Showing posts with label Inside Higher Ed. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Inside Higher Ed. Show all posts

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trump should fire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education for gross incompetence. If Trump fails to act, Congress needs to do whatever is necessary to drive her from office

Let us take our minds off Russia for just a moment and focus on a massive economic problem that affects millions of Americans: the collapsing student loan program. Forty-three million Americans now hold about $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and a lot of that money will never be paid back. 

As the New York Times recently reported, borrowers defaulted at the rate of 3,000 a day last year; and a total of more than 8 million people are in default. Default rates are highest in the for-profit college industry; five-year default rates in this sector are almost 50 percent.

The Department of Education is trying to keep default rates down by pressuring borrowers into income-driven repayment plans, but that tactic isn't working. Nearly half the people who sign up for those plans drop out within three years; and a lot of defaulting borrowers don't even bother to sign up.

In short, the federal student loan program is a train wreck, a catastrophe, an unmitigated disaster. 

As President Trump's Secretary of Education, it is Betsy DeVos's job to address the student-loan crisis; but in a series of wrongheaded decisions, DeVos has demonstrated that she is either grossly incompetent or in bed with the sleazy for-profit college industry. President Trump must fire her immediately, and if he does not, then Congress needs to bring all its forces to bear to drive her from office.

Here is a brief list of DeVos's fumbling misbehavior:

First, she hired consultants from the for-profit industry to give her advice, which is like a hiring a burglar to be a bank guard.

Second, she canceled the Obama administration's order that restrained loan processors from slapping huge fees on student-loan defaulters who quickly brought their loans back into repayment status.

Third, she is overhauling the Department of Education's new regulations for processing borrowers' applications to have their student loans forgiven based on claims of institutional fraud. This bureaucratic delay tactic will leave thousands of defrauded college borrowers in limbo for months and even years.

And finally, DeVos blocked implementation of a Department of Education directive banning for-profit colleges from forcing students to sign mandatory arbitration clauses as a condition of enrollment.

In my view, allowing the for-profit colleges to continue including mandatory arbitration clauses in their student enrollment documents is DeVos's most outrageous decision. Mandatory arbitration clauses bar students from suing their institution for fraud and prevent students from banding together to file class actions suits against colleges that engage in massive fraudulent behavior.

About a year ago, the Century Foundation urged the Department of Education to require the for-profits to stop including mandatory arbitration clauses in their enrollment documents, and two for-profits--University of Phoenix and DeVry University, publicly agreed to abandoned them voluntarily.

Numerous commentators have criticized the use of mandatory arbitration agreements when they are used by corporations to insulate them from lawsuits. Just within the last year, two courts have struck down mandatory arbitration clauses that for-profit education providers tried to enforce. In one case, a university's arbitration agreement required California students to arbitrate their claims in Indiana!

Since taking office, DeVos has shown herself to be a stooge for the for-profit college industry. If she knowingly does the bidding of this shady racket, then she behaving reprehensibly. If she is acting on the industry's behalf out of ignorance, then she's grossly incompetent.

But her motivations don't matter. Betsy DeVos has got to go. If Trump doesn't fire her soon, then federal legislators should join in a bipartisan call for her removal. Americans deserve a competent Secretary of Education who will act in the public interest, not the interests of the venal for-profit college industry. 


Patricia Cohen. Betsy DeVos's Hiring of For-Profit College Official Raises Impartiality Issues, New York Time, March 17, 2017. 

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Trump administration rolls back protections in default on student loans. Washington Post, March 17, 2017.

Seth Frothman & Rich Williams. New data documents a disturbing cycle of defaults for struggling student-loan borrowers. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, May 15, 2017. 

Tariq Habash & Robert Shireman. How College Enrollment Contracts Limit Students' Rights. Century Foundation, April 28, 2016.

Magno v. The College Network, Inc.. (Cal. Ct. App. 2016).

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

News Release. Apollo Education Group to Eliminate Mandatory Arbitration Clauses. May 19, 2016.

Friday, June 13, 2014

We Don't Need No Stinkin' College Rating System: President Obama's Plan to Rate Colleges on Value Faces Congressional Opposition

President Obama is determined to impose some sort of college rating system on the nation's higher education institutions, even though the higher education community opposes it. And President Obama is also getting blow back from Congress.

Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Democrat Representative Michael Capuano of Massachusetts introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives opposing Obama's college rating proposal. The resolution states in part:
[T]he Administration's proposal to rate postsecondary institutions through an oversimplified Federal rating system that is not supported by postsecondary institutions, statute, or by the House of Representatives, will lead to less choice, diversity, and innovation, and should be rejected. 
Senator Lamar Alexander has also stated his opposition to the college-rating plan in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Senator Alexander expressed skepticism that the Department of Education can come up with a reliable and workable rating plan.

I don't know whether Representatives Goodlatte and Capuano are right to conclude that a college-rating system will lead to less diversity and fewer choices in higher education.  But I do think the plan will have no beneficial impact on the spiraling cost of attending college and will add yet another level of bureaucracy to universities that are already bloated with too many administrators.

Don't form a committee on snakes.
Photo credit: NBC News

In my mind, the Department of Education's focus on a college-rating system is a diversion from the urgent task of reforming the federal student loan program.  As Ross Perot once observed, if you see a snake, kill it. Don't form a committee on snakes.

My prediction is this:  President Obama's college-rating proposal is going nowhere.


Michael Stratford. Obama defends college rating system amid growing backlash from Capitol Hill. Inside Higher Ed, June 11, 2014.

House Resolution Strongly supporting the quality and value of diversity and innovation in the Nation's higher education institutions and strongly disagreeing with the President's proposal to create and administer a Postsecondary Institution Rating System. [Introduced by Reps. Goodlatte and Capuano on June 10, 2014]

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Be sure To drink your Ovaltine": Inside Higher Ed partners with a Inceptia, a "debt prevention" company, to produce a tepid booklet of bromides on the student loan crisis

"Be sure to drink your Ovaltine"
Remember the Olvatine scene from the movie The Christmas Story? Ralphie Parker, an avid fan of the Little Orphan Annie radio program, writes to the program's sponsor and asks for a "Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring."

When the  "Little Orphan Annie" program comes on the air, Ralphie anxiously uses the ring to decode Little Orphan Annie's secret message to  radio listeners. Ralphie thinks the message might have something to do with one of Little Orphan Annie's adventures.

But he is wrong.  When he finishes decoding the message, the disillusioned Ralphie finds that it just an advertisement for the program's sponsor. "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine."

"A crummy commercial?" Ralphie wails. "Son of a bitch!"

I felt a bit like Ralphie when I looked at the online collection of Inside Higher Ed articles that Inside Higher Ed produced recently on the future of student loans.  I was expecting some hard hitting pieces on the student loan crisis. But what I found was a booklet of tepid pieces that was produced in partnership with Inceptia, a nonprofit company that cryptically describes itself as a "leader in default prevention and financial education solutions."

What does Inceptia do to prevent student loan defaults? I'm not sure, but I'll bet its activities include contacting students who are at risk of default and encouraging them to sign up for economic hardship deferments. Senator Tom Harkin's committee report on the for-profit loan industry pointed out that putting at-risk students into economic hardship deferments is good for the colleges because those students will not be counted as people who default on their loans within three years of beginning repayment--even though they are not making payments on their loans. And if those students officially default after DOE's three-year default measurement period expires--who cares? 

Inceptia is a unit of the National Student Loan Program (formerly the Nebraska Student Loan Program), which is located in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Randy Heesacker, Inceptia's CEO, is well paid.  I couldn't find out his current income, but I found the Nebraska Student Loan Program's 2011 federal tax return.  According to that tax filing, Heesacker received total compensation of $378,457 when he was CEO of the Nebraska Student Loan Program (including bonuses and deferred compensation).

Does that sound like an extravagant salary for a non-profit oranization's employee?  Don't worry.  The Nebraska Student Loan Program's tax return assured the IRS that "[o]utside legal counsel undertakes a comprehensive evaluation of the compensation and benefit packages for officers and other affected employees of the organization, comparing the same relevant industry and other market comparables."

Oh, that's a relief.

And if Heesacker made $378,457 in 2011 as CEO of the Nebraska Student Loan Program, what do you think he's making now as CEO of Inceptia?  

I think it is a safe bet that the articles Inside Higher Ed chose for its online booklet were acceptable to Inceptia.  And not surprisingly, most of the articles quoted various student-loan organizations that basically support the status quo.

One writer advocated larger Pell Grants. Someone argued for lower interest rates on student loans.  And one organization wants lending standards loosened for Parent PLUS loans. 

No one in the  Inside Higher ED's collection of articles advocated for revising the bankruptcy laws to make it easier for distressed student-loan debtors to discharge their loans in bankruptcy. No one recommended elimination of the Bankruptcy Code provision that makes private student loans very difficult to discharge in the bankruptcy courts.

No one recommended tighter restrictions on the for-profit college industry or regulations to stop abusive collection practices or the garnishment of of Social Security checks.

No--almost everyone who participates in the public conversation about the future of the student loan program is an insider--an organization that benefits directly or indirectly from the $100 billion that the federal government spends each year to subsidize the higher education industry, which has been raising the cost of attending college every year for the past 30 years.

I'm sorry Inside Higher Ed and Inceptia--your vision of the future of student loans is not sustainable.

Someday--and I hope that day comes soon--we will have to introduce radical remedies for the student loan mess.  Those remedies--to be effective--will have to include bankruptcy relief for distressed student loan debtors, strict regulation of for-profit colleges, and a candid reporting on what the student-loan default rates really are.


Inside Higher Ed (with support from Inceptia). The Future of Student Loans: A Selection of Higher Ed Articles and Essays. May 2014.