Showing posts with label bankruptcy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bankruptcy. Show all posts

Friday, January 1, 2021

Post-Modern America is as vicious and dysfunctional as Victorian England, the Weimar Republic, and 17th century France

If you get your news from network television, you are being bombarded by commercials about prescription medicines and financial services. 

These ads typically show prosperous older Americans who look remarkably fit, live in lovely homes, and spend their days cooking gourmet meals, wind-surfing, and flyfishing with their adorable grandchildren.

These advertisements purport to show life in 21st century America--the best of all possible worlds where everyone is healthy, happy, and financially secure.

But I don't live in that America, and you don't either. Instead, most of us live in a society that is remarkably similar to dysfunctional regimes of bygone centuries.

Our government is printing money at a frightening pace to prop up the financial markets, much like the Weimar Republic did in the 1920s. And we know how that turned out. Germany experienced runaway inflation that set the stage for Adolph Hitler.

We may celebrate the fact that the United States abolished debtors' prisons, but 21st century America treats debtors much the way England treated them in the Victorian age. 

We don't deport debtors to Australia or put them in jail as England did in Charles Dickens' time, but we've created a virtual prison for student-loan borrowers, millions of whom are trapped in income-based repayment plans that last 25 years. Compounding student-debtors' misery, our supposedly benevolent Congress has made it almost impossible for insolvent student-loan debtors to get relief in the bankruptcy courts.

And the American tax system is remarkably like the tax regime in Louis XIV's France. W.H. Lewis, who wrote a masterful social history of seventeenth-century France, described the French tax structure this way;

[T]he whole fiscal system was in itself radically and incurably vicious; as a contemporary remarks, if he Devil himself had been given a free hand to plan the ruin of France, he could not have invented any scheme more likely to achieve that object than the system of taxation in vogue, a system which would seem to have been designed with the sole object of ensuring a minimum return to the King at a maximum price to his subjects, with the heaviest share falling on the poorest section of the population.

Doesn't that sound like the American tax system? Sure it does. As financial tycoon Warren Buffett has repeatedly observed, he pays federal taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.

And the COVID pandemic didn't change the system at all. Indeed, the latest coronavirus relief package includes 100 percent deductibility for the so-called "three-martini lunch." Think about it: wealthy Americans can write off extravagant meals that can cost more than $1,000, while the working stiff gets a $600 coronavirus-relief check.

 In short, although Americans may deceive themselves into believing that our society is evolving into a paradise based on the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion, in fact, we live in a world not so very different from Victorian England, Weimar Germany, and 17th century France.

Louis XIV: Is everybody happy?


Friday, December 18, 2020

Mosley v. Educational Credit Management Corporation: "It's not personal. It's just business."

The U.S. Department of Education and Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), DOE's ruthless sidekick, don't want anyone to get bankruptcy relief.  This has been DOE's policy for many years.

Let's take a look at Mosley v. Educational  Credit Management Corporation, decided by the Eleventh Circuit back in 2007. As we will see, Mosley was clearly entitled to discharge his student loans in bankruptcy under the undue hardship standard, but ECMC fought him all the way into the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Keldric Mosley attended Alcorn State University, an HBCU, from 1989 to 1994, but he never got a degree. While a student, he was enrolled in Army ROTC, and he injured his back and hip when he fell from a tank during summer ROTC exercises.

Mosley left Alcorn State in 1994 to help his mother, whose health was deteriorating. He lived with his mother from 1994 until 1999. He held numerous jobs during that time but was unable to keep any of them due to depression, heavy drinking, and physical limitations due to his ROTC injury. (p. 1323)

In 2000, Mosley's mother committed him to a state-supported mental health facility, where he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. He sought treatment for his physical and mental disabilities from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, which placed him on prescription medications. These medications left him groggy. The combination of medicines and his physical disabilities made it difficult for Mosley to find stable employment. (p. 1323)

As noted by the Eleventh Circuit, Mosley was homeless from 2000 until his adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court, and he lived off of food stamps and small disability checks. He had no car and frequently slept at his aunt's house. (p. 1323)

Mosley represented himself in his adversary proceeding and sought to get evidence of his medical disabilities before the bankruptcy court. ECMC showed up to oppose bankruptcy relief and objected to the admission of some of Mosley's medical evidence. 

Although Judge Mullins reluctantly declined to accept some of his medical evidence, he discharged Mosely's student loans without that evidence. Judge Mullins reasoned that Mosley's testimony was sufficient to show that "he was in a vicious cycle of illness and homelessness that prevented him from working" and that repaying his student loans would constitute an undue hardship. (p. 1324)

After a trial, Judge Mullins discharged Mosley's student loans in bankruptcy.  ECMC appealed, but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Vining affirmed Judge Mullins' decision.

ECMC then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  It argued that Judge Mullins erred in admitting Mosley's own testimony about his health. ECMC also argued that Mosley's evidence did not support Judge Mullins' conclusion that Mosley's financial situation was unlikely to improve or his ruling that Mosely handled his student loans in good faith.

But the Eleventh Circuit rejected all of ECMC's arguments and affirmed Judge Mullins' decision to discharge Mosley's student loans.  The appellate court ruled that Judge Mullins properly considered Mosley's testimony about his medical health. The court cited the Sixth Circuit's decision in Barrett v. ECMC, in which that court ruled that requiring an indigent debtor to obtain expensive expert testimony or documentation "imposes an unnecessary and undue burden on the debtor in establishing his burden of proof." (p. 1325)

Regarding the good faith requirement, ECMC argued that Mosley had not managed his student loans in good faith because he had not made a payment on his loans since 1996 and had not enrolled in an income-based repayment plan. 

But the Eleventh Circuit rejected those arguments. 

 [F]ailure to make a payment, standing alone, does not establish a lack of good faith. Good faith is measured by the debtor's efforts to obtain employment, maximize income, and minimize expenses; his default should result, not from his choices, but from factors beyond his reasonable control. (p. 1327)

Nor is a debtor always obligated to sign up for an income-based repayment plan to establish good faith:

While a debtor's effort to negotiate a repayment plan certainly demonstrates good faith, courts have rejected a per se rule that a debtor cannot show good faith where he or she has not enrolled in the Income Contingent Repayment Program. (p. 1327).

In short, Keldric Mosley--who clearly met the undue hardship standard for discharging his student loans in bankruptcy--had to fight for that remedy all the way to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Although Mosley had a record of homelessness and chronic health problems, ECMC refused to allow him bankruptcy relief until three levels of federal judges ruled in his favor. 

It was not personal with ECMC. It was just business.

Congress needs to remove the "undue hardship" language from the Bankruptcy Code, and perhaps someday it will. 

But until that day comes, the U.S. Department of Education and ECMC could do a lot to ease the stress on overburdened student-loan debtors if they would merely allow people like Keldric Mosely to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy without having to battle their way into the federal appellate courts.  

References

Mosely v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 494 F.3d 1320 (1lth Cir. 2007).

"It's not personal. It's just business."


Saturday, March 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic and broad relief for battered student-loan debtors: Congress needs to go big or go home!

The coronavirus pandemic rolls along like a tropical storm gathering force in the Gulf of Mexico.
Every day, it kills more Americans and further batters the national economy. The airline industry, the travel industry, and the restaurant business are begging for financial assistance to help them survive an economic crisis that no one saw coming.

PresidentTrump and Congress are working on a $2 trillion aid package to assist industries that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak and provide cash assistance to individuals who lost their jobs or their businesses due to the pandemic.

Lawmakers also recognize that student-loan debtors need relief. Even before the pandemic, millions of college-loan borrowers were struggling to pay off their loans. Now--as the unemployment rate rises and whole industries collapse, a lot of student-loan debtors have their backs to the wall.

Republicans and Democrats have both proposed some form of assistance for student debtors. The Republicans recommend giving students a three-month break from their student-loan payments with no interest accruing.  The Democrats want the Department of Education to make student-loan payments on borrowers' behalf for as long as the national emergency lasts.

These proposals are a good start, but they do not go far enough. More than 45 million people have outstanding student loans, and less than half of them can pay them back. As President Trump might say, it's time to "go big" when we think about student-loan relief.

First of all, let's take a look at Senator Bernie Sander's proposal for total student-loan forgiveness—a $1.6 trillion-dollar bailout. Let's also examine Senator Elizabeth Warren's plan for loan forgiveness up to $50,000 per debtor. These ideas are not as wacky as some commentators have made them sound.

Regarding Bernie's idea, let's face facts. More than 8 million people are in long-term, income-based repayment plans, and most of these people are not paying down the interest on their loans. In fact, their loan balances grow with each passing month due to accruing interest. Millions more are in default or have their student loans in deferment. They're not paying their loans back either.

What's the point of pretending the student-loan scheme is a solvent federal program? It's not.  Bernie's plan to wipe out all student debt and offer a free college education is a logical proposal.

Senator Warren's plan to help student debtors also makes sense.  She wants to cap debt relief at $50,000, and that would help a great many people. After all, as  Don Trooper and colleagues recently reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, people with small loan balances are more likely to default on their loans than people who owe $100,000 or more.

Forgiving student debt for individuals who ow relatively small amounts would help a lot of debtors who took out student loans to attend for-profit colleges and trade schools and didn't benefit from their educational experience.  That would be a good thing.

But if we really want to "go big," Congress must do two straightforward things. First, it must strike the"undue hardship." language from the Bankruptcy Code and allow insolvent student-loan borrowers to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured consumer debt. Second, it must repeal those provisions of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act that made it more complicated and more expensive for beaten-down debtors to file for bankruptcy.

The very purpose of bankruptcy in American law is to give honest but unfortunate debtors a fresh start. Lawmakers need to remember that now as we enter into this century's Great Depression.

The 2020 Depression will look a lot like the Depression of the 1930s.









Friday, October 26, 2018

Augustin v. U.S. Department of Education: Adventures in Fantasy Land

In  April 2016, Pierre Augustin filed an adversary complaint in a Maryland bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge $210,000 in student loan debt. He told the court he had been burdened by this debt for 24 years, and that his financial circumstances did not permit him to pay it back. Augustin's wife also had student-loan debt: $120,000. Together the couple had accumulated a third of a million dollars in student debt.

Augustin had three postsecondary degrees: a bachelor's degree in political science from Salem State University in Massachusetts, a master's degree in public administration from Suffolk University in Boston, and an MBA from University of Massachusetts Lowell. Seventeen years after receiving his MBA degree, he was working  as a security guard.

Augustin claimed he was unable to find a job in the field of his degrees, but together he and his wife earned a net income of more than $6,000 a month. The Department of Education (DOE) offered Augustin a 25-year income-based repayment plan that would allow him to pay $331 a month toward his student loans or a 15-year plan with payments of $1,138 a month.

Augustin did not accept DOE's offers. Under the 25-year plan, he argued, he would face a lifetime of indebtedness. Moreover, when the payment term ended, he would face massive tax liability for the amount of forgiven debt. The 15-year plan was also unacceptable, he maintained, because it would not allow him to save money for his retirement.

Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Catliota was not sympathetic. The judge applied the three-pronged Brunner test to determine whether Augustin's student debt constituted an undue hardship.  Under Judge Catliota's analysis, Augustin failed all three prongs.

First, Judge Catliota noted, Augustin could make monthly loan payments of $331 under the 25-year repayment plan while maintaining a minimal standard of living. Second, Augustin could not show additional circumstances that would make it impossible to make monthly payments in that amount.

Finally, Judge Catliota ruled, Augustin had not demonstrated good faith. Augustin had not made a single payment on his student loans for more than a quarter of a century. "By his own  admission,"the judge pointed out, "Mr. Agustin deferred his loans for approximately 26 years."

Moreover, Mr. Augustin was not willing to accept DOE's offer of a  manageable repayment plan. In Judge Catliota's view, "This shows lack of good faith on [Augustin's] part."

Not surprisingly then, Judge Catliota refused to discharge Mr. Augustin's student debt. Applying the three-part Brunner test, Augustine was not entitled to relief.

Perhaps Judge Catliota reached a just outcome in the Augustin case. But let's look at the case in a larger context. Why does the Department of Education loan people money for multiple college degrees and then permit borrowers to make no payments on those loans for 25 years?

Why does the government push people into 25-year repayment plans that allow debtors to make monthly payments so low that they don't cover accruing interest? Even if Mr. Augustin agrees to make income-based payments of $331 a month for 25 years, he will never pay back the $210,000 he owes.

Finally, why apply the Brunner test to people like Mr. Augustin? Why not simply ask whether Mr. Augustin and his wife will ever pay back $330,000 in student-loan debt? The answer is clearly no.

In short, Augustin v. Department of Education is another adventure in Fantasy Land, which is what the federal student-loan program has become. Our government has rigged an insane student-loan program that is trapping millions of people to a lifetime of indebtedness from which there is no relief.

References

Augustin v. U.S. Department of Education, 588 B.R. 141 (Bankr. D. Md. 2018).

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Education Corporation of America files for receivership: Using lawyers' tricks to suck up more federal student-loan money

Education Corporation of America (ECA), a for-profit college chain, filed a lawsuit a few days ago in an Alabama federal court. The lawsuit seeks to put ECA into receivership, and it asks the court to halt all litigation against it. ECA also wants Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to keep showering it with student-loan money while it straights out its financial affairs.

ECA is closing more than two dozen of its campuses; and it needs to keep getting federal student-loan money, it argues, so it can do a "teach out" at campuses it intends to close. If it allows current students to finish their academic programs (through a teach-out), those students won't be eligible to have their student loans forgiven under the "closed school" rule. That will save the Department of Education a lot of money, ECA says.

This line of bull reminds me of the story about a man who murdered his parents and then begged the court for leniency on the grounds he was an orphan.

ECA operates  under numerous brand names, including Virginia College, New England College of Business, Brightwood College, and Golf Academy of America; and it is in big financial trouble. It submitted a list of legal claims against it to the Alabama court, which is 15 pages long. Landlords are suing for back rent and other litigants have sued for breach of contract, fraud, failure to pay wages,  race discrimination, age discrimination, false advertising and some other stuff. 

Why doesn't ECA just file for bankruptcy? One reason: Under federal law, ECA would immediately lose access to all federal money if it filed for bankruptcy. It is hoping to keep federal money flowing as a long as possible.

I hope Judge Abdul Kallon sees through ECA's dodgy litigation ploy and refuses its plea for a receiver and an injunction against its creditors. (Judge Kallon granted ECA a temporary restraining order on October 19, but he will have to extend it to keep ECA's creditors at bay.)

  ECA needs to close, and it needs to close NOW. Every day it continues operating is another day uninformed students will be taking out student loans to pay for an ECA education that probably won't get them a good job. In fact, ECA's own accrediting agency scored ECA's campus-level job placement rate at only 16 percent.


References

David Halperin. For-Profit College Chain Claims Financial Distress, Sues DeVos. Republic Report, October 18, 2018.

Steve Rhode. Education Corporation of America Whines Over Failure. Get Out of Debt Guy (blog), October 22, 2018.

Alan White. For-profit college chain files (for receivership). Credit Slips, October 22, 2018.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Alexandra Acosta-Coniff v. ECMC: A single mother wins bankruptcy relief from student loans but sees victory snatched away on appeal

In 2013, Alexandra Acosta-Conniff, an Alabama school teacher and single mother of two children, filed an adversary proceeding in an Alabama bankruptcy court, hoping to discharge student loans that had grown to $112,000.  She did not have an attorney, so she represented herself in court.

At her trial,  Judge William Sawyer applied the three-part Brunner test to determine whether Acosta-Conniff met the "undue hardship" standard for having her student loans discharged in bankruptcy.

First, Judge Sawyer ruled, Conniff could not pay back her student loans and maintain a minimal standard of living for herself and her two children. Thus she met the first part of the Brunner test.

Second, Conniff's economic circumstances were not likely to change in the foreseeable future. Conniff was a rural school teacher, Judge Sawyer pointed out, who could not expect a significant rise in income. Although she had obtained a doctorate in education, that doctorate had not paid off financially.

Third, Judge Sawyer ruled, Conniff had handled her student loans in good faith. She had made monthly payments over several years and she had obtained deferments from making payments--deferments she was eligible to receive. In Judge Sawyer's view, Conniff met the good-faith requirement of the Brunner test.

In short, Judge Sawyer determined, Conniff qualified for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" standard as interpreted by Brunner.  Accordingly, the judge discharged all of Conniff's student-loan debt.

ECMC appealed, and Judge Keith Watkins reversed. Fortunately, retired bankruptcy judge Eugene Wedoff volunteered to represent Conniff without charge, and Wedoff and his associates took her case to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2017, four years after Conniff filed her adversary proceeding, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial court,  directing Judge Watkins to review Judge Sawyer's ruling under the "clear error" standard. In other words, unless Judge Sawyer had committed clear error in deciding for Conniff, Judge Watkins was bound to uphold Sawyer's decision. The Eleventh Circuit remanded the case back to Judge Watkins to straighten things out.

In January 2018, Judge Watkins issued his second opinion in Conniff's case, and he concluded that Judge Sawyer had indeed committed clear error when he ruled in Conniff's favor. Judge Watkins' opinion is a bit convoluted, but basically he said Judge Sawyer made a mistake in failing to determine whether Conniff was eligible for an income-contingent repayment plan (ICRP).

In Judge Watkins' opinion, if Conniff can make even small loan payments under an ICRP and still maintain a minimal standard of living, she is not eligible for bankruptcy relief.

So what does this mean?

It means Alexandra Acosta-Conniff must return to bankruptcy court a second time--more than three years after her first trial. Apparently, Judge Sawyer will not schedule a second trial; instead, he has asked Conniff and ECMC to submit proposed findings of facts. At some point, Judge Sawyer will issue his second opinion on Conniff's case.

Conniff owed $112,000 in 2015, when she was 44 years old. Her debt has grown over the last three years due to accrued interest, and Conniff is older. She is now 47 years old.

What does the future hold for Alexandra Acosta-Conniff? More litigation.

If Conniff wins her second trial, ECMC, ruthless and well financed, will undoubtedly appeal again; and the case will ultimately go back to the Eleventh Circuit a second time. Conniff now has an able lawyer, so if she loses before Judge Sawyer, she will likely appeal. So--win or lose--Conniff is in for at least two more years of stressful litigation. When this is all over, Conniff will likely be 50 years old.

Here's my take on Conniff's sad odyssey through the federal courts. First, Judge Watkins' most recent decision is deeply flawed. In Watkins' view, a student-loan debtor who can make even small loan payments under an ICRP while maintaining a minimal standard of living cannot discharge her student loans in bankruptcy: period.

But if that were true, then no student-loan debtor is eligible for bankruptcy relief. In several cases, ECMC or the U.S. Department of Education has argued that a student-loan debtor  living at or below the poverty line should be denied bankruptcy relief  and required to enter into an ICRP even though the debtor would be required to pay zero. In fact, ECMC and DOE have been arguing for years that basically every destitute student-loan debtor should be put in an ICRP and denied bankruptcy relief.

Do want some examples? Roth v. ECMC (9th Cir. BAP 2013), Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education (Bankr. W.D. Wis. 2013), Abney v. U.S. Department of Education (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015), Smith v. U.S. Department of Education (Bankr. D. Mass. 2018).

The Roth case illustrates the insanity of this point of view. In that case, ECMC fought bankruptcy relief for Janet Roth, an elderly retiree with chronic health problems who was living on less than $800 a month in Social Security benefits. Put her in an ICRP, ECMC insisted, even though she would be required to pay nothing due to her impoverished circumstances.

The Ninth Circuit's Bankruptcy Appellate Panel pointed out the absurdity of ECMC's position. It would be pointless to put Roth in an ICRP, the court ruled. "[T]he law does not require a party to engage in futile acts."

Forcing Alexandra Acosta-Conniff into an ICRP, which Judge Watkins obviously desires, is a futile act. She will never pay off her student loans, even if she makes small monthly income-based payments for the next 25 years.

Acosta-Conniff is a big, big case. If Judge Watkins' hardhearted view prevails, then bankruptcy relief for student-loan debtors is foreclosed in the Eleventh Circuit. If the compassionate and common-sense spirit of Judge Sawyer's original 2013 opinion is ultimately upheld, then distressed student-loan debtors like Alexandra Costa-Conniff will get the fresh start that the bankruptcy courts were intended to provide.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals will ultimately have to look at Alexandra Acosta-Conniff's case a second time.  But her next trip to the Eleventh Circuit is likely at least two years away.

The Honorable Judge Keith Watkins


References

Acosta-Conniff v. ECMC, 536 B.R. 326 (Bankr. M.D. Ala. 2015).

ECMC v. Acosta-Conniff, 550 B.R. 557 (M.D. Ala. 2016).

ECMC v. Acosta-Conniff, 686 Fed. Appx. 647 (11th Cir. 2017).

ECMC v. Acosta-Conniff, 583 B.R. 275 (M.D. Ala. 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.



Wednesday, January 3, 2018

James Howard Kunstler's negative assessment of American higher education is spot on

James Howard Kunstler posted an essay a few days ago containing his predictions for American higher education in the coming year. He predicts big trouble.

As Kunstler correctly observed, "college has become, most of all, a money-grubbing racket tuned to the flow of exorbitant student loans for exorbitant college costs."  In other words, as he has said before, higher education in the United States basically operates from a "criminal ethic" where costs have "developed an inverse relationship to the value of a college education."

Kunstler's essay also includes a withering assessment of college leadership: "The presidents, deans, and faculty of colleges around the country have turned into the most obdurate enemies of free thought since the Spanish Inquisition, a gang of cowards and villains who disgrace the meaning and purpose of higher ed[ucation]."

In fact, Kunstler's indictment of the people who run American colleges is too gentle. If these clowns lived in another age, they would be the people who staffed the French Vichy regime during Word War II--the bureaucrats who dutifully rounded up French Jews for the Nazis and shipped them from Paris to the German death camps. No courage, no intellect, no sense of decency whatsoever. They babble ceaselessly about trigger words, safe spaces and "white male heterosexual privilege" while they pick their students' pockets.

The federal student loan program is quietly and inexorably destroying the lives of millions of Americans; has anyone in higher education spoken up? Have the presidents of Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Brown, Johns Hopkins, or the University of Michigan uttered a single word of criticism about it? Has any university leader endorsed bankruptcy relief for overburdened student debtors?  Has any college president or dean criticized the government policy of garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters? Has any higher-education leader of national standing called for the closure of the for-profit college industry?

No, our elite colleges and universities are almost as addicted to federal student-aid money as the sleaziest for-profit schools. In terms of dependency on federal money, there is not a dime's worth of difference between Harvard and Bob's Beauty Academy.

Kunstler predicts that "a shocking number of small four-year colleges will go out of business this year," and I share his view. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen said recently that half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.

In fact, the small liberal arts college is dead, although the leaders of some small colleges stubbornly keep their institutions on life support. Parents need to warn their children to stay away from these decaying institutions. It would be a grave mistake to borrow $100,000 to get a degree from a college that will close before its graduates pay off their student loans.


French officials registering French Jews.

References

Abigail Hess. Harvard Business School professor: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years. CNBC.com, November 15, 2017.

James Howard Kunstler. Forecast 2018--What Could Go Wrong? Clusterfuck Nation, January 1, 2018.

James Howard Kunstler. Made for Each Other. Clusterfuck Nation, February 13, 2017.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Like a Galapagos tortoise, Education Department ponders debt relief for students victimized by the for-profit colleges

Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and ITT Tech went bankrupt a year later. Together, the two for-profit college companies left more than half a million students and former students in the lurch. Thousands of these victims filed so-called borrower-defense claims with the Department of Education, asking DOE to forgive their student loans on the grounds that they were defrauded.

The Obama administration approved regulations for processing these claims, but Betsy DeVos put them on hold. She was concerned, she said, that the Obama rules might give undeserving students "free money."

Now DOE has approved a panel of 17 experts to overhaul the Obama regulations. According to a story in Inside Higher Ed, the DeVos Department anticipates the new rules won't go into effect until 2019. Under that timetable, defrauded borrowers won't even have an avenue of relief until four years after Corinthian filed for bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of student borrowers who attended one of the Corinthian schools, ITT Tech, and dozens of other dodgy for-profit colleges will be making monthly loan payments for worthless education experiences. Hundreds of thousands of others will put their loans into deferment, which will relieve them from making loan payments but will cause their loan balances to go up due to accruing interest. And thousands more will simply default, which will allow the federal government's sleazy loan collectors to slap on penalties and fees to their loan balances.

But DeVos doesn't give a damn about the carnage wreaked by the corrupt for-profit college industry. In fact, she is doing everything she can to prop it up.

And so, Betsy DeVos, Amway heiress and for-profit co-conspirator, lumbers along like a Galapagos tortoise, oblivious to the misery experienced by millions of student debtors--who are now defaulting at the rate of 3,000 a day.

The DeVos Education Department ponders student-loan debt relief.
References

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Former ITT Tech students fight for some money in the company's bankruptcy case. Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2016.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Education Dept. Borrower-Defense Negotiators. Inside Higher Ed, October 26, 2017.

Shahien Nasiripour. Corinthian Colleges files for bankruptcy. Huffington Post, May 5, 2015.

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

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Alan and Catherine Murray discharged more than $200,000 in student loans in a Kansas bankruptcy court and their victory was affirmed on appeal: Good news for middle-income college borrowers

In a previous essay, I wrote about Alan and Catherine Murray, a married couple in their late forties who defeated Educational Credit Management Corporation in a Kansas bankruptcy court.  ECMC appealed, and the Murrays prevailed again--a victory that has important implications for middle-income student-loan debtors.

The Murrays took out student loans in the 1990s to obtain undergraduate degrees and master's degrees. Their total indebtedness was $77,000, which they consolidated in 1996 at an interest rate of 9 percent.

Over the years, the Murrays paid $54,000 toward paying off these loans--70 percent of the amount they borrowed. But they obtained economic hardship deferments during periods of financial stress, which allowed them to skip some loan payments.  And they entered into an income-based repayment plan to lower their monthly payments to a manageable level.

Although the Murrays handled their student loans in good faith, interest on their debt continued to accrue; and they made no progress toward paying off their debt. In fact, when they filed for bankruptcy in 2014, their loan balance had ballooned to $311,000--four times what they borrowed!

Judge Dale L. Somers, a Kansas bankruptcy judge, gave the Murrays a partial bankruptcy charge. It was clear, Judge Somers ruled, that the Murrays could not pay off their total student-loan indebtedness and maintain a minimal standard of living. And it was also clear that their financial situation was not likely to change. Finally, Judge Somers concluded, the Murrays had handled their student loans in good faith--an essential requirement for discharging student loans in bankruptcy.

On the other hand, Judge Somers determined, the Murrays could pay off the original amount they borrowed ($77,000) and still maintain a minimal standard of living. Thus, Judge Somers discharged the accumulated interest on the Murrays' debt, but required them to pay back the original amount they borrowed.

ECMC, the Murrays' ruthless creditor, appealed Judge Somers' decision. ECMC argued, as it always does, that the Murrays should be put in a long-term income-based repayment plan (IBR) that would last from 20 or 25 years.

But U.S. District Court Judge Carlos Murguia, sitting as an appellate court for the appeal, affirmed Judge Somers' decision. "The court agrees with Judge Somers' findings and conclusions that [the Murrays] made a good faith effort to repay their loans," Judge Murguia wrote.

Significantly, Judge Murguia, ruling in the capacity of an appellate judge, explicitly rejected ECMC's argument that the Murrays should be placed in an IBR and that none of the Murrays' $311,000 debt should be forgiven.

"The court disagrees," Judge Murguia wrote. "Under the circumstances of this case, debtors' payments under an IBR plan are insufficient even to stop the accrual of additional interest, and such payments directly contravene the purpose of bankruptcy."  Judge Murguia noted that Judge Somers had not discharged all of the Murrays' indebtedness--only the accumulated interest. "He discharged that portion--the interest--that had become an undue hardship on debtors, denying them a fresh start."

ECMC v. Murray is an important case for two reasons: First, this is one of the few student-loan bankruptcy court decisions that have granted relief to middle-income student borrowers. The Murrays' combined income was about $95,000.

Second, the key ruling by both Judge Somers and Judge Murguia was their finding that the interest on the original debt would constitute an undue hardship for the Murrays if they were forced to pay it back. Furthermore, this would be true even if the Murrays were placed in an IBR because the monthly payments under such a repayment plan were insufficient to stop the accrual of interest.

There are hundreds of thousands of people in circumstances very similar to the Murrays. Their loan balances have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled due to accumulating interest. People in this situation will never pay off their total indebtedness. But most of these people, like the Murrays, can pay off the amount they originally borrowed if only the accumulated interest were wiped out.

Let us hope student loan debtors situated like the Murrays will learn about ECMC v. Murray and find the courage to file bankruptcy and seek a discharge of their student loans--or at least the accumulated interest.  After all, it is the accumulated interest, penalties and fees that have put millions of student borrowers in a hopeless situation. The Murray decision offers a fair and reasonable solution for these people and gives them a fresh start. A fresh start, after all, is the core reason that  bankruptcy courts exist.


References

Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation (Bankr. D. Kan. 2016), aff'd, No. 16-2838 (D. Kan. Sept. 22, 2017).


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Betsy DeVos sabotages Obama's borrower-defense rule for processing student borrowers' fraud claims: She fears students will get "free money"

The collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech shined a light on the seedy for-profit college industry.  Both for-profit college companies filed for bankruptcy under a cloud of accusations of fraud and misrepresentation.

Together, Corinthian and ITT Tech had more than half a million former students. Thousands of them filed so-called "borrower defense" claims, petitioning the Department of Education to forgive their student loans because they were defrauded by the institutions they attended. About 65,000 borrower-defense claims are now pending.

What to do? The Obama Administration prepared borrower-defense regulations that were scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2017; but Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos blocked their implementation, saying the rules would be rewritten through the "negotiated rule making" process. DeVos' decision will allow the for-profit industry a voice in reshaping the rules to their liking.

Why did DeVos block the Obama-era regulations? She said the regulations drafted by the Obama administration would allow students to get "free money" by having their loans forgiven.  In other words, DeVos apparently assumes students who file fraud victims are themselves engaging in fraud by seeking debt relief.

This latest caper from DeVos' Department of Education tells us all we need to know about President Trump's least qualified cabinet appointee . Time and time again, DeVos has made decisions to benefit the for-profit colleges at the expense of students; and she has hired consultants who have worked in that sleazy industry.

Millions of people have borrowed money to attend overly expensive for-profit colleges only to receive educational experiences that are virtually worthless. Some were defrauded, some obtained degrees that did not lead to good jobs, and some just paid too much for substandard postsecondary programs. Unless these people obtain relief from their student-loan debt, they will never get on their feet financially.

The Obama administration's borrower-defense regulations were drafted to determine which for-profit students are fraud victims entitled to student-loan debt relief. In my mind, however, it is impossible to efficiently decide on a case-by-case basis which student borrowers are entitled to debt relief due to fraud. That would require hundreds of thousands of individual due-process hearings.

No, the only way to give worthy student-loan debtors a fresh start is through bankruptcy. Congress must amend the Bankruptcy Code to treat student loans like any other consumer debt.

If insolvent student-loan debtors were given reasonable access to bankruptcy, millions of cases would be filed and at least half a trillion dollars in debt would be wiped out.

A half trillion dollars in student-loan debt relief would be a big hit to the U.S. treasury, but let's face it. Millions of student loans will never be paid back. It would be far better for the overall national economy if student borrowers were given a fresh start rather than be forced into 20- and 25-year repayment plans in which borrowers make token monthly payments that don't even cover accruing interest.

DeVos either doesn't understand the magnitude of the student-loan debt crisis or she doesn't  care. Either way, she is a disaster who needs to be cashiered.

Betsy DeVos: Having a good laugh at college students' expense

References

James Briggs. Former ITT Tech students got promise of help, then silence. USA Today, May 22, 2017.

Corinthian Colleges Students Eligible For Loan Discharge. National Bankruptcy Forum, June 22, 2017.

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

Chad Miller.  Understanding 'Borrower Defense to Repayment": A New Yellow Brick Road to Federal Student Loan Forgiveness. American Action Forum, November 1, 2016.

Michael Stratford. More Debt Relief for Corinthian Students. Inside Higher Ed, March 28, 2016.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Does Citizens Bank routinely make student loans to people attending non-approved foreign colleges?

Awhile back, I posted an essay on Decena v. Citizens Bank, a bankruptcy court case that was decided last year in New York. Lorelei Decena had borrowed $161,000 to attend St. Christopher's College of Medicine in Senegal, West Africa. At the time Decena was studying at St. Christopher's, the school was not on the Department of Education's approved schools list.

After graduating, Ms. Decena returned to the United States to pursue a medical career. To her dismay, she discovered that her St. Christopher medical degree did not qualify her to take her medical boards exams in the U.S.; and she filed for bankruptcy.

As almost everyone knows, student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy unless the debtor can meet the "undue hardship" standard articulated in 11 U.S.C. sec. 523 of the Bankruptcy Code. The undue hardship standard applies not only to federal student loans but to private student loans as well. This is a very difficult standard to meet, and some courts have applied it harshly.

Fortunately, for Ms. Decena, the bankruptcy court ruled that her loans from Citizens Bank were not covered by the undue hardship rule because St. Christopher's College of Medicine was not on the Department of Education's approved schools list when she studied there. Thus her student loans could be discharged in bankruptcy like any other consumer loan.  A great victory!

A few days ago, I was contacted by another New Yorker who had borrowed about $160,000 in student loans from Citizens Bank to attend a medical school in Great Britain. This school, like Decena's school, was not on DOE's approved schools list when he attended. And somewhat like Decena, this New Yorker discovered that his overseas medical degree does not qualify him to practice medicine in New York.

Obviously, this fellow has a very good argument that his student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy in the same manner as Ms. Decena's loans.  He contacted Citizens Bank and was told that the bank had sold the loan to a debt collection company.  He then wrote the debt collector and enclosed a copy of the Decena case. So far, no response.

What's going on here? Is Citizens Bank routinely making student loans to people enrolled in overseas medical schools?  And is it lending money to people attending foreign schools that are not on the Department of Education's approved schools list?

Although it is not well known, the Department of Education gives out student loans for Americans to attend foreign colleges and universities; and there are universities from all over the world on DOE's approved schools list.  Some of these institutions are foreign medical schools.

In my view, the government should not be lending money for people to study at foreign universities. The United States has plenty of colleges. Moreover, post-secondary enrollments are in decline in the U.S.; and there are lots of empty seats at American institutions.

And I don't think private banks should be lending money to people so they can study at foreign medical schools, particularly when it is unclear whether a foreign medical degree qualifies graduates to practice medicine in the U.S.

But if our government and the banks are going to continue the reckless practice of handing out student loans for people to study in foreign countries, then the people who accept those loans should be able to discharge their student debt in bankruptcy if they discover that their foreign degrees are worthless to them.



References

Decena v. Citizens Bank, 549 B.R. 11 (Bankr. E.D.N.Y. 2016).

Note: Citizens Bank appealed the bankruptcy court's decision to a federal district court, arguing that it had not received proper service of the lawsuit. The district court vacated the bankruptcy court's ruling based on a technicality without disturbing the underlying rationale of the bankruptcy court's decision in favor of Ms. Decena. Citizens Bank v. Decena, 562 B.R. 202 (E.D.N.Y. 2016).










Friday, January 6, 2017

Globe University and Minnesota School of Business are closing: We need federal legislation to manage college shutdowns

Globe University and Minnesota School of Business (MSB) began closing their campuses last month. The two for-profit institutions once operated in three states--Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin; but a series of regulatory and court actions brought them down.

In September, a Minnesota court ruled that Globe and MSB committed fraud by inducing students to enroll in their criminal justice programs.  Not long after, the Department of Education cut them off from federal student-aid funding. No for-profit college can survive a month without federal student-loan revenue, so DOE's action amounted to a death sentence for both institutions.

The demise of Globe and MSB follow in a train of college shutdowns over the past couple of years. The casualty lists includes Corinthian Colleges and ITT, two for-profits that declared bankruptcy. St. Catharine College and Dowling College also shut their doors, along with Virginia Intermont College.

DOE has more than 500 colleges on its "heightened cash monitoring" watch list, and many of these schools will shut down within the next three or four years. In a 2015 report, Moody's Investment Services predicted colleges would close at the rate of 15 per year commencing this year.

Now is the time for Congress to pass legislation to protect colleges' former students when the institution they attended shuts down. At a minimum, Congress should do the following:

I. Congress should pass legislation requiring every defunct college to deposit all student records in a central federal depository.

First student records at failed colleges must be preserved. Former students will need access to their official transcripts for decades after their alma mater closes, but how will they get those transcripts 25 years after the institution they attended shut its doors?

Currently, some closing colleges are voluntarily making arrangements to preserve student records. Dowling College, for example, which filed for bankruptcy in 2016, sent its student records to nearby Long Island University.

But not all closing colleges will act as responsibly as Dowling. In particular, colleges that are accused of defrauding their students have no incentive to preserve student records because those records might be used against them in legal proceedings.

Congress needs to adopt legislation that requires every college that receives federal funds to send all student records, including transcripts, to a federal records depository in the event of a closure. And colleges should be required to digitize their student records according to a standardized protocol so that the process of transferring records after a college closes can be done quickly and efficiently.

II. Non-operating colleges should forgive any loans owed to them by former students.

Most nonpublic colleges depend on federal student aid money for the bulk of their revenues, but some also lend money directly to their students.  For example, Globe and MSB loaned money to their students at interest rates as high as 18 percent. According to a Minnesota court decision, the two institutions  loaned money to approximately 6,000 students between 2009 and 2016.

Globe and MSB will be defunct in a matter of weeks, but the loans they made to students are debts they may try to collect. Federal law should require every college that loans money to students to forgive those loans if the college closes. As a matter of simple justice, a college that shuts down shouldn't be chasing after students who owe it money.

III. Congress should ease the path to bankruptcy relief for students who attended for-profit colleges.

Finally, Congress needs to streamline the loan-forgiveness process for students who attend for-profit colleges and received no economic benefit from the experience. It is particularly unjust for students to be on the hook for student loans taken out to attend a for-profit college that closed after being found guilty of fraud.

Under DOE regulations, students can apply to have their student loans discharged if they can make one of two showings: 1) they were induced to enroll based on fraud, or 2) they took out loans to attend a college that closed while they were enrolled or within 120 days of being enrolled.

Unfortunately, the administrative process for resolving discharge applications is slow and entirely inadequate to deal with the potential volume of claims. After all, Corinthian Colleges and ITT, which are both in bankruptcy, have around a half million former students between them.

Currently, the Bankruptcy Code bars debtors from discharging student loans in bankruptcy unless they can show that paying back their loans would create an "undue hardship."  Most bankruptcy courts have interpreted the undue hardship standard harshly, making it incredibly difficult for most college borrowers to clear their student loans through the bankruptcy process.

Congress should pass legislation that eliminates the undue hardship standard for all people who took out loans to attend a for-profit college and wound up broke.  The five-year default rate for a recent cohort of students who attended for-profit colleges is 47 percent--a clear indication that a lot of people got no benefit from attending a for-profit institution.

Conclusion: The Nation faces a swelling tide of college closures and needs an orderly process for shutting down higher education institutions.

One thing is certain: colleges are closing at an accelerating rate; and the Nation need an orderly process to minimize the harm to defunct colleges' former students. Student records must be safeguarded, student debt to failed institutions should be wiped out, and Congress needs to amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow former for-profit college students to obtain bankruptcy relief.

Photo credit: Wisconsin Public Radio


References

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

Rick Seltzer. Virginia Intermont's campus sale begs question of how colleges close accounts. Inside Higher Ed, January 5, 2017.

State of Minnesota v. Minnesota School of Business, 885 N.W.2d 512 (Minn. Ct. App. 2016).

Alia Wong. Farewell to America's Small Colleges, Atlantic, October 2, 2015.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Betsy DeVos, Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, has the power to ease the suffering of student-loan debtors

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, has no experience in higher education, and that may be a good thing for student-loan debtors.

Most commentators on the student-loan crisis are insiders who want to maintain the status quo regarding the federal student loan program. The universities depend on regular infusions of student-loan money, which enables them to raise their tuition prices year after year at twice the rate of inflation.

But DeVos has no ties to higher education at all, and thus she has the capacity to look at the student-loan catastrophe from a fresh perspective. In fact, DeVos has the power to do one simple thing that could potentially bring relief to millions of distressed student-loan debtors.

Under current bankruptcy law, debtors cannot discharge their student loans in bankruptcy unless they can show that repaying the loans will cause them "undue hardship."  In nearly every case, the Department of Education and the student-loan guaranty companies argue that student-loan debtors should be denied bankruptcy relief under the undue hardship standard.

Instead, they routinely demand that distressed college borrowers enroll in long-term income-based repayment plans that can last for 20 or even 25 years.  And DOE and its debt collectors make this demand even when debtors' income is so low that they pay nothing or next to nothing under the terms of these plans.

Here are some examples:
  • In the Edwards case, decided last spring, Educational Credit Management (ECMC) argued that Rita Gail Edwards, a woman in her mid-50s, should pay $56 a month for 25 years to service a debt of almost a quarter of a million dollars! 
  • In the Roth case, ECMC opposed bankruptcy relief for Janet Roth, an elderly woman with chronic health problems who was living on Social Security income of less than $800 a month. Instead, ECMC wanted Roth to enter a long-term repayment plan even though ECMC conceded that Roth's income was so low that she would pay nothing under the plan. 
  • In the Abney case, DOE wanted Abney, a 40-year-old father of two, to enter a 25-year income-based repayment plan. Abney was living on $1200 a month and was so poor he couldn't afford a car and rode a bicycle to get to his job.
In essence, DOE and the debt collectors maintain that almost no one is entitled to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy and that everyone should be placed in long-term, income based repayment plans.

What if Secretary DeVos simply decreed that DOE and the loan guaranty agencies will stop pushing long-term repayment plans in the bankruptcy courts and would consent to bankruptcy discharges for people like Roth, Edwards, and Abney? (Incidentally, in all three cases, the bankruptcy courts rejected the creditors' arguments and discharged the student loans in their entirety.)

By consenting to bankruptcy discharges for people like Abney, Edwards and Roth, the Department of Education would signal to the bankruptcy courts that it supports a less harsh interpretation of the "undue hardship" standard. That would open the door for thousands of people of distressed debtors to file bankruptcy to discharge their student loans.

Some people might argue that my proposal would unleash a flood of bankruptcy filings that would undermine the financial integrity of the federal student loan program. But let's face facts. People like Roth, Edwards and Abney would never have paid back their student loans, and placing them in 25-year repayment plans that would have obligated them to make token payments that would have done nothing more than maintain the cynical fiction that their loans weren't in default.

Wouldn't it be better for DOE to be candid about the student-loan crisis and admit that millions of people will never pay back their loans? Wouldn't it be better public policy to allow honest but unfortunate debtors to get the fresh start that the bankruptcy courts are intended to provide?

Betsy DeVos is fresh on the scene of the student-loan catastrophe. Let's hope she brings some fresh thinking to the U.S. Department of Education.


Mark http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/donald-trump-president-elect.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Monday, September 26, 2016

Department of Education strips the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACIS) of its accrediting authority

DOE drops the hammer on ACICS

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it is stripping the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) of its accrediting authority. As Donald Trump might put it, this is a HUUGE deal.

ACICS is the biggest accrediting body for the for-profit college industry. As of last June, ACICS accredited 245 schools enrolling about 800,000 students. All those schools must be credentialed by an accreditation agency approved by DOE in order to obtain federal student aid money. So when DOE decertified ACICS, it put more than 200 for-profit institutions at extreme risk of closing.

Why did DOE take such drastic action against ACICS?

Why did DOE take this drastic action? DOE accuses ACICS of lax oversight of the  for-profit college industry. Two large for-profits filed for bankruptcy recently--Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech; both companies were accredited by ACICS. Other for-profits have been investigated for fraud, misrepresentation, and high-pressure recruiting tactics.

The industry as a whole has notoriously high student-loan default rates. According to a Brookings Institution report, almost half of a recent cohort of for-profit students defaulted on their student loans within five years of beginning repayment. Ben Miller, a senior spokesperson for the Center for American Progress, approved of DOE's action: "With its lengthy track record of shoddy oversight--that has led to billions of dollars squandered--ACICS had abused the public's trust and could not be allowed to continue granting access to federal dollars."

What will happen to the 200 plus colleges and schools that were accredited by ACICS?

What will happen to the 200 plus for-profit colleges that are no longer accredited by a DOE-approved accrediting body? Assuming ACICS loses its appeal of DOE's decision, which seems likely, for-profit colleges will have 18 months to obtain accreditation by another DOE-approved accreditor.  That will be very difficult to do--especially for small for--profit colleges,  As one West Virginia educator explained: "There aren't thousands of accreditors that schools can go to, there's really just a handful. They all have very specific niches to fill." And those accrediting bodies will likely be deluged with applications from colleges that were formerly accredited by ACICS.

In short, the fall of ACICS will inevitably have a domino effect on for-profit colleges. Those that don't quickly become re-accredited by a DOE-approved agency will lose access to federal student-aid money and will collapse. When the colleges collapse, their students' studies will be disrupted. The vast majority of all for-profit students took out federal student loans to finance their tuition. If their college closes, they will have just two choices:  They can transfer to another institution that will take their former college's credits or they can apply to DOE to have their loans  forgiven under DOE's"closed school" exemption process.

Does DOE have a sinister motive in disrupting the for-profit college industry?

The Obama administration will say its drastic action against ACICS is a justified response to the accreditor's shoddy oversight of the for-profit college industry. And maybe that explanation is sincere.

But why did DOE wait until the waning days of President Obama's second term in office to act? I wonder whether DOE might be intentionally disrupting the for-profit college industry so that inside players can step in and scoop up some faltering for-profit colleges in order to reap huge profits.

When Corinthian Colleges filed for bankruptcy last year, DOE engineered a deal for a subsidiary of Educational Credit Management Corporation to buy some of Corinthian's operations. ECMC's unit bought 56 of Corinthian's campuses for only $24 million. Who benefited financially from that deal?

And Apollo Education Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, is being bought out by a consortium of equity groups led by Martin Nesbitt, President Obama's former campaign manager and president of the Obama Foundation.  Tony Miller, a former Deputy Secretary of Education,  will run the University of Phoenix. Cozy!

Time will tell us what is going on here. The for--profit college industry is a sleazy business, and I have argued repeatedly that DOE should shut it down. DOE's decision last week to strip ACICS of its accrediting authority is a big step toward doing just that.

But if we see more political insiders come in and buy struggling for-profits as Martin Nesbitt is doing with the University of Phoenix, that may be an indication, that DOE's death sentence for ACICS is nothing more than a calculated play to drive down the value of for-profit colleges so that powerful financial interests can scoop them up.

One thing we know for sure: Bill and Hillary Clinton are very close to the for-profit college racket. Bill, we remember, got paid nearly $18 million to serve as "Honorary Chancellor" of Laureate Education Group; and Hillary is tight with Goldman Sachs, which has an ownership interest in a for-profit education company.

Image result for bill clinton and laureate education

References

Lauren Camera. Education Department Strips Authority of Largest For-Profit Accreditor. U.S. New & World Report, September 2, 2016. Accessible at http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-22/education-department-strips-authority-of-acics-the-largest-for-profit-college-accreditor

Paul Fain. Federal panel votes to terminate ACICS and tightens screws on other accreditors. Inside Higher Ed, June 24, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/24/federal-panel-votes-terminate-acics-and-tightens-screws-other-accreditors

Jake Jarvis. In wake of ACIS decision, a crisis for WV's for profit schools. Charleston Gazette-Mail, September 25, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wvgazettemail.com/news-education/20160925/in-wake-of-acics-decision-a-crisis-for-wvs-for-profit-schools

Ronald Hansen. Apollo Education sale 'golden parachute' could be worth $22 million to executives. Arizona Republic, March 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2016/03/08/apollo-education-sale-executives-payout-22-million/81483912/

Rosiland S. Helderman and Michelle Ye He Lee. Inside Bill Clinton's nearly $18 million job as 'honary chancellor' ofr a for-profit college. Washington Post, September 5,  2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-bill-clintons-nearly-18-million-job-as-honorary-chancellor-of-a-for-profit-college/2016/09/05/8496db42-655b-11e6-be4e-23fc4d4d12b4_story.html

Abby Jackson. An embattled for profit education company partly owned by Goldman Sachs keeps downsizing. Business Insider, June 13, 2016. Accessible at http://www.businessinsider.com/for-profit-brown-mackie-shutting-down-2016-6

Patria Cohen and Chad Bray. University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, Will Be Taken Private. New York Times, February 8, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/business/dealbook/apollo-education-group-university-of-phoenix-owner-to-be-taken-private.html

John Sandman. Debt Collector ECMC Closes Deal for Corninthian College Campuses. Mainstreet.com, February 9, 2015. Accessible at https://www.mainstreet.com/article/debt-collector-ecmc-closes-deal-for-corinthian-college-campuses

Soyong Kim. Apollo teams with Washington insider for education deal. Reuters, January 12, 2016. Accessible at http://www.reuters.com/article/us-apollo-education-m-a-apollo-global-idUSKCN0UQ23W20160112