I had a stroke last month, and I spent three weeks at a rehab center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During my time there, I was treated by several gifted occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists.
Sunday, May 14, 2023
Get smart before you go to college because you might not get smarter while you're there
Friday, March 11, 2022
Like Prisoners on Death Row: 25 million student debtors may get another reprieve from making their student-loan payments
Around 2,500 prisoners sit on Death Row in American prisons. Nearly 700 condemned men await death in the Golden State of California. A couple hundred are housed on Death Row in Texas, the Lone Star State. And Florida--the Sunshine State-- has 330 prisoners who've been sentenced to die.
How long do condemned prisoners sit in prison before being executed? On average, 19 years. Most men on death row can postpone their execution date by filing multiple appeals in the courts.
Of course, Americans living in freedom cannot compare their situation to the men on Death Row. Nevertheless, student-loan debtors are somewhat like condemned prisoners. They are seeing their lives drain away while the federal government issues multiple stays of execution on their student-loan payments without giving them real relief.
In March 2020, the Department of Education allowed 25 million student debtors to stop making payments on their loans due to the economic disruption of the COVID pandemic. DOE said it would not penalize borrowers who didn't make their loan payments and wouldn't charge interest on the underlying debt.
That moratorium has been extended four times, and the Biden administration may extend the moratorium yet again.
Are these debt-forgiveness edicts a good thing for the nation's overburdened student-loan borrowers? Yes, of course.
But there are psychological and emotional costs to being burdened by debt that can never be paid back, costs that some federal bankruptcy courts have explicitly recognized. And these costs are not alleviated by giving college borrowers a series of loan holidays.
And allowing 25 million Americans to skip their student-loan payments for two years does nothing to solve the student-loan crisis, which has grown to catastrophic proportions. Together, American college borrowers owe $1.8 trillion in student debt and another $150 billion in private student debt.
Maybe President Biden will forgive $10,000 in personal student debt as he promised during the 2020 presidential campaign. But that will do little or nothing to ease the debt burden of most borrowers.
Perhaps Congress will pass legislation to forgive all federal student-loan debt, or President Biden will do that by executive order. But I think relief of that magnitude is unlikely.
In the meantime, while our legislators and policymakers ponder global solutions, why doesn't Congres simply amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow insolvent student borrowers to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy?
But Congress probably won't do that. For all the sympathetic rhetoric, Congress is content to allow millions of Americans to sit helplessly in a vast debtor's prison without bars--financially unable to buy homes, save for retirement, or start families.
In the meantime, college borrowers live much like the men on Death Row. Like condemned prisoners, they get numerous reprieves from making payments. They get deferments, they sign up for long-term income-based repayment plans, and they get to skip loan payments during the COVID crisis.
Condemned prisoners whose sentences are postponed again and again will never be free. Some will eventually be executed, but many of them will die of old age.
Likewise, America's student loan debtors can manage their massive loan debt with various types of reprieves. They can apply for economic-hardship deferments. They can sign up for long-term, income-based repayment plans. They can skip payments during the COVID loan-payment pauses.
But millions of them will never be free of their college debt. They will die before it's repaid. That's a high price to pay for going to college.
Monday, January 3, 2022
Is 2022 the year when young people should postpone college?
"Nobody thinks of anything as long as his luck is good," Kurt Vonnegut observed in one of his novels. "Why should he?"
American colleges have had a remarkable run of good luck. For half a century, they've enjoyed a steady supply of students and a cornucopia of federal money flowing into their coffers. International students flocked to American universities in ever larger numbers, and they obligingly paid their tuition bills with no complaints about the cost.
Salaries for university presidents rose ever upward, and administrative staffs became more and more bloated with overpaid administrators--vice presidents and associate vice presidents, deans and associate deans, provosts, and executive vice provosts.
Universities launched aggressive building programs: luxury dorms, ostentatious athletic facilities, world-class student recreation centers. Wealthy alumni made fat contributions to have their names on all these gleaming edifices.
Tuition went up every year to pay for all this, but students paid their bills with federal and private student loans, and no one complained.
Those were the gravy days!
Then, in March 2020, the black swan arrived. COVID swept across the country, forcing universities to close their campuses. College leaders shuttered all those glittering student rec centers, emptied out the posh student dorms, and canceled college sporting events.
Still, no worries. The coronavirus pandemic wouldn't last forever. How could it? In a year or so, the crisis would be over, and everything would be back to normal in the halcyon world of academe.
In fact, University leaders patted themselves on the back for responding to the pandemic so nimbly. In a matter of days, virtually every college in America had kicked their students off-campus and forced them to finish the spring semester by taking courses on their home computers.
But students weren't happy about taking classes online, and they filed hundreds of lawsuits, demanding refunds for their tuition and fees. More than 300 lawsuits were filed.
And the COVID virus did not go away. In fact, many American schools are starting the 2022 spring semester with online classes--even such snooty joints as Harvard. Stanford and Georgetown.
Now student enrollments are declining--especially in the for-profit sector, the community colleges, and the non-elite private schools. For reasons that college presidents can't seem to understand, students don't want to pay $70,000 a year to attend online classes from the parents' basements.
In addition, universities across the country have been mired in scandals and litigation: sexual misconduct by varsity athletes, bribery in the admissions offices, and accusations of race discrimination.
In sum, American higher education's run of good luck has run dry.
So, if you are a young person, is 2022 a good year to postpone going to college? A good year to let things settle down?
I think it is. Unless you clearly understand how your college education will improve your life, don't take out crushing student loans to pay tuition at a college that won't let you on its campus.
|Just leave your tuition check on the doorstep.|
Thursday, December 16, 2021
Omicron variant harasses American colleges: "I've enjoyed as much of this as I can stand!"
Porter Wagoner, singing about a chance encounter with an ex-girlfriend, quickly bade farewell. "I've enjoyed as much of this as I can stand," he tells her.
College students are singing the same song. The COVID pandemic has been with us for almost two years, and Omicron promises to prolong the disruption well into 2022.
This week, several colleges announced that final exams for the fall semester would be online, and classes at some schools were temporarily switched to online formats earlier in the fall term.
NYU recently banned all "discretionary, nonessential nonacademic gatherings," presumably allowing nonessential academic meetings to proceed. At some schools, students who meet friends over pizza and beer at an off-campus dive run the risk of being suspended from their classes.
Since the campus closings in March 2020, students have sued more than 300 colleges, demanding their money back. Specifically, they want tuition refunds for classes that switched from face-to-face classroom settings to an online format.
They also want their fees refunded--the fees they paid for access to campus recreation centers, varsity sporting events, and collegiate health clinics. You closed all these venues, the students argue, but you kept our goddam money.
As I have said since the beginning of the pandemic, I sympathize with the universities. College leaders acted reasonably when they closed their campuses in the spring of 2020, cleared out the dorms, and sent students home.
But the students who got booted paid big bucks to take classes during the 2020 spring semester. At the private schools, tuition bills were north of 25 grand! Many students shelled out $30,000 for the dubious privilege of matriculating at snooty universities for four months when you tack on housing, fees, and books.
Colleges responded reasonably to a public health crisis when they closed down in March of 2020, but they need to understand that it costs too damn much to go to college these days. Students will put up with this banditry when they can stroll through elm-shaded campus quads and listen to gassy professors opining in quaint, wood-paneled classrooms.
But they ain't gonna put up with face-to-face college classes periodically going online or rules that prevent them from meeting their friends off-campus. Not for long anyway.
College enrollments are already down significantly from pre-pandemic levels. Men, in particular, are increasingly deciding to sit out of college until the chaos comes to an end.
What can colleges do to entice students to continue taking out loans to pay their tuition bills? They can start by publicly admitting that online classes are inferior to on-campus learning and lowering their prices accordingly.
|Porter Wagoner: "I've enjoyed as much of this as I can stand!"|
Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Storino v. New York University: 1984 comes to NYU
Marc Santonocito, Ashley Storino, and Elnaz Pourasgari--all students at New York University--did some bad, bad things!
During the summer of 2020, they attended some parties without wearing COVID masks. Oh, the horror! The horror!
All three miscreants enrolled at NYU for the 2020 fall semester, but they were soon charged with engaging in behavior that "endanger[ed] or compromise[d] the health, safety or well-being" of the university community.
Somehow NYU obtained evidence from social media about the trio's summer activities. A New York court summarized NYU's case against them, and I warn you, it is shocking!
Each [student]was captured in at least one photo on social media depicting them unmasked and in physical contact with other individuals who were also not wearing masks: Santonocito arm in arm with other unmasked individuals, Storino cheek to cheek with other unmasked individuals, and Pourasgari touching the face of another unmasked individual.
After appearing at virtual hearings, all three students were suspended from NYU for the 2020 fall semester. They sued, and a New York trial court ordered NYU to re-enroll them.
In the trial court's opinion, NYU's actions were "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion." The trial court ruled that a university cannot impose the harsh penalty of suspension unless it gives them "clear, unambiguous and full pre-conduct notice" that their summer behavior could result in discipline.
NYU appealed, and an appellate court reversed the trial court and upheld the three students' suspension. The appellate court ruled that the notices NYU gave the students were clear enough to put them on notice that they might be canned if they attended parties in the summer without wearing masks.
I have two problems with the appellate court's opinion:
First, I don't believe students should be suspended from their studies for attending a summer party without wearing a mask. In my opinion, students should be free from university surveillance when they are on their summer holidays.
Second, I think NYU's penalties were too harsh.
After all, NYU required all students to submit a negative COVID test as a condition of enrollment for the 2020 fall semester. Thus, NYU surely knew that none of the three students had contracted COVID over the summer. So why kick them out of school?
NYU is one of the most expensive universities in the world. It costs about $80,000 a year to study there. One might think its highly-paid administrators would have a decent respect for their students' privacy--at least during their summer vacations.
The Storino case reminds me of George Orwell's 1984. In that novel, Big Brother was spying on people 24 hours a day. Have we come to such a pass in the United States?
I acknowledge that the COVID pandemic is a serious matter. Everyone--including college students--should take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But universities have a responsibility to treat their students with compassion and to enforce their student-conduct rules with moderation and restraint. In my view, NYU acted arrogantly and heartlessly when it suspended Marc Santonocito, Ashley Storino, and Elnaz Pourasgari.
Storino v. New York University, 193 A.D.3d 436 (N.Y. App. Div. 2021).
Monday, September 6, 2021
"If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have skipped college": Freshman enrollment is down 13 percent at 4-year schools
Freshman enrollment dropped an astonishing 13 percent last year, and overall college enrollment sank 4 percent.
What accounts for this exodus? The COVID pandemic partly explains it. Colleges switched from classroom teaching to online instruction in the spring of 2020, which was decidedly inferior. Undoubtedly, many students have decided not to go back to college until the professors resume teaching face-to-face.
But COVID is only a partial explanation for the student-enrollment downturn. Cost is a huge factor. It now costs about $75,000 a year (including room and board) to attend a private liberal arts college--$300,000 to get a four-year degree.
Private schools have slashed freshman tuition by more than 50 percent to lure new students through the door, and almost all first-year private-college students now get some sort of discount.
But for most schools, that strategy has not been successful. Enrollments continue to drop.
But there is a third factor that helps explain plummeting college enrollment. Students have figured out that a four-year college degree is no guarantee of a good job--particularly a degree in liberal arts or the social sciences.
Many employers no longer require new employees to have a college degree, including Apple, Google, IBM, and Bank of America. Young people have discovered that a vocational-school certificate may lead to a better job than a four-year degree in gender studies.
For example, CNBC carried a story about a young person who left college to enroll in a 14-week coding boot camp, "If I knew then what I know now," the former college student explained, "I probably would have skipped college."
As a guy who spent 25 years as a college professor in the higher-education gulag, I'm glad to see college enrollment declining. Too many students ruin their lives by taking out student loans to get vacuous college degrees from institutions that don't teach students to think or solve problems.
Colleges have hired market firms and "enrollment management" administrators to attract warm bodies back into the classroom. But young people are beginning to wise up. Small liberal arts colleges, in particular, are struggling to survive as their student enrollment shrinks.
More and more young Americans have come to realize they can have a good life without going to college. Unfortunately, some college students don't figure that out until they have destroyed their financial future by taking out too many college loans.
|LSU students in a crowded classroom: Ain't we got fun!|
Friday, July 2, 2021
40-year home mortgages: Is that a good idea?
The chickens have come home to roost. The federal government allowed millions of homeowners to suspend payments on their mortgages during the COVID crisis. Now that moratorium is ending, and all those missed payments are now due.
Many American homeowners--maybe most of them--cannot pay a dozen mortgage payments at once. I know I could not.
So what will the feds do? According to a Houston Chronicle story, the government is thinking about allowing mortgagees to refinance their home loans over 40 years. Interest rates are low right now, and monthly payments on a 40-year mortgage would be less than payments on a 30-year or 20-year mortgage.
Is that a good idea?
No, it is not. Most people who refinance their homes over 40 years will never own their residences. Essentially, they will become renters.
Of course, many people will sell their houses long before they pay off their mortgages. If they are lucky, the value of their home will have gone up, and they can pay off their mortgage and have enough remaining equity to buy another home.
But here is the problem. Home prices are going up right now because of low interest rates--only about 3 percent. Also, some Americans are worried about inflation, and they are scrambling to put their money into hard assets--a second home perhaps.
But interest rates won't stay low forever, and the housing market will eventually cool. Everybody knows that.
Thus, a couple who finance their home for 40 years at 3 percent may be forced to sell it someday when mortgage rates are higher--say 6 percent. Buyers who take out mortgages at the higher rate will be making bigger monthly payments on their home purchase--even if the cost of the house does not go up.
So what's going to happen? Many people who finance their homes over 40 years at 3 percent interest will not be able to sell their homes for enough money to pay off their mortgages.
In the years to come, hundreds of thousands of homeowners who can't sell their homes after interest rates spike upward will simply walk away from them.
But hey, what do I know? I'm just a retired professor who lives in the very heart of flyover country.
But I have seen this movie. I bought my first home in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1981. Conventional mortgage rates were 11 percent at that time, but the State of Alaska subsidized home loans to get the interest rates down to 9 percent.
In a further act of generosity, Alaska subsidized low-priced homes--homes selling for $80,000 or less--at 6 percent. The required down payment was low--only 5 percent. Such a deal! Developers put condos and even mobile homes on the market that cost--guess what? $79,900.
Unfortunately, the Alaska economy went south when oil prices slid to $13 a barrel. People were thrown out of work, and home values plummeted.
Many Alaska homeowners could not sell their property for enough to pay off their mortgages. So what did they do?
They mailed their house keys back to the bank and simply walked away.
That, dear readers, is what will happen all over the United States if people start financing their homes at artificially low-interest rates over 40 years.
Sunday, March 7, 2021
"Becker College on the Brink of Closure": Small, private colleges are sliding toward oblivion
As reported in Inside Higher Ed, Becker College is on the brink of closure. Located in Worchester, Massachusetts (no garden spot), Becker's enrollments have drifted downward in recent years, and it now enrolls only about 1,500 students.
The Massachusetts Department of Higher Education says the school's financial situation is uncertain, and Becker and the Department are working on a "contingency closure" plan. A local newspaper says Becker "is unlikely to survive another academic year."
Becker is an expensive place to study. Tuition and fees total approximately $40,000 a year. When living expenses are included, attending Becker will cost at least $50,000.
Thus, for students who invest four years of their lives studying at Becker College, a bachelor’s degree could cost $200,000.
Unfortunately, it takes longer than four years for most Becker students to get their bachelor’s degree. CollegeSimply reports that only 14 percent of Becker students earn their bachelor’s degree within four years, and only 27 percent graduate within six years. (Other sources cite a higher graduation rate, and Becker's website says its graduation rate is above the national average.)
Of course, most Becker students get some kind of financial assistance that can cut costs considerably. But few people will graduate from Becker College without taking out student loans. According to CollegeSimply, 83 percent of Becker students have federal student-loan debt when they graduate.
And what kind of job awaits a Becker College graduate?
Today, small private colleges are sliding down a path toward oblivion. Hundreds of these schools dot the American landscape, especially in New England and the mid-Atlantic states.
Many are losing students, and some are closing. Atlantic Union College, located only a few miles from Becker College, shut down in 2018. Incredibly, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education maintains a list of more than sixty closed colleges and schools in the Bay State.
The COVID pandemic hit these colleges especially hard—accelerating enrollment declines. Federal money has propped some of them up—at least temporarily. Becker College received nearly $5 million in coronavirus aid.
To an unsophisticated young person, a small private college like Becker may look attractive. In contrast to the public mega-universities, which may enroll 50,000 students or more, the small private schools feel friendlier. Their ancient buildings--Romanesque, Greek revival, or Victorian architecture--their leafy lawns and small, intimate classroom setting are appealing to young people searching for wisdom and guidance that will help them plan their lives.
But these colleges can be dangerous places to study. First of all, they are quite expensive. Tuition prices vary from school to school, but they typically charge about $50,000 per year in tuition, fees, room, and board. Most students from low-income or middle-class families will be forced to take out student loans to cover those costs.
Second, a degree from a small, private college may not lead to a good job. CollegeSimply reports that a Becker College graduate’s average salary after ten years is only $46,600. That is not a very attractive salary for a person burdened by oppressive student-loan debt.
I sympathize with these small, struggling private colleges. Some have noble histories dating back to the early nineteenth century or even earlier. Becker College, for example, traces its roots to 1784.
And many of these schools have made commendable efforts to remain relevant. Becker Colege offers a variety of job-oriented degree programs: nursing, criminal justice, veterinary technology, and forensic science. Becker's game design program is nationally recognized. According to the Princeton Review, the program ranks number 2 in the world.
But the future of the small, private college is bleak. Young people should carefully consider the costs and benefits of attending an expensive private school compared to a public university.
They should also weigh the possibility that the private college of their choice may shut its doors in the not-to-distance future--perhaps before they pay off their student loans.
|Expensive private colleges: Think before you take the plunge.|
Thursday, January 28, 2021
SUNY chancellor Jim Malatras chirps cheerily while college enrollment applications plunge 20 percent
College enrollment applications plunged 20 percent at the State University of New York, an enormous college system with 64 campuses. The coronavirus pandemic bears most of the blame.
But SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras is upbeat. The coronavirus "invites us how we can do better," he assured the public a few days ago.
"Let's ride the wave," he chortled. After all, SUNY is "on the cutting edge of the new student-focused approach."
Of course, Chancellor Malatras can afford to be upbeat. He makes $450,000 a year and gets a $60,000 annual housing allowance.
Where did this bozo come from? Did SUNY do a national search before it hired Mr. Malatras?
No, it did not. According to Nicolas Tampio, writing in USA Today, Malatras is a crony of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Newspaper headlines referred to him as "Cuomo loyalist Malatras," and "Cuomo aid Malatras," Tampico observed. Malatras was formerly Cuomo's director of operations and one of the governor's advisors on New York's COVID response.
I feel so much better. After all, Cuomo's administration did a great job managing the coronavirus pandemic--especially at the nursing homes, where COVID deaths were underreported by 50 percent.
Merryl Tisch, SUNY's board chairwoman, stoutly maintains her board acted wisely when it hired Malatras without a national search. Why?
[Because the board] felt it was imperative to act now in a reasonable and deliberate and socially aware moment to protect the SUNY system across the full array of challenges and help produce a model for sustainability in a post-COVID world.
What the hell does that mean? Did chairwoman Tisch pull that sentence out of her butt? Or did some hack in SUNY's public relations office pump out that swill?
But perhaps I'm too hard on Chancellor Malatras. After all, SUNY pays him half a million bucks a year to be a cheerleader--not Debbie Downer.
But here is some advice to New Yorkers about their college choices. Make up your own mind about your post-secondary education, and don't take out too many student loans to pay for it. Don't just listen to some clown blather on about his university's "student-focused approach" for spending your borrowed money.
|Don't borrow too much money to "ride the wave" with Chancellor Malatras.|