefinite future.

No wonder DOE is slow rolling the PSLF loan-forgiveness process.



 References

Stacy Cowley. 28,000 Public Servants Sought Student Loan Forgiveness. 96 Got It. New York Times, September 27, 2018.



Friday, September 21, 2018

Department of Education's New Report on Student-Loan Casualties: A Dr. Strangelove Moment

You remember that great scene from the movie Dr. Strangelove.  U.S. President Muffley (played by Peter Sellers) worries about the consequences of nuclear war with Russia. "You're talking about mass murder," President Muffley muses.

But General Turgidson (played by George C. Scott) is not concerned. "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops."

Betsy DeVos is our modern day General Turgidson. The student loan program is shattering the lives of about 20 million Americans.  But in DeVos' mind, that's a small price to pay for a program that enriches her buddies in the for-profit college industry.

And so without further ado, I will summarize the Department of Education's most recent report on the student-loan debacle.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans. As DOE reports, more and more distressed student borrowers are being herded into income-driven repayment plans (IDRPs). As of June, 7.1 million people are enrolled in IDRPs, a 20 percent increase from just a year ago.

Student borrowers in IDRPs are America's new serfs. They pay a percentage of their income for 20 or 25 years to repay the student loans they took on to attend some raggedy-ass college that didn't prepare them for a job.

Of course, IDRP monthly payments are generally low. In fact, IDRP participants who live below the poverty line make monthly payments of zero. But virtually everyone in these plans--7.1 million suckers--will die without ever paying back their loans. In fact, for most of them, their loan balances are going up with each passing month due to unpaid accruing interest.

Borrower Defense to Repayment. According to DOE, 166,000 student borrowers filed so-called "borrower defense" claims. These claimants are seeking loan forgiveness on the grounds they were defrauded by the colleges they attended. Thousands of these claims were filed by people who attended just two for-profit institutions that went bankrupt: Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech.

As of June 30, two thirds of these claims are still pending, and only 80 percent of the processed claims were approved.  Meanwhile, borrowers who have pending claims are still obligated to make their monthly loan payments.

Delinquency Rates. Delinquency rates are down slightly, DOE assures us, but almost a quarter million borrowers defaulted on their student loans during the third quarter of this year.  That's 2755 people going into default every day.  A high percentage of these defaulters attended for-profit colleges. But apparently those casualties are acceptable to Betsy DeVos.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Hundreds of thousands of student debtors have taken jobs in the public sector in belief that their student loans would be forgiven after 10 years under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). It now seems they were deluded.

PSLF was enacted by Congress in October 2007, so the first people entitled to PSLF relief became eligible in October 2017. So far, 28,000 people have applied for PSLF relief, but only 300 claims have been approved and only 96 people have actually had their loans forgiven!

If Betsy DeVos and her gang of former for-profit-college hacks continue to refuse to implement PSLF in good faith, hundreds of thousands of college borrowers who relied on PSLF will suffer incalculable hardship.  For example, thousands of people have graduated from third- and fourth-tier law schools with six-figure debt, and they can't find law jobs in the private sector that pay enough to service their student-loan obligations. As Paul Campos pointed out in his book Don't Go to Law School (Unless), PSLF is these people's only viable option for paying off their law-school loans.

Conclusion: The Student Loan Program is in Fine Shape: "10 to 20 Million Casualties, Tops!"

DOE's own data shows us that the federal student loan program is a disaster: high default rates, income-driven repayment plans that don't allow people to pay off their loans,  borrower-defense rules that DOE administers incompetently, and a PSLF program that DOE refuses to implement in good faith. Meanwhile, the for-profit gang is getting rich.

Literally, there are at least 20 million casualties. Betsy DeVos must think 20 million casualties is acceptable, but I do not. Why don't our  politicians--Republicans and Democrats-- begin to behave like grownups and impeach Betsy DeVos, who is running DOE like a character in Dr. Strangelove.

10 to 20 million casualties--tops!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

LGBTQ Student Organizations and the Equal Access Act: Betsy DeVos Has No Power to Restrict the Protections of the EAA

By Richard Fossey & Todd A. DeMitchell 

Originally posted at Berkley Forum, the blog site for Georgetown University's Center For Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

In 1984, Congress passed the Equal Access Act, which prohibits secondary schools that receive federal funds from discriminating against non-curriculum-related student groups based on their political, philosophical, or religious viewpoint. Thus, if a high school permits any non-curriculum-related student group to use its school facilities, it must allow other student groups equal access, without regard to the group’s viewpoint.

In adopting the EAA, Congress intended to advance the right of Christian student groups to use school facilities during non-instructional hours; and it clearly accomplished that goal. In Board of Education v. Mergens, a 1990 opinion, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the EAA, rejecting a school district’s argument that the Act violated the Establishment Clause.

Litigation Involving Gay Student Groups Seeking to Exercise Their Rights Under the EAA

Not long after the law was passed, LGBTQ student groups, which sometimes called themselves Gay Straight Alliances (GSA), sought the same rights as religious groups under the EAA, and a few school districts refused to recognize them. The GSAs sued in federal court, and they almost always won.

For example, a California school district argued that a GSA would introduce discussions of sexuality that were age inappropriate and would disrupt the school environment. A federal court rejected that argument, noting that a student club that focuses on sexuality might actually prevent school disruptions that can take place when students are harassed based on sexual orientation.

Likewise, a Kentucky school district maintained that it was legally entitled to shut down a GSA because the school board’s recognition of the group had triggered a boycott by anti-gay students. But a federal court disagreed. To allow disruptive anti-gay students to nullify the GSA’s legal right to meet, the court ruled, would amount to a “heckler’s veto” of constitutionally protected speech.

Ten years ago, we analyzed all published court decisions involving GSAs seeking to exercise their rights under the EAA, and we identified only one decision in which a federal court allowed a school district to ban a GSA while recognizing other student clubs. In Caudillo v. Lubbock Independent School District, a Texas school district refused to recognize a gay student group and the group filed suit. A federal district court upheld the school district’s decision on the grounds that the gay student group had created a web site with links to other web sites that the judge ruled were obscene.

Since our article was published, there have been a few more lawsuits filed by GSAs seeking recognition from school districts under the EAA, and they have generally prevailed. For example, in a 2016 case, a Florida school district refused to recognize a GSA organized by middle-school students on the grounds the EAA applied only to secondary schools and the district’s middle school was not a secondary school. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument, ruling emphatically that a middle school is a secondary school subject to the EAA.

Can Betsy DeVos Diminish LGBTQ Students’ Rights under EAA?

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s Secretary of Education, has diminished the U.S. Department of Education’s role in protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ students. As the Brookings Institution reported, DeVos has consistently declined to say whether DOE will protect LGBTQ students from discrimination. Earlier this year, the Department’s Office of Civil Rights announced it would stop accepting complaints about transgender students not having access to school bathrooms that match their gender identity. Is it possible DeVos might restrict LGBTQ students’ legal right to form GSAs in public high schools?

We do not believe DeVos can water down the EAA’s protections for GSAs, even if she tries to do so. The EAA is a federal statute that Congress is unlikely to repeal or amend, and federal courts are virtually unanimous in holding that the EAA guarantees the right of GSAs to organize in all public high schools where other non-curriculum related groups have formed.

Perhaps more importantly, the EAA has been in place for 34 years, and few school districts have refused to abide by its provisions. All across the United States, conservative Christian student groups and GSAs have met on high school campuses with little or no friction, and most school authorities are more than willing to allow GSAs to organize and meet.

In short, Betsy DeVos may reduce DOE’s role in protecting the civil rights of LGBTQ students, but she cannot extinguish their legal right to form GSAs in public high schools. Happily, the federal courts will stop her if she tries.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ben Miller, where the hell ya been? Center for American Progress finally wakes up to the magnitude of student-loan crisis

Ben Miller, senior director of the Center for American Progress, reminds me of a fuddy duddy who falls asleep at a wild party in a friend's apartment.  Just as the party starts to get interesting, he nods off on a pile of party goers' coats.

 Meanwhile, the party spins out of control: fights break out, spontaneous trysts are consummated in closets and spare bedrooms, furniture is broken, lamps are shattered. When the fuddy duddy awakes, the apartment is in shambles and the police are cuffing drunken revelers and hauling them off to jail.

"Did I miss something?", the fuddy duddy asks as he rubs the sleep from his eyes.

Miller wrote an op ed essay for the New York Times on August 8 titled "The Student Debt Problem is Worse Than We Imagined?" Ya think? Where the hell have you been, Mr. Miller?  You're like the guy who went out to buy popcorn just before the steamy scene in Last Tango in Paris.

So here is what Mr. Miller said in his op essay: student loan default rates are much higher than the Department of Education reports. I hate to break it to you, Ben; but people have known that for years. Everybody knows the for-profit colleges have been hiding their default rates by pushing their former students into deferment programs to disguise the fact the suckers weren't paying on their loans.

In fact, the problem is probably worse that Miller described it in the Times. Looney and Yannelis reported in 2015 that the five-year default rate for the 2009 cohort of student borrowers was 28 percent (Table 8).  And the five year default rate for the 2009 cohort of for-profit students was 47 percent--almost double what Miller reported for the 2012 cohort--only 25 percent.

Admittedly, Miller is looking at the 2012 cohort of debtors, while Looney and Yannelis analyzed the 2009 cohort. But surely no on believes the student-loan problem got better in recent years. Everyone knows the crisis is getting worse.

Miller's analysis briefly mentions the federal push to put student borrowers in deferment plans,  but that problem is more serious than Miller intimates. In fact 6 million student borrowers are in income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) and are making payments so small their loan balances are getting larger and larger with each passing month due to accruing interest.  For all practical purposes, the IBRP participants are also in default.

But Mr. Miller can be forgiven for waking up late to smell the coffee. Perhaps Miller, like the New York Times that published his essay, was so distracted by Stormy Daniels and the Russians that he was late to notice that American higher education is going down the toilet.  And surely, we can all agree that the person pressing down on the toilet-bowl handle  is Betsy DeVos.

What happened while Center for American Progress was snoozing?



References

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

Ben Miller. The Student Debt Problem is Worse Than We Imagined. New York Times, August 8, 2018.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A Deep Dive Into the Debtor Blaming 2018 Borrower Defense to Repayment Regulations. Essay by Steve Rhode










By Steve Rhode (originally posted on July 25, 2018)

Today the Department of Education (ED) has released their new rules for the program so let’s jump in and see what the Borrower Defence to Repayment program now looks like. I’m going to read the 433 pages so you don’t have to.The Department of Education put a hold on forgiving federal student loans for students who were victims of fraud by the schools that enrolled them. Under the Obama administration, the program would suspend collections activity while claims were being investigated and total forgiveness was a possible outcome.
Under the Trump administration claims were not approved and the rules were changed to only allow a partial forgiveness for most debtors based on an impractical standard.
It appears ED is trying to shift the responsibility for making good decisions for enrolling in questionable schools by pushing that obligation and blame on the student. The new rules say, “The goal of the Department is to enable students to make informed decisions on the front end of college enrollment, rather than to grant them financial remedies after-the-fact when lost time cannot be recouped and new educational opportunities may be sparse. Postsecondary students are adults who can be reasonably expected to make informed decisions and who must take personal accountability for the decisions they make.”
While ED says educational institutions should not mislead the students and “remedies should be provided to a student when misrepresentation on the part of an institution causes financial harm to that student,” let’s see how much power and practicality those remedies have.
The ED again turns back to putting the responsibility and blame on the student for enrolling in the wrong school that may have misled them. ED says, “students have a responsibility when enrolling at an institution or taking student loans to be sure they have explored their options carefully and weighed the available information to make an informed choice.”
But what seems to be missing from that lofty goal is some sort of pre-screening by the school to review the cost of the education and the expected salary for the chosen field. For example, the other day I wrote about the $90,000 associates degree in web design. Does the school have a responsibility to sell a fair product or is the responsibility now focused on the student for believing the hype?
ED says, “The Department has an obligation to enforce the Master Promissory Note, which makes clear that students are not relieved of their repayment obligations if later they regret the choices they made.” So if your 18-year-old self made a bad choice of schools that provided an overpriced education with little value, that’s your own damn fault.
The proposed rule document says, “As of January 2018, it had received 138,989 claims, of which 23 percent had been processed.” Some of these claims go back more than a year.
It is quite possible those became a major issue with the new ED because Borrower Defense Claims were being submitted and approved. These claims were not approved on no basis but because students had been misled or deceived by the school.
But here is where ED is turning the table on debtors, “the Department is concerned that several features of the 2016 final regulations might have put the Department in the untenable position of forgiving billions of dollars of Federal student loans based on potentially unfounded accusations. Specifically, those regulations would allow the Department to afford relief to borrowers without providing an opportunity for institutions to adequately tell their side of the story.”
These new rules say, students who feel they were misled and deceived by schools to get them to enroll and take out federal student loans, may still submit claims but as long as they are “not in a collections status.” So students who were saddled with questionable loans by a questionable school will have to continue to make monthly payments or stay out of collections while their claim is processed for an undetermined amount of time.
ED wants to encourage students to enroll in income-driven repayment plans and make payments on their loans. These would be the same plans that put people into decades-long repayment plans with potentially big tax bills at the end. Balances in these programs go up, not down, as the monthly payment is insufficient to cover the interest building.
ED is worried that students claiming they were harmed by their schools will strategically default on their otherwise unaffordable debt. As evidence to support this concern, ED cites research by those who intentionally defaulted on their mortgage payments to take advantage of mortgage modifications. Talk about apples and oranges here.
“The Department is trying very carefully to balance relief for borrowers who have been harmed by acts of institutional wrongdoing, with its obligation to the taxpayer to provide reliable stewardship of Federal dollars.” And while that might be true, then why isn’t the Department limiting access to federal funds by schools that engage in questionable practices?
Those questionable practices have led to massive amounts of unaffordable student loan debt sitting in a non-payment status. The lack of oversight by ED to rein in the access to federal student loan dollars by typically for-profit schools who have been approved by questionable accreditation.
So ED says, “With more than a trillion dollars in outstanding student loans, the Department must uphold its fiduciary responsibilities and exercise caution in forgiving student loans to ensure that it does not create an existential threat to a program that lacks typical credit and underwriting standards.”
But where were the underwriting standards for schools selling degrees that students would never be able to afford to repay? Where was the fiduciary responsibility for ED and student loan debtors?
ED appears to say they are not going to get involved in resolving disputes or claims of wrongdoing against schools. That is going to be left up to the individual student to fight with the school through the courts. How students will be able to afford to do that, is a mystery.
And ED is not going to block schools from forcing students into secret arbitration or stopping schools from allowing students to enter class action suits against the schools. Instead, ED says in its press release on the rulemaking “that institutions requiring students to engage in mandatory arbitration or prohibiting them from participating in class action lawsuits provide plain language explanations of these provisions to enable students to make an informed enrollment decision.” So students who decide to go to schools that block access to courts to remedy claims were stupid to enroll.
Here is what the rule says, “it seems reasonable that consumer complaints should continue to be adjudicated through existing legal channels that put experienced judges or arbitrators in the position of weighing the evidence and rendering an impartial decision.”
Even with the Borrower Defense to Repayment program in place, ED again takes the step to say the student was the idiot in this situation when they enrolled at a school they believed. ED says, “As stated in the Master Promissory Note the borrower signs when initiating their first loan, the borrower is expected to repay the loan even if the borrower fails to complete the program or is dissatisfied with the institution or his or her outcomes.”
On the issue of a group discharge of federal student loans if a school is found to have engaged in “a misrepresentation made with knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature or with a reckless disregard for the truth,” ED punts and says that will be the focus of a different rule. This appears to close the door for bulk discharges of schools found guilty of deception, like in the Corinthian Colleges case.
As evidence why the group discharge would be harmful to students, ED says “Because an institution can refuse to provide an official transcript for a borrower whose loan has been forgiven, group discharges could render some borrowers unable to verify their credentials or work in the field for which they trained and have enjoyed employment.” Maybe the real answer is that is a school was found to deceive students they should still have to provide a transcript.
In the past, schools who enrolled students who never graduated from high school or had a GED could be found to have taken advantage of people who may not have been qualified to enroll in higher education. The proposed rule shifts the burden back to the uneducated student when it says, “We also propose changes to the Department’s current false certification regulations. The Department believes that in cases when the borrower is unable to obtain an official transcript or diploma from the high school, postsecondary institutions should be able to rely on an attestation from a borrower that the borrower earned a high school diploma since the Department relies on a similar attestation in processing a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).”
Where is the underwriting in this process that ED says it engages in?
These new rules would apply to federal student loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2019.
They would also “require a borrower to sign an attestation to ensure that financial harm is not the result of the borrower’s workplace performance, disqualification for a job for reasons unrelated to the education received, a personal decision to work less than full-time or not at all, or the borrower’s decision to change careers.”
Feel free to read the entire document, here.
My impression of the proposed new rules is the Department of Education wants to shift all the responsibility for falling for school marketing overpriced education to the least informed person in this transaction, the student.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see how this is going to work out. Badly for debtors.
If ED is worried about underwriting and a fiduciary responsibility then why are they passing out easy loans with little regard to affordability, to begin with? Does the government have a duty to protect it’s citizens or does it need to protect its poor financial decision making and schools they pump loans through? Or is this new policy all about blaming the victim instead of investigating the claims for validity?

Steve's essay was originally posted on The Get Out of Debt Guy web site.


*****
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Divorce, birth rates and home ownership: All are negatively affected by crushing student-loan debt

According to Student Loan Hero, about 1 out 8 divorcees queried in a recent survey said that the student loans they took out before getting married eventually led to their divorce.  And the survey also found that more than a third of couples with student debt delayed their divorce because they couldn't afford the expense.

Apparently, student loans are now such a significant marital problem that one New York attorney recommends couples sign a prenuptial agreement specifying that the person helping to pay off the spouse's student loans gets reimbursed in case of a divorce. How romantic!

Experts have long agreed that money problems put a strain on marriages, but student loans are a particularly nasty form of debt. No wonder so many divorcees cited student loans specifically as a major cause of their marital split. Unlike car loans, credit card debt and home mortgages, student-loan debt is almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy. Moreover, student-loan borrowers have huge penalties slapped on their college-loan debt if they default--25 percent of the amount owed, including unpaid interest.

The Student Loan Hero survey is only the most recent evidence of the pain Americans are suffering from student loans. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Americans are having fewer babies; and college loans are one of the reasons.

The Times conducted a survey of men and women in the 20-to-45 age group, and almost two thirds said they planned to have fewer children than their ideal because of financial concerns.  Among people who said they planned to have no children, 13 percent cited student debt.

And the Federal Reserve Bank of New York documented last year that student debt was negatively affecting the housing market. A 2017 Federal Reserve Bank report observed that home ownership among young people declined by 8 percent over an 8-year period (2007 to 2015);  and the Feds concluded that a substantial reason for this decline is rising levels of student-loan debt.

The Fed report also observed that more young Americans are living with their parents than in previous years. In 2004, about one third of 23-25-year-olds lived with their parents. In 2015, 45 percent of people in this age bracket were living with mom and dad--a big increase.

None of this bad news should be surprising as Americans borrow more and more money to go to college. In 2002, only 20 percent of student borrowers owed $20,000 or more. Last year, 40 percent of student debtors owed that much or more. And borrowers owing $50,000 or more jumped from 5 percent to 16 percent during the same time period.

Remarkably, almost no one in the higher education industry even acknowledges a problem with soaring student-loan debt. If there  is a problem, the industry flacks tell us, the easy solution is extended repayment terms. Simply force Americans to pay back their loans over 20 years or even 25 years, university insiders insist.

Do you suppose Betsy DeVos thinks about distressed student borrowers when she sips her martinis on her $40 million yacht, the Seaquest? I doubt it. Based on the way she's running the Department of Education, my guess is that she worries more about protecting the predatory for-profit colleges than the students who got swindled by them.

And who do you suppose Betsy is more likely to invite for drinks on the Seaquest--a single mom who defaulted on a loan she took out to attend the University of Phoenix or an equity-fund manager who owns part of the University of Phoenix?



Betsy DeVos's $40 million yacht--193 feet long!


References

Moriah Balingit. Someone untied Betsy DeVos's yacht in Ohio. Damage EnsuedWashington Post, July 26, 2018.

Jessica Dickler. 1 in 8 divorces is caused by student loans. CNBC.com., July 27, 2018.

Ben Luthi. Survey: Student Loan Borrowers Wait Longer and Pay More to Get Divorced. Student Debt Hero, July 24, 2018.

Claire Cain Miller. Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why. New York Times, July 5, 2018.

Rick Seltzer. Percentage of Borrowers Owing $20,000 or More Doubled Since 2002. Inside Higher Ed, August 17, 2017.

Zachary Bleemer, et al. Echoes of Rising Tuition in Students' Borrowing, Educational Attainment, and Homeownership in Post-Recession America. Federal Reserve Bank of New York Staff Report No. 820, July 2017.

Steve Rhode. Student Loan Debt Hurts Economy, Consumers, and Retirement SavingsPersonal Finance Syndication Network, September 2017.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Betsy DeVos, the for-profit college industry's best pal, rolls back regulatory protections for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges

This week, Betsy DeVos, President Trump's lamentable Secretary of Education, proposed new rules for implementing the Department of Education's Borrower Defense to Repayment Program.

The new rules--433 pages long--outline the DeVos regime's procedures for processing fraud claims filed by students who took out federal loans to attend for-profit colleges and were swindled.  The New York Times and Steve Rhode of Get Out of Debt Guy reported on this development, but Rhode's analysis is more comprehensive and insightful than the Times story. Rhode's essay is the one to read.

Millions of Americans have been defrauded by for-profit colleges--literally millions. Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech filed for bankruptcy, brought down by regulatory pressures and fraud allegations. Those two institutions alone had a half million former students.

Globe University and Minnesota School of Business both lost their authority to operate in Minnesota after a Minnesota trial court ruled they had misrepresented their criminal justice programs.  Last month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals partially upheld the trial court's judgment, finding sufficient evidence to support a fraud verdict on behalf of 15 former students who testified at trial.

In California, DeVry University agreed to pay $100 million to settle claims brought by the Federal Trade Commission that it had advertised its programs deceptively. In the wake of that scandal, the company owning DeVry changed its name from DeVry Education Group to Adtalem Global Education.

The Art Institute, which charged students as much as $90,000 for a two-year associates' degree,
agreed to pay $95 million to settle fraud claims brought against it by the Justice Department, but the settlement is paltry compared to the amount of money borrowed by 80,000 former students.  And there have been numerous small for-profits that have been found liable for fraud, misrepresentation, or operating shoddy programs.

The for-profit scandal is a huge mess. If every student who was defrauded or victimized in some way by a for-profit college were to receive monetary restitution, it would probably cost taxpayers a half trillion dollars.

So how do we fix this problem? The Obama Administration approved rules that would have streamlined the process for resolving student-fraud claims, but Betsy DeVos pulled back those rules just before they were to have been implemented.

The new DeVos rules, summarized by Steve Rhode, put most of the blame on students for enrolling in these fraudulent and deceptive for-profit colleges. According to DeVos' DOE, "students have a responsibility when enrolling at an institution or taking student loans to be sure they have explored their options carefully and weighed the available information to make an informed choice."

DeVos' janky new rules forces fraud victims to continue paying on their student loans while they process their damned-near hopeless fraud claims, while DOE processes those claims--if at all--at a snail's pace.

DeVos nixed the Obama administration's ban against mandatory arbitration clauses that the for-profits have forced students to sign as a condition of enrollment. Sometimes these clauses also bar class action suits. So under Betsy DeVos' administration, many defrauded students will be barred from suing the institutions that cheated them.

Betsy and her for-profit cronies want struggling student debtors to enroll in long-term income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) that last from 20 to 25 years. Payments under those plans are generally so low that student debtors' loan balances are negatively amortizing. Borrowers in IBRPs will see their loan balances go up month by month even if they make regular monthly payments. In other words, most IBRP participants will never pay off their loans.

Some people are predicting the student-loan scandal will eventually lead to a national economic crisis similar to the one triggered by the home-mortgages meltdown. I am beginning to think these doomsday predictors are right. Already we see that student loans have impacted home ownership and may even be a factor in the nation's declining birth rates--now so low that the American population is not replacing itself.

Two things must be done to destroy the for-profit college cancer that is destroying the hopes of millions for a decent, middle-class life:

1) First, the for-profit college industry must be shut down. No more University of Phoenixes, no more DeVrys, no more Florida Coastal Universities.

2) Second, everyone who was swindled by a for-profit school should have easy access to the bankruptcy courts, so they can shed the debt they acquired due to fraud or misrepresentations and get a fresh start in life.

And there is a third thing we need to do. Congress should impeach Betsy DeVos for reckless dereliction of duty and blatant misconduct against the public interest.  Let's send her back to Michigan, where she can enjoy her family fortune as a private citizen and not as a so-called public servant.



References

Mark Brunswick. Globe U and Minn. School of Business must close, state says after fraud rulingStar Tribune, September 9, 2016. 

Christopher Magan. Globe U. and Minnesota School of Business to start closing campusesTwin Cities Pioneer Press, December 21, 2016.

State of Minnesota v. Minnesota School of Business, A17-1740, 2018 Minn. App. LEXIS 277 (Minn. Ct. App. June 4, 2018).

Sarah Cascone, Debt-Ridden Students Claim For-Profit Art Institutes Defrauded Them With Predatory Lending Practices.  Artnet.com, July 23, 2018.

Erica L. Green. DeVos Proposes to Curtail Debt Relief for Defrauded StudentsNew York Times, July 5, 2018.

Claire Cain Miller. Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why. New York Times, July 5, 2018.

Steve Rhode. A Deep Dive Into the Debtor Blaming 2018 Borrower Defense to Repayment Program. Get Out of Debt Guy (blog), July 25, 2018.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The New York Times lambasts Republicans and Betsy DeVos for catering to for-profit colleges: The Gray Lady overlooks culpable Democrats

In an editorial last month, The New York Times lambasted Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration and congressional Republicans for protecting the greasy for-profit college industry. "Try as they might," the Times observed, "the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress cannot disguise that they continue to do the bidding of the for-profit industry, which has saddled working-class students--including veterans--with crushing debt while providing useless degrees, or no degrees at all."

Indeed, the Times grumbled, the Department of Education, under DeVos, "has undermined investigations of the [for-profit college] industry by marginalizing or reassigning lawyers and investigators . . ." Major investigations, the Times reported, have been abandoned, including investigations into the activities of DeVry Education Group, Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corporation.

The Times is right of course. Betsy DeVos is the shameless lapdog of the for-profit college crowd, which continues to prey on unsophisticated Americans seeking to get a worthwhile education.  The Times predicts that DeVos' behavior may come back to bite the Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections, and perhaps there will be repercussions at the ballot box.

But to be fair, servile obsequiousness to the for-profit colleges is bipartisan. Both Democrats and Republicans have taken campaign contributions from these bandits and both parties have succumbed to the blandishments of the for-profit lobbyists.

In fact, The Nation reported nearly five years ago that two Democratic congressmen were leading an effort to protect for-profit colleges from meaningful regulation.  According to The Nation's reporter Lee Fang, Representative Rob Andrews from New Jersey and Florida congressman Alcee Hastings had taken thousands of dollars from for-profit college executives and for-profit backed political committees.

Andrews is no longer in Congress, but Alcee Hastings is still in office. This is the same Hastings, by the way, who, while sitting as a federal district judge, was charged with bribery, perjury and falsifying documents.  The U.S. Senate impeached him and removed him from his judicial post in 1989.

If the Democrats want to distinguish themselves from their Republican colleagues, they need to speak out forthrightly about the for-profit-college scandal. In my view, the for-profit racketeers cannot be tamed through tougher regulations. The only way to stop these predators from stalking unsuspecting and naive young Americans is to shut the industry down. But the Democrats don't have the courage to speak out against the for-profit mobsters. They seem to hope Americans will overlook their silence about the the for-profit college industry and pin all the blame on the Republicans.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Florida): Friend of the for-profit college industry


References

Editorial. Predatory Colleges, Freed to Fleece Students. New York Times, May 22, 2018.

Lee Fang. Two House Democrats Lead Effort to Protect For-Profit Colleges, Betraying Students and Vets. The Nation, December 13, 2013.

United States Senate.  The Impeachment Trial of Alcee L. Hastings (1989) U.S. District Judge, Florida.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Betsy DeVos is shilling for debt-collectors and for-profit colleges: The destruction of Americas's middle class

The New York Times published an editorial this week strongly criticizing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whom the Times accurately describe as a "shill" for the student-loan industry.

As the Times reported, DeVos' Department of Education has issued a new policy statement that says federal law can preempt state consumer-protection laws aimed at curbing abuses in the loan-servicing and debt-collection business.  DeVos' Department argues that state consumer-protection laws can undermine uniform administration of the student loan program.

The Times also criticized the Republican-sponsored bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. This bill, if it becomes law, will preempt the right of the states to regulate the student-loan business--including student-loan debt collectors and loan servicers.

Betsy DeVos' craven and servile pandering to the student-loan industry is a scandal; and DeVos--not the Russians--should be the focus of Democratic attacks on the Trump administration.  DeVos' behavior belies all the blather coming out of the White House about how Trump policies benefit the middle class. DeVos apparently hopes to remove all restraints on the venal and corrupt student-loan business, which is doing a pretty good job of dismantling the middle class.

In fact, the federal student-loan program is a disaster, with millions of casualties as student borrowers are pushed into default or into long-term repayment plans that never pay off borrowers' loan balances.

Here's what can be done to stop DeVos' mad-dog scheme to line the pockets of her debt-collector cronies:

1) The state attorney generals should sue Betsy DeVos and DOE every time they attempt to dismantle the states' proper role of protecting consumers from fraud.  As the Times noted, this is what the state AGs are doing.

2) Other states should follow the example of the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Attorney General  and organize teams of volunteer lawyers to represent distressed student-loan debtors in the bankruptcy courts.  If just a few more state AGs joined the Bay State--California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas, for example--I believe the bankruptcy courts would begin revising their harsh attitude toward college borrowers in the bankruptcy courts.

3) The Democrats should take every opportunity to question Trump administration officials under oath about the activities of the student-loan guarantee companies who act as DOE's debt collectors. Why do four of these agencies--nonprofit organizations--individually hold $1 billion in assets while they hound elderly debtors in the bankruptcy courts.  Let's see a breakdown of the attorney fees these agencies are paying to hire asshole lawyers to crush student-loan debtors.

Everyone of good will should take heart at Fed Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's candid admission that he could not explain why the Bankruptcy Code treats student-loan debtors so harshly--basically putting them in the same category as criminals.

As someone once said, when a thing can't go on forever, it won't. The abuses of the federal student loan program can't go on forever. More than 40 million borrowers collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loans (including private loans); and about half of these borrowers will never repay their debt.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other agencies have documented that student-loan debt is hurting the economy--preventing people from buying homes and saving for retirement.

The time has come for American society to decide: Do we want to continue enriching a bunch of crooks in the for-profit college business and the debt-collecting racket or do we want a middle class?

We know Betsy DeVos' answer: she wants to enrich her corrupt buddies even if she helps destroy the middle class.


References

The Student Loan Industry Finds Friends in Washington. New York Times, March 18, 2018.

Robert Shireman and Tariq Habash. Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way? The Century Foundation, September 29, 2016.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

America's harsh treatment of student-loan debtors: Greed, corruption and heartlessness reach Dickensian proportions

That old wheel is gonna roll around once more
When it does it will even up the score
Don't be weak, as they sew, they will reap
Turn the other cheek and don't give in
That old wheel will roll around again

This Old Wheel
Jennifer Ember Pierce, songwriter
Sung best by Johnny Cash

If you haven't read Charles Dickens by now, just skip it. 
Dickens is well worth reading for his descriptions of injustice in Victorian England: the workhouses, the brutal schools, debtors prisons, and the mercilessness of English law. But  contemporary America is descending to the depths of social injustice every bit as sordid as conditions in Dickens' England. If you don't believe me, read Matthew Desmond's Evicted, published less than two years ago.  
In particular, millions of student-loan debtors are suffering just as much as the characters in Oliver Twist, David Copperfield or Pickwick Papers.  College debtors are defaulting at the rate of 3,000 a day. The U.S. Department reports a three-year default rate of 11 percent, but that figure is meaningless. The five-year default rate for a recent cohort of student debtors is 28 percent, for students attending for-profit schools it's 47 percent.
And the default rate only tells part of the story. Millions of people are in the economic-hardship deferment program--excused from making monthly loan payments while interest piles up. Now we see people stumble into the bankruptcy courts owing three and even four times what they borrowed.

Our government treats all student-loan defaulters like criminals. We aren't hanging and deporting debtors like the English did back in the nineteenth century, but they are treated pretty rough.

For starters, there is no statute of limitations on an unpaid federal student loan. Even if you borrowed the money so long ago you can't remember the school you attended, the government's debt collectors can come after you. 

In Lockhart v. United States, our lovely Supreme Court upheld the law permitting the government to garnish the social checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. The vote was  9 to 0. There were no liberals on the Court the day the Lockhart decision came down. 

And Congress and the courts have conspired to deprive distressed student-loan debtors access to the bankruptcy courts. Under the "undue hardship" standard nestled in 11 U.S.C. sec. 523(a)(8),  debtors cannot discharge their student loans unless they can show undue hardship, which the courts have interpreted harshly.

In recent years, there have been some compassionate and sensible decisions by the bankruptcy courts: the Abney case, the Lamento decision, and the Acosta-Conniff decision out of Alabama (which was reversed on appeal).

But the Department of Education, Educational Credit Management Corporation, and other debt collection agencies have appealed many of these decisions; and few student debtors have the financial or emotional resources for court fights that stretch on for years.  In the Hedlund case, for example, a graduate of Whittier Law School fought in the federal courts for ten years before he finally won a partial bankruptcy relief from his student loans.

Several federal appellate courts have softened the "undue hardship" standard somewhat: the Roth decision by the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, the Seventh Circuit's Krieger decision, and the Eighth Circuit BAP Court's Fern opinion.

By and large, however, the bankruptcy courts have abdicated their role of providing honest but unfortunate debtors a fresh start. No wonder the myth prevails that it is impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. And the Department of Education perpetuates this myth by opposing bankruptcy for people who are in severe distress, like the quadriplegic in the Myhre case.

Now we are enduring the Trump presidency. Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education, has a nasty disposition toward student-loan debtors. She is busily dismantling the Obama administration's modest initiatives to rein in the corrupt for-profit college industry. The Republican dominated House Education Committee recently released a bill that would do away with all student--loan forgiveness programs. And a bill has just been introduced to protect attorneys from being sued for engaging in unfair debt collection.

America's financial industry, cheered on by the business news channels, chirp the Panglossian notion that Americans are living in the best of all possible worlds. The stock market soars ever skyward, and the economist says we have virtually reached full employment. The economy is growing at a healthy rate, and everyone is becoming wealthier.

But that's bullshit. The reality is this: millions of Americans are living day to day, burdened by consumer debt they can't repay. Student-loan indebtedness now exceeds accumulated credit card debt and car loans. Our Congress, our President, our Secretary of Education, and our courts are indifferent to the stark reality that we are constructing a society very much like Dickensian England.

Justice, Johnny Cash assures us, will eventually be restored. "That old wheel is gonna roll around once more. When it does it will even up the score." I hope Johnny is right. It will be a good sign if DeVos is forced from the Education Secretary's job and publicly disgraced. 

Don't give in; that old wheel is gonna roll around again.

References

Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, 540 B.R. 681 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015).

Matthew Desmond. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. New York: Broadway Books, 2016.

Fern v. Fedloan Servicing563 B.R. 1 (8th Cir. BAP 2017).

Lamento v. U.S. Department of Education, 520 B.R. 667 (N.D. Ohio 2014).

Lockhart v. United States, 546 U.S. 142 (2005). 

Krieger v. Educational Credit Management Corporation713 F.3d 882 (9th Cir. B.A.P 2013).


Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (W.D. Wis. 2013).

Steve Rhode. Proposed Law Will Make it More Likely Debtors Will be Sued Faster if in n Collections. Get Out of Debt Guy (blog), January 18, 2018.
Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation490 B.R. 908 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2013).

The Wrong Move on Student LoansNew York Times, April 6, 2017.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Essay by Steve Rhode

By SteveRhode, January 3, 2018

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to be waging a terrible war against student loan debtors who have been defrauded by their schools in order to extract federal student loan money. Since the Trump administration took over the Department of Education has not actually delivered relief to a single Borrower Defense to Repayment claim. Yet they brag as of December 20, 2017 they have just approved “12,900 pending claims submitted by former Corinthian Colleges, Inc. students, and 8,600 pending claims have been denied.”
Under that Department of Education program the student previously would be forgiven from the student loans obtained by deception and the government would claw back the money the school got.
Most of these claims have been submitted by students of for-profit schools who played fast and loose with their marketing.
But it seems the government is turning its back on students who have been misled by schools to get their student loan money. Not only is the Department of Education changing the rules but they are also proposing rules that students who land better jobs after graduation should not be forgiven from the loans they were defrauded by. Either you are or are not a victim of fraud but the proposed policy create a middle ground where victims get to be only partial victims.
Under the deadline of “Improved Borrower Defense Discharge Process Will Aid Defrauded Borrowers, Protect Taxpayers” the government proposes what they say is more fair. Department of Education Secretary DeVos says “No fraud is acceptable, and students deserve relief if the school they attended acted dishonestly.” But then goes on to say relief is conditional based on gainful employment. – Source

While the Department of Education brags about their recent wave of Corinthian College Borrower Defense to Repayment claims they also disclose “rather than taking an “all or nothing” approach to discharge, the improved process will provide tiers of relief to compensate former Corinthian students based on damages incurred.”

Relief from fraud will be dependent on the current earnings of the victims. Victims earning 70% and above of the income of their peers will only receive a 30 percent forgiveness of the fraudulent student loans. So to be clear, that income test is against the other students who were the victims of the same fraud and not the general population.
As a bonus the Department of Education gives fraud victims this carot “to mitigate the inconvenience for how long it has taken to adjudicate claims, the Department will apply a credit to interest that accrues on loans starting one year after the borrower defense application is filed.”
So the Department of Education will take forever to deal with the forgiveness application and then only tack on a year worth of interest while they drag their feet.
Now to add insult to injury the Department of Education is proposing making it much harder for students to prove they were subject to misrepresentation to induce enrollment in an effort to extract money from students loan debtors.
The proposed forgiveness plan is to eliminate any successful judgment against a school by an Attorney General as proof of deception. Instead the individual student would have to obtain an individual judgment against the school. This would require a legal action that nearly all students would never be able to afford to file. Additionally the defrauded student would have to show clear and convincing evidence they were intentionally misled and that misrepresentation let to monetary harm.
“They’ve made it almost impossible for borrowers to meet the misrepresentation standard by requiring them to demonstrate the intent of the school especially when students don’t have the power of discovery” to examine the inner workings of a school, said Clare McCann, deputy director of higher education policy at New America, who worked on the Obama-era policy. “They took every dial and dialed to the far extreme. It really tries to make [the regulation] as useless as possible.”
Pretty soon we are going to need a Department of Education Victim Helpline to assist people soon to be screwed over by a government department that clearly appears to be putting for-profit colleges first.


*****

Steve's essay was originally posted on The Get Out of Debt Guy web site.
Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here. 



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Student Loan Default Crisis grows worser and worser: Brooking Institution says minorities and for-profit students are hardest hit

First of all, I realize that the word "worser" is not standard English. Nevertheless, "worser" appears in Hamlet (act 3,scene 4). If it is good enough for Shakespeare, it is good enough for me.

Now to the topic at hand. Judith Scott-Clayton recently published a report for the Brookings Institution on the student-loan default crisis. Twelve-year default rates are going up--with minority students and for-profit-college attenders experiencing the highest default rates.

For the 2004 cohort of borrowers who attended a for-profit college, the 12-year default rate was 46.5 percent (darn near half). For African American borrowers from the same cohort, 37.5 percent defaulted within 12 years. The black default rate was three times higher than the white default rate (12.4 percent) and six times higher than the rate for Asians (only 6.2 percent).

Scott-Clayton's report makes clear that the crisis in student-loan defaults among African Americans is acute. Based on the current trajectory, she projects 70 percent of black borrowers will default on their student loans by the end of 20 years.

Scott-Clayton points out that African American default rates are high even for black students who graduate from college. The default rate for African American graduates is five times higher than the default rate among white graduates.  In fact, she points out, the default rate for black college graduates is higher than the default rate for white college dropouts.

African Americans also borrow more money than white students. For the 2004 entry cohort, black students borrowed twice as much as white students for their undergraduate education.

The Scott-Clayton report is alarming, but a 2015 Brookings report (which Scott-Clayton referenced) is even more alarming. Looney and Yannelis, authors of the 2015 report, found that 47 percent of the people in the 2009 cohort of borrowers who took out loans to attend for-profit colleges defaulted within 5 years. For the cohort as a whole, the default rate was 28 percent.

Basically, however, the Scott-Clayton report and the Looney-Yannelis report told us what we already knew.  Student borrowers who attend for-profit colleges have shocking student-loan default rates; and African American students have much higher default rates than white students.

Scott-Clayton concluded her report with some tepid suggestions, which I will quote:
[T]he results suggest that diffuse concern with rising levels of average debt is misplaced. Rather, the results provide support for robust efforts to regulate the for-profit sector, to improve degree attainment and promote income-contingent loan repayment options for all students, and to more fully address the particular challenges faced by college students of color.
Frankly, I disagree with Scott-Clayton's bland recommendations. First, of all, we should be very concerned about the rising level of student debt across all sectors of higher education--not just the for-profit sector.  Millions of student borrowers are suffering, and some of those sufferers are white graduates of Ivy League colleges.

Secondly, although it is easy to call for more "robust" regulation of the for-profits, Betsy DeVos is headed in the opposite direction. DeVos is doing all she can to prop up the corrupt for-profit college industry and to lift all regulatory constraints against the for-profit institutions.  In my view, the best way to deal with the for-profit colleges is to cut off their federal funding and shut them down.

And I stridently disagree with Scott-Clayton's blithe call to promote income-contingent repayment plans. Most of the people in those plans are not making monthly payments large enough to service accruing interest.  At the end of their 20- or 25-year repayment plans, many will owe more than they borrowed.

Moreover, although people who complete long-term repayment plans will have any remaining debt forgiven, the amount of the forgiven debt will be taxable to them.

I suspect the Brookings Institution is advancing a hidden agenda with its reports on the student-loan crisis. Brookings wants the public to focus on minority students and the for-profit colleges while ignoring the fact that debt levels are rising across all sectors of higher education and injuring millions of student borrowers--not just students of color.

Let's face facts. The for-profit colleges are not the only institutions ripping off their students. The Ivy League schools are exploiting students as well. And with each passing day, the crisis gets worser and worser.




References

Adam Looney and Constantine Yannelis. A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and the institutions they attended contribute to rising loan defaults. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2015.

Judith Scott-Clayton. The looming student loan default crisis is worse than we thought. Brooking Institution, January 11, 2018.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Attention, Student-Loan Debtors: You Are Being Evicted from the Middle Class

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City tells the story of how greed and the nation's legal system have driven poor Americans to the brink of homelessness.  Author Matthew Desmond follows the lives of eight Milwaukee residents who scramble from day to day to avoid being evicted from their homes and thrown into the street. It is a good read, and I highly recommend it.

As I read Desmond's book, I was struck by the similarity between the low-income housing crisis and the student-loan crisis.  As Martin Luther King observed, "Every condition exists simply because someone profits by its existence." Slumlords profit from renting substandard housing to the poor; stockholders and hedge fund owners profit from for-profit colleges.

And slumlords and for-profit colleges both rely on the government to help them exploit the poor. Slumlords can call on the local sheriff to evict tenants for nonpayment; and for-profit colleges rely on Betsy DeVos's Department of Education to protect their venal interests. Landlord-tenant laws favor the landlords, and the Bankruptcy Code protects the banks, which loan money to students at exorbitant interest rates, knowing that student debtors will find it almost impossible to discharge their onerous debts in the bankruptcy courts.

As Desmond wrote in Evicted, "The United States was founded on the noble idea that people have 'certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Indeed, the nation's founders considered these rights to be God-given and "essential to the American character."

Desmond argues that "the ideal of liberty has always incorporated not only religious and civil freedoms but also the right to flourish." In twenty-first century America, people need decent housing to flourish and they also need freely accessible education.

But our federal student-loan program is designed to extinguish the American right to pursue happiness and to flourish. The federal government allows corrupt for-profit colleges to lure vulnerable people into enrolling in education programs that are far too expensive and often worthless. The victims are forced to take out student loans. And the federal government stands by to be every student's sugar daddy--distributing about $150 billion a year in various forms of student aid.

The for-profit colleges get more than their fair share of federal money. In fact, many of them receive from 80 to 90 percent of their entire operating budgets from federal student loans and federal Pell grants.

Then when student-loan victims are unable to find well-paying jobs to service their debt, our once generous government becomes a tyrant. The Department of Education opposes bankruptcy relief for nearly everyone--even a quadriplegic (Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 2013) and people on the edge of homelessness (Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

America will not begin solving the student-loan crisis until our nation's leaders acknowledge that the federal student-loan program is a massive human rights violation that is evicting millions of people from the middle class. Students who took out loans to attend for-profit colleges have been especially hard hit; almost half the students who took out loans to attend a for-profit college default on their loans within five years.

Student debtors are defaulting at the rate of 3,000 people a day, which ruins their credit and leaves them vulnerable to having their wages garnished. The government can even seize part of an elderly defaulter's Social Security check.

How can higher education return to decency and sanity? First, we must remove Betsy DeVos from her post as Secretary of Education. DeVos is about as qualified to run the Department of Education as the late Charlie Manson. And then we must revise the Bankruptcy Code to allow honest but unfortunate student debtors to discharge their loans in bankruptcy court. And finally, we must shut down the for-profit college industry, which DeVos so assiduously protects.

Student-loan debtors: Evicted from the middle class
References

Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, 540 B.R. 681 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015).

Matthew Desmond. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. New York: Broadway Books, 2016.

Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (W.D. Wis. 2013).

The Wrong Move on Student LoansNew York Times, April 6, 2017.