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

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.



Friday, January 12, 2018

Betsy DeVos is trying to nullify a federal law intended to give defrauded students relief from student loans: Our government is shielding crooks

Betsy DeVos is in bed with the corrupt for-profit college industry. Her slavish pandering to the for-profit-college racketeers is truly shocking. Now she is trying to nullify a law that gives relief to students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

In 1994, Congress passed a law giving students an avenue for getting their student loans discharged if they were defrauded by the college they attended.  The law was not used much until Corinthian Colleges--a for-profit college group--collapsed and filed for bankruptcy. At the time of its demise, Corinthian had over 300,000 students or former students; and several thousand filed so-called borrower defense applications seeking to get their student loans discharged on the grounds they were defrauded by Corinthian.

The Obama administration adopted regulations for implementing the borrower-defense rule, which provided a regulatory avenue for reviewing fraud claims. But Betsy DeVos nullified those regulations. DeVos said the Obama regulations would allow students to wrongly obtain "free money" at the expense of for-profit colleges.

DeVos launched a new round of administrative review, and DOE said the new regulations would probably not be implemented until 2019. The DeVos DOE's new borrower-defense rules are very different from what the Obama administration had fashioned. In fact, the DeVos regulations, if implemented, will basically invalidate the federal borrower-defense statute altogether.

David Halperin, writing in Huffington Post, observed that "the DeVos-Trump draft borrower defense rules . . . essentially nullify the 1994 law that gives former students who are ripped off by their colleges . . . the right to seek cancellation of their student loans."

As Halperin explained, the DeVos rules erect "numerous and redundant barriers to students getting the benefit of that law." The DeVos draft rules are so draconian that a representative of the for-profit college industry admitted that the new rules "feels a little stacked against the student."

For example, under the rules DeVos proposes, students will have to prove their fraud claims by "clear and convincing evidence." This is a very high legal barrier, especially when you consider that the colleges--not the complaining students--have access to the evidence of fraud.

Of course, state attorneys general have been suing the for-profits for fraud.  Surely a former student could present a judgment for fraud against a for-profit college as evidence that the student herself is a fraud victim. No, DeVos' new regulations will not permit a fraud victim to present a judgment against a for-profit college as part of the student's own fraud claim. As Steve Rhode wrote recently:
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.
If the DeVos rules go into effect, fraud victims will rarely if ever obtain relief from their student loans. Abbey Shafroth, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, said this: "I really think [the DeVos rules] would effectively do away with borrowers' ability to get relief in almost all circumstances."

The DeVos Department of Education's proposed borrower-defense rules demonstrate that it has abandoned all pretense of fairness and decency toward student-loan debtors. DeVos herself is nothing more than obsequious book licker for the for-profit college industry, and Congress seems unable or unwilling to rein her in.

Last July, Eighteen Democratic state Attorneys General sued DeVos and the Department of Education, seeking to force the Department to implement the Obama-era borrower defense rules. I hope they are successful because what DeVos is essentially trying to do is eviscerate a 1994 statute passed by Congress for the express purpose of  providing student fraud victims with well deserved relief from their student loans.




References

David Halperin. Backing DeVos Repeal of Obama Rules, For-Profit Colleges Vilify Students. Huffington Post, January 9, 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Few Details on Tougher Borrower-Relief Standards. Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Devos: Borrower-Defense Rule Offered 'Free Money'Inside Higher Ed, September 26, 2017.

Steve Rhode. Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Getoutofdebtguy.org (blog), January 3, 2018.

Editorial: Scamming for-profit schools roar back under Betsy DeVos. Chicago Sun-Times, December 25, 2017.




Thursday, January 4, 2018

Forget the Russians: Democrats should focus their energy on removing Betsy DeVos from Trump's Cabinet

Almost 44 million Americans are student-loan debtors, and every single one of them should see Betsy DeVos as their mortal enemy. Since President Trump appointed her as Secretary of Education, DeVos has done nothing to ease the suffering of college borrowers. On the contrary, she has done everything she can to prop up the venal and corrupt for-profit college industry, which has preyed on vulnerable and naive students, many of them minority members or just plain poor.

We have known for years that the for-profit college racket is a cancer. Senator Tom Harkin's 2012 report on the for-profits made that fact absolutely clear. And we know that a high percentage of people who take out student loans to attend these shyster colleges default on their loans. Nearly half of a recent cohort of borrowers who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within five years. It was recently reported that more than half of the students who took out student loans to attend 1,000 colleges and schools had not paid down one dime of their student loans seven years into repayment. Most of those 1,000 institutions are for-profits.

Minorities have been especially injured by the for-profit colleges. Three quarters of African Americans who take out loans to study at a for-profit college and then drop out eventually default.

In my view, the Obama administration did not do a great job of reining in the for-profit racketeers, but it did make an effort. The combined efforts of the Obama Department of Education and several state attorney generals brought down two bad actors: Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech. These two organizations had a total of a half million students and former students at the time they closed and filed for bankruptcy.

And the Obama administration put regulations in place to process students' fraud claims--claims against Corinthian in particular. But Betsy DeVos derailed those regulations and appears intent on protecting the for-profits from fraud claims. She's cooked up a bogus formula for resolving fraud claims, awarding only partial compensation to victims.

As Steve Rhode noted in a recent essay, the DeVos DOE has not provided relief to a single student borrower who was defrauded by a for-profit college, although it has approved around 13,000 claims by former Corinthian students (while rejecting 8,600 pending  claims).

DeVos also nullified an Obama-era regulation that would prohibit the for-profits from forcing their students to sign covenants not to sue as a condition of enrollment.  In addition, DeVos is slow rolling the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which provides debt relief to people who devote ten years to public service. Indeed, the Trump administration proposes to do away with the PSLF program.

And if that weren't enough, the Republicans sent a bill out of the House Education Committee that would do away with student-loan forgiveness altogether. DeVos has not formally endorsed this bill, but she called it a "starting point."  The bill, if it becomes law, would give student borrowers only two options--pay off their loans in ten years or go into a perpetual income-based program that would not end until the loans are paid off or the student borrower dies. Oh yes, and the bill would eliminate the authority of state attorney generals to police the student loan industry.

And what have the Democrats done in response to DeVos' shockingly obsequious behavior toward the for-profit college racketeers? Not a friggin' thing. Senator Elizabeth Warren--self-proclaimed consumer advocate, writes stern letters to DeVos and other government bureaucrats, but she can't point to a single accomplishment in terms of student-loan relief.

I give the Democrats grudging credit for at least introducing legislation that addresses the student-loan crisis. The Delaney-Katko bill (co-sponsored by 25 Democrats and one Republican) would open the bankruptcy courts to deserving student borrowers, which is really the only comprehensive solution to the crisis. But that bill will never make through a Republican dominated Congress that is totally beholden to the financial industry.

In my mind, the litmus test for Congress in terms of student-loan relief is the Warren-McCaskill bill that would bar the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. Passing this bill would at least alleviate the suffering of the 114,000 older Americans who are seeing their Social Security income reduced due to unpaid student loans.

 It is not enough for Senators Warren and McCaskill to simply file this bill; they need to get it to a vote. What Republican would vote against that bill? Can't Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Pelosi walk across the aisle and get Warren-McCaskill bill signed into law with bipartisan support?

Frankly, if there is not enough good will between Republicans and Democrats to enact the Warren-McCaskill Social Security relief bill, which only provides puny student-debt relief, then student debtors should say the hell with both parties and form a third political party.

In the meantime, Democrats should focus on getting Betsy DeVos out of Trump's cabinet. I don't know if her slavish catering to the for-profit-college gang amounts to high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachment purposes, but this I know: Betsy has got to go.

Image credit: GQ Magazine


References

Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell, & Melissa Korn. House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher EducationWall Street Journal, November 29, 2017.

Jillian Berman. House Republicans seek to roll back state laws protecting student loan borrowers. Marketwatch.com, December 7, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. GOP higher ed plan would end student loan forgiveness in repayment program, overhaul federal financial aidWashington Post, December 1, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Dems raise concern about possible links betwen DeVos and student debt collection agencyWashington Post, January 17, 2017.


Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Elizabeth Warren wants the Education Dept.'s use of earnings data investigated. Washington Post, January 2, 2018.

Paul Fain. Half of black student loan borrowers default, new federal data showInside Higher Ed, October 17, 2017.

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2017. 

Andrew Kreighbaum. DeVos on Higher Education Act Rewrite. Inside Higher Ed, December 15, 2017.

Jack Moore. Betsy DeVos may be Gearing Up to Screw Over Public Service Workers Who Expect Student Loan Forgiveness. GQ.com, August 3, 2017.

Representative John Delaney press releaseDelaney and Katko File Legislation to Help Americans Struggling with Student Loan Debt, May 5, 2017.

Senator Claire McCaskill Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors.

Senator Elizabeth Warren Press Release, December 20, 2016. McCaskill-Warren GAO Report Shows Shocking Increase in Student Loan Debt Among Seniors

Steve Rhode. Dept of Ed Puts Fraud First Over Students and Common Sense. Getoutofdebtguy.com, January 3, 2017.

United States Government Accountability Office. Social Security Offsets: Improvement to Program Design Could Better Assist Older Student Borrowers with Obtaining Permitted Relief. Washington DC: Author, December 2016).

United States Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success. July 2012. Accessible at: http://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/for_profit_report/PartI.pdf













Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Betsy DeVos says students defrauded by for-profit colleges may only get partial debt relief

As Martin Luther King wrote from the Birmingham Jail, justice too long delayed is justice denied. And of course justice that is not only delayed but incomplete is nothing more than a cynical parody of justice.

As everyone knows, hundreds of thousands of students took out student loans to attend for-profit colleges and paid too much for their educational experiences. Often they got no benefit from their studies. Student-default rates for these students are shocking. Almost 50 percent in a recent cohort defaulted within five years of beginning repayment. Three out of four African Americans who attended for-profit schools eventually default--which is a scandal.

And many students were defrauded by the for-profit colleges they attended. Last year, Corinthian Colleges had a judgment entered against it in California for more than a billion dollars based on findings of fraud and misrepresentation.

The Obama administration, to its credit, crafted regulations whereby students could apply to the Department of Education to have their student loans forgiven if they were defrauded by the college they attended. Thousands of students who were enrolled at one of the Corinthian campuses applied for loan forgiveness based on fraud claims.

Betsy DeVos stopped the implementation of the Obama regulations, saying she feared students would get "free money." She then appointed a panel of experts to draft new regulations, which won't be approved until next year. In fact, under the DeVos scheme, defrauded students will not be able to move forward on their claims until 2019 at the earliest.

And it appears, many students will not get complete relief from their loans even if they can prove they were defrauded.  DeVos is talking about giving partial relief based on a formula that will compare the defrauded student's earnings to the average earnings among people who participated in similar educational programs.

The cynicism of this approach is shocking. First of all, by delaying the administrative process until 2019, DeVos is giving fraud students only three options for handling their student debt. First, they can continue making loan payments on educational experiences that are worthless. Second, they can enter income-based repayment plans that will set monthly payments so low that the interest on their debt will continue to accrue, making their total indebtedness grow larger. Or third, they can default on their loans, which will ruin their credit and cause their debt to grow larger from fees and penalties that the debt collectors tack on to their original debt.

DeVos's tactic is nothing more than cynical manipulation to aid the for-profit industry. If Congress had a moral compass and some courage, DeVos's behavior would lead to a formal resolution calling for her resignation.

Betsy DeVos' summer home

References

Gail Collins. No Profit in Betsy DeVos. New York Times, October 27, 2017.

Maria Danilova. DeVos may only partially wipe away some student loans. Detroit News, October 28, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Education Department sets up standards for partial relief of defrauded borrowers. Inside Higher Ed, December 21, 2017.

Tamar Lewin. Questions Follow Leader of For-Profit Colleges. New York Times,May 26, 2011.

Bob Samuels. The For-Profit College Bubble: Exploiting the Poor to Give to the Rich. Huffington Post, May 25, 2011.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

It's official: The Republicans hate student-loan debtors

A few days ago, Republicans introduced their bill for revising the Higher Education Act. Some provisions in the GOP proposal are astonishing in their cruelty and contempt for student debtors.
  • Abolishing income-drive repayment plans. For starters, the Republicans want to end all student-loan forgiveness. Goodbye PAYE. Goodbye REPAY. Students who can't pay off their loans under the standard 10-year repayment plan will be forced into income-driven repayment plans that continue until their loans are paid off--which for many of them will be never.
  • Abolishing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The GOP wants to abolish the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which Congress created in 2007. Hundreds of thousands of students have entered into public-service jobs expecting to have their college loans forgiven after 10 years. If the Republican proposal becomes law, some of these people may be grandfathered into the PSLF program, but the program will be shut down.
  • Forbidding states from enforcing consumer protection laws against student loan servicers. Buried on page 464 of the GOP's bill is a provision that forbids states from regulating the student-loan serving companies.  Some state AGs have vigorously pursued wrongdoers in the loan servicing business, and Republicans apparently want to shield the debt collectors from state consumer protection laws.
Where are these pernicious Republican ideas coming from? Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is Chair of the House Education Committee, and she supports all these nasty proposals. But Foxx is not pulling the strings. These toxic proposals are coming from the heart of the Trump administration--and undoubtedly from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

I don't know if these punitive GOP proposals will make it into federal law. But if they do, Republicans will push millions of college borrowers into a lifetime of indebtedness.  It's almost as if the GOP wants to create an underclass of sharecroppers.

President Trump and his fiendish Secretary of Education (who has financial ties to the debt collection business) may think their scheme to punish student borrowers will play to the Republican base. But if these proposals get through Congress, there will be hell to pay in coming elections.  

The Democrats are missing a golden opportunity if they don't take up the banner of student-debt relief.  In my view, they should forget Russia and turn their venom toward Betsy DeVos, who may be Trump's Achillese heel. The Dems need to educate college borrowers about the nation's venal Secretary of Education and rouse them to righteous fury.

Betsy DeVos summer home: Maybe you could get a job there as pool boy


References

Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell, & Melissa Korn. House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher EducationWall Street Journal, November 29, 2017.

Jillian Berman. House Republicans seek to roll back state laws protecting student loan borrowers. Marketwatch.com, December 7, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. GOP higher ed plan would end student loan forgiveness in repayment program, overhaul federal financial aidWashington Post, December 1, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Dems raise concern about possible links betwen DeVos and student debt collection agencyWashington Post, January 17, 2017.













Monday, November 27, 2017

Representative Alma Adams urges limited loan forgiveness for Charlotte Law School Students: Adams' plea does not go far enough

Representative Alma Adams, Democratic congresswoman from North Carolina, wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, urging DeVos to forgive student loans held by students who attended Charlotte School of Law (CSL) from December 2016 until the school was shut down last August.

Representatives G.K. Butterfield and David Price, also from North Carolina, joined Adams in the letter.  The three laid out a seething indictment of CSL, which has been in trouble for a couple of years. The American Bar Association put CSL on probation in October 2016 for misrepresenting the law school's accreditation status and bar passage rates. And the Department of Education yanked the school's eligibility for federal student aid a few months later. Finally, in August 2017, the North Carolina Board of Governors pulled CSL's license to operate--dealing a death blow to the school.

 Without question, CSL was a train wreck. The troubled school had high dropout rates and abominable bar passage rates. Only about a third (35 percent) of CSL graduates passed the North Carolina bar exam in February 2016, compared to 51 percent statewide.  According to Adams and her colleagues, this passage rate would have been even lower if the law school had not paid CSL students not to take the exam. Moreover, the North Carolina legislators alleged, CSL students racked up an average of $200,000 in student-loan debt. Those who were enrolled when the school closed have little hope of having their credits accepted at another law school.

Under current Department of Education regulations, students are eligible for student-loan forgiveness if they were enrolled at a school at the time it closed or up to 120 days prior to closure. The regulations give the Education Secretary the authority to extend the 120-day enrollment requirement if circumstances warrant; and Adams and her colleagues asked DeVos to grant loan forgiveness to all students were enrolled at CSL from December 2016 until the day it closed.

Representatives Adams, Butterfield and Price are to be commended for seeking relief for recent CSL students, but their petition does not go far enough. In my view, every student who attended CSL from the day it opened until the day it closed should be granted student-loan forgiveness--without exception.

Before it shut down, CSL was one of the worst law schools in the United States by almost any measure. Based on metrics developed by Law School Transparency, a public interest law-school monitoring organization, 50 percent of CSL's 2014 entering class ran an "extreme" risk of failing the bar exam, and additional 25 percent ran a "very high" risk of failing the exam.

And it fact, less than half of CSL's 2015 graduating class passed the bar. Moreover, less than 25 percent of its 2016 graduates obtained full-time law jobs; and the law school's underemployment rate for that class was 58.8 percent.

Without question, a lot of former CSL students believe they were defrauded by their law school. According to an Inside Higher Ed story, more than 500 former students filed "borrower defense" claims based on allegations of fraud, and several class-action suits have been filed against the school.

Based on CSL's abysmal record, the only fair thing DeVos can do is wipe out all student-loan debt for every individual who took out student loans to attend CSL. And then DOE needs to take a close look at the other for-profit law schools that are still operating. All law schools with bar pass rates below 50 percent should be closed.

Rep. Alma Adams (in hat). Photo credit: Scott Applewhite AP


References

William Douglas. N.C. Democrats urge Charlotte Law School student loan forgivenessThe News & Observer, November 6, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum, Department Lays Out of Options for Charlotte StudentsInside Higher ED, August 25, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum, The Slow Death of a For-Profit Law SchoolInside Higher Ed, August 16, 2017.







Monday, November 6, 2017

Hawaii Supreme Court strikes down a school's arbitration agreement as unconscionable: For-profit colleges take notice

The Hawai'i Supreme Court strikes down a school's arbitration agreement as unconscionable

Arbitration agreements have long been favored by the courts, which traditionally have seen arbitration as an inexpensive alternative to lengthy, costly litigation. For years, courts have routinely upheld the enforceability of arbitration agreements and they have been exceedingly reluctant to overturn an arbitrator's decision.

But in recent years, courts in some states have become increasingly willing to invalidate an arbitration agreement when it is clear that the agreement contains terms that are unfair.  Recently, the Hawai'i Supreme Court, in the case of Gabriel v. Island Pacific Academy, ruled that an arbitration agreement that blocked a teacher from suing her former employer was unconscionable.

Laura Gabriel filed suit in a Hawai'i state court, charging that Island Pacific Academy had retaliated against her for filing a sex discrimination complaint by refusing to hire her for the 2014-2015 school year. Gabriel had signed an arbitration agreement promising to settle disputes with her employer through arbitration, and Island Pacific asked the trial court to dismiss Gabriel's complaint and to force Gabriel to pursue her claims against the school through arbitration.

The trial court ruled that the arbitration agreement was enforceable except for one provision. The agreement required Gabriel to deposit one half of the estimated arbitration costs as a precondition to arbitration. This fee amounted to $10,200, which equaled one-third to one-fourth of Gabriel's annual salary.  The trial judge ruled that this provision was unconscionable and ordered Island Pacific to pay all arbitration costs when Gabriel's claims were arbitrated.

Gabriel appealed, and the Hawai'i Supreme Court reversed. The supreme court agreed with the lower court that the arbitration agreement's fee-splitting provision was unconscionable but concluded that
unconscionable terms pervaded the whole agreement and thus the agreement should be invalidated in its entirety.

In addition to the fee-splitting provision, the Hawai'i Supreme Court identified another uunfair provision. The agreement required Gabriel to pay Island Pacific's total "damages, costs, expenses and attorney's fees" if she challenged the arbitration agreement in court even if she won her lawsuit. "This provision is plainly substantively unconscionable," Hawai'i's highest court ruled, "and must be stricken as well."

After the fee-splitting provision and the cost-shifting provision were struck from the agreement, the court pointed, the agreement only contained one sentence. Therefore, it was appropriate to invalidate the whole agreement and allow Gabriel to sue the school in court.

For-profit colleges force their students to agree not to sue them as a condition of enrollment

Although the Island Pacific lawsuit did not involve a postsecondary student, it may be relevant to college students who attend for-profit colleges. Many of these students signed arbitration agreements as a condition of enrollment and then discovered that they had been defrauded.

These students might be able to get those arbitration agreements invalidated in a state court on the grounds that the agreements are unconscionable. No doubt many of these agreements have cost-shifting and fee-splitting provisions like the Island Pacific agreement.

Last year, a California appellate court invalidated an arbitration agreement forced on students attending a for-profit program on the grounds of basic unfairness. Among other things, the agreement required California students to arbitrate their claims in Indiana.

Likewise, the New Jersey Supreme Court struck down an arbitration provision in a for-profit school's student-enrollment agreement simply because the clause was printed in very small type and was phrased in such murky language that students might not know they were giving up legal rights by signing the agreement.

Congress and the Department of Education are shielding fraudulent for-profit colleges from being sued

Although state courts seem increasingly inclined to strike down arbitration agreements that disfavor vulnerable parties, Congress and the Department of Education have acted counter to this judicial impulse.

For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently tried to stop corporate entities from using arbitration agreements to block lawsuits against them. The CFPB adopted a rule that would have barred financial services institutions from requiring their customers to sign arbitration agreements.

But Congress--acting in the interest of corporations and not consumers--passed a law overturning the CFPB rule.  In the Senate, the vote was tied at 50 to 50. Not a single Democratic senator voted for the bill and two Republican senators (Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Louisiana's John Kennedy) voted against it. Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie by joining with Republican colleagues to trash the CFPB rule.

Likewise, the Obama administration's Department of Education drafted regulations that would have prevented for-profit colleges from forcing students to sign arbitration agreements. Obama's DOE was motivated by the conviction that arbitration agreements disfavored students in favor of for-profit colleges and prevented them from banding together to file class action suits.

Unfortunately, Betsy DeVos blocked those regulations, allowing sleazy for-profits to continue forcing students to sign arbitration agreements.

In the current political climate, it does not seem likely that Congress or the Department of Education will come to the aid of students who are being ripped off by for-profit colleges.  It could be that state courts  are more sympathetic to students who were forced to waive their right to sue. Students can challenge unfair arbitration agreements in court. Unfortunately, to do so, students will need good lawyers.



References

Donna Borak and Ted Barrett.Senate kills rule that made it easier to sue banks. CNN.com, October 25, 2017.

Richard Fossey. Why students need better protection from loan fraud. Chicago Tribune, August 25, 2017.

Gabriel v. Island Pacific Academy, Inc., 400 P.3d 526 (Hawai'i 2017).

Andrew Kreighbaum. Few Solutions for Defrauded Borrowers. Inside Higher Ed, June 26, 2017.

Magno v. The College Network, Inc.. (Cal. Ct. App. 2016). Accessible at http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1741812.html

Morgan v. Sanford Brown Institute, 137 A.3d 1168 (N.J. 2016).

U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education Takes Further Steps to Protect Students from Predatory Higher Education Institutions. March 11, 2016. Accessible at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-takes-further-steps-protect-students-predatory-higher-education-institutions?


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone article on student debt crisis: You should read it

If you believe in social justice and basic human decency, you must read Matt Taibbi's article on the student-loan crisis that appeared this month in Rolling Stone.

Writing in the tradition of great American investigative journalism, Taibbi deconstructs "the great college loan swindle" that is destroying the lives of millions. Taibbi illustrates his theme by telling the story of two swindled student debtors: Scott Nailor and Veronica Martish.

Scott Nailor, a thirty-seven year-old school teacher, has contemplated suicide because he is chained to college loans he will never pay off. Nailor borrowed $35,000 to get a degree from the University of Southern Maine, which qualified him for a job as a school teacher.

This debt, which might seem modest to some people, was barely manageable on Nailor's salary as a school teacher, which initially paid just $18,000. He and his wife consolidated their student debt, which had grown to $50,000. Then the couple declared bankruptcy, but they did not discharge their student loans.

Today, Taibbi wrote, Nailor makes monthly payments of $471 a month on student-loan debt that has grown to $100,000.  None of his payments go to paying down principle. "I will never be able to pay it off," Nailor told Taibbi. "My only escape from this is to die."

And Taibbi also tells the story of Veronica Martish, a 68-year-old veteran from the Vietnam War. In 1989, she borrowed $8,000 to take courses at Quinebaug Valley Community College. Due to family problems, Martish fell behind on her loan payments and entered a loan rehabilitation program. By this time, her $8,000 had grown to $27,000 due to fees and interest tacked on by one of the federal government's debt collectors.

Martish told Taibbi that she had paid a total of $63,000 on her $8,000 student loan, but has yet to pay off the principle. By the time she dies, Martish estimates her loan balance will have grown to $200,000. "Nothing ever comes off the loan," she explained. "It's all interest and fees."

These stories may seem incredible to you, but in fact they are all too common. In fact, the bankruptcy courts have chronicled similar experiences when student-loan debtors stagger into bankruptcy court. Remember Brenda Butler, who paid $15,000 on $14,000 in student loans? Twenty years after graduating from college, she owed $32,000--twice what she borrowed. A bankruptcy judge refused to wipe out her student loans. She should stay in a long-term repayment plan, the judge advised--a plan that will not end until 42 years after Butler graduated from college.

And how about Alan and Catherine Murray, the Kansas couple who borrowed $77,000 to pay for undergraduate and graduate degrees? They made $54,000 in loan payments--about 70 percent of the principle.  Yet 20 years after finishing their studies, their accumulated student-loan debt had ballooned to $311,000--more than four times what they borrowed.

Millions of people have seen their student loans grow exponentially due to fees and unpaid interest. When that happens, a debtor's only option is to sign up for an income-driven repayment plan (IDR) that can last from 20 to 25 years. But these plans generally set monthly payments so low that the payments don't reduce the principal on the debt.  College debtors on IDRs see their loan balances grow larger and larger with each passing month even when they faithfully make their loan payments.

This was the situation Scott Nailor found himself in. No wonder he contemplated suicide.

And it gets worse. When all those millions of people in IDRs make their last monthly payment, the remaining balance on their loans will be forgiven; but the IRS considers the forgiven amount to be taxable income.

Does anyone in Congress give a damn? I don't think so. And Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose family has profited from the debt-collection industry, certainly doesn't give a damn.

And so America descends into an era of shocking exploitation perpetrated by colleges, the federal government, and the debt-collection industry.

I will end this reflection by quoting a paragraph from Taibbi's searing essay:
It's a multiparty affair, what shakedown artists call a "big store scheme," like in the movie The Sting: a complex deception requiring a big cast to string the mark along every step of the way. In higher education, every party you meet, from the moment you first set foot on campus, is in on the game.
Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos: the "big store" scheme


References

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, No. 14-71585, Adv. No. 14-07069 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016).

Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, CASE NO. 14-22253, CHAPTER 7, ADV. NO. 15-6099 (Bankr. D. Kan. Dec. 8, 2016), aff'd, No. 16-2838 (D. Kan. Sept. 22, 2017).

Matt Taibbi. (2017, October). The Great College Loan Swindle. Rolling Stone.