Showing posts with label for-profit college industry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label for-profit college industry. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Senator Elizabeth Warren's Proposal to Cancel Student Debt: A Great Idea (Just Needs a Little Tweaking)

Earlier this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren astonished the higher education community (and me in particular) by announcing three bold proposals: 1) free undergraduate education at public universities; 2) massive student-loan forgiveness, and 3) a ban on federal funding for for-profit colleges.

Student-loan debtors all over America should stand up and applaud Senator Warren. She is the first national political figure to call for an end to federal aid for the for-profit colleges. This sleazy racket gets about 90 percent of its revenues from federal student-aid money. If Congress shut off that spigot as Warren proposes, most of them would close in less than 30 days.

The for-profit college industry, with its armies of lawyers and lobbyists, has Congress in its back pocket. They surely understand that Senator Warren's proposal is an existential threat. Watch how this sleazy racket starts shifting resources to sabotage Warren's presidential bid.

On the other hand, Warren's call for free college education is not original. Senator Bernie Sanders promised free college during his 2016 presidential run and Senator Kamala Harris has put free college on her campaign platform. Nevertheless, it's a good idea.

It's Warren's third proposal, however, that is the real stunner. She's calling for massive student-loan debt forgiveness for 95 percent of student borrowers.

Senator Warren's student-loan forgiveness plan is a little complicated and has some limitations. she wants to forgive up to $50,000 in student-loan debt but would reduce this benefit for high-income families.  But her basic idea is sound. Why?

First of all, millions of Americans will never pay back their student loans whether Warren's proposal is implemented or not, so we might as well forgive the debt. Almost 8 million people are in income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) that allow them to make monthly payments based on their income and not how much they owe.  For most of these people (almost all of them actually), their loan payments are so small that they don't cover accruing interest.  For people in IBRPs, their debt grows larger each month as interest accrues. They will never pay back the amount they borrowed.

Several million more student-loan borrowers have their loans in deferment while the interest accrues and capitalizes on their original debt. Most of those folks will never repay their loans.

Finally, there is a good argument that forgiving all this student debt--$1.56 trillion--would boost the economy. Unburdened by debt they will never repay, millions of Americans will be able to rejoin the middle class--buy houses and cars, have children, save for retirement.  Indeed, a study by researchers at Bard College's Levy Institute makes that very argument.

Conservatives recoiled in horror at Warren's proposal to forgive student debt, spewing a lot of blather about the sacred nature of contract obligations, the unfairness to people who paid off their student loans, etc.

But in my view, Warren's student-loan forgiveness proposal does not go far enough. Millions of student-loan debtors are entitled to student-loan forgiveness with no $50,000 cap. And millions of parents have co-signed student loans or taken out Parent PLUS loans, and they also are entitled to relief.

So I propose a few tweaks to Senator Warren's brave proposal:

First, all Parent Plus loans should be forgiven immediately for any family with household income under $200,000. And all parents and relatives who cosigned private student loans should be relieved of any legal obligation to repay that debt.

Secondly, instead of instituting a loan-forgiveness plan, I propose that distressed student-debtors be allowed to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy as proposed in Representative John Katko's recently filed bill. People who took out student loans to go to law school and then got rich as corporate lawyers should pay back their loans. But people who otherwise qualify for bankruptcy relief should be able to discharge their student loans like any other consumer debt.

But let's not quibble about the details. Senator Warren's call for free college and student-loan forgiveness are basically good ideas. And her call for shutting off federal aid to the for-profit colleges is stunningly brave.

In my view, it is time to stop heckling Senator Warren about Cherokee-Gate. She is a serious presidential candidate who has made bold and thoughtful policy proposals. Americans should listen to what she has to say about the student-loan crisis because--let's face reality--a lot of student-loan debt will never be paid back.

References

Elizabeth Warren. I'm calling for something truly transformational: Universal free public college and cancellation of student loan debt. Medium, April 22, 2019.

Scott Fullwiler, Stephanie Kelton, Catherine Ruetschlin, and Marshall Steinbaum. The Macroeconomic Effects of Student Debt Cancellation. Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, February 2018.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Betsy Devos deserves a Congressional censure: It's nothing personal, Betsy; but you are a disaster

Betsy DeVos, President Trump's Secretary of Education, is a disaster. Month after month, she makes decisions to aid the for-profit college industry at the expense of students who have been swindled by the institutions they attended.

As David Halperin said in a recent essay, DeVos' embrace of predatory for-profit colleges is "breathtaking."  Halperin's indictment of DeVos' performance is comprehensive, and you should read it. Here are a few of the highlights of DeVos' reckless malfeasance:

She rolled back an Obama-era regulation that prohibits the for-profits from inserting mandatory arbitration clauses in their student enrollment agreements.  These clauses prevent defrauded students from suing the colleges that defrauded them and usually prohibit students from banding together to file class action lawsuits.

She set aside a procedure for processing so-called "borrower defense" claims, whereby students can get their student loans discharged on the grounds that they were defrauded by the college they attended.

Under her leadership, the Department has failed to failed (as of July 2017) to process even one of the 65,000 fraud claims that students have filed, including claims filed by students who attended Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech--two for-profits that filed bankruptcy under a dense cloud of fraud allegations.

DeVos' Department of Education canceled an information-sharing agreement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an act so irrational that Steve Rhode was prompted to ask whether she was "nucking futs."

DeVos cannot be impeached, because the Constitution only allows impeachment of a cabinet official for "high crimes and misdemeanors;" and I don't think DeVos has done anything criminal. But she certainly deserves to be censured by Congress for conduct that is blatantly contrary to the public interest.

 Wouldn't it be grand if the U.S. Senate formally censured her in a bi-partisan expression of righteous indignation? In my mind's eye, I see Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, hand-delivering a formal Senate censure resolution.

Perhaps Mitch would borrow a line from The Godfather as he tenders DeVos a blistering condemnation of her public stewardship. "It's not personal, Betsy," McConnell would intone, 'but you're a disater."

It's not personal, Betsy.

References

Collin Binkley. Student-loan forgiveness has halted under Trump, records show. Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2017.

David Halperin. DeVos Embrace of Predatory For-Profit Colleges is Breathtaking. Huffington Post, September 10, 2017.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Few solutions for defrauded borrowers. Inside Higher Ed, June 26, 2017.

Steve Rhode. Is Betsy DeVos Nuckin Futs With Break From Student Loan Debtor Protections? The Debt Out of Debt Guy, September 



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. 

References

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.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Trump and DeVos give aid and comfort to For-Profit Colleges: The Democrats should hold hearings on this sleazy industry

As Senator Dick Durbin once observed, the for-profit colleges "own every lobbyist in town." And indeed they do. David Halperin, in a terrific article for The Nation, explained how the for-profit colleges have effectively used lobbyists and lawyers to fight off federal efforts to regulate their sleazy industry.

And now the for-profits don't even have to pay their lobbyists and attorneys. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pays them directly!

As the New York Times reported, DOE hired two for-profit insiders to help shape DOE's policy toward the for-profit industry. Robert Eitel is taking an unpaid leave of absence from his job as vice president for regulatory legal services at Bridgepoint Education, Inc.  to take a paid job on the Department's "beachhead team." Bridgepoint, a for-profit education provider, is currently being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Former Senator Tom Harkin, a longtime critic of the for-profit college industry, called Bridgepoint a "a scam, an absolute scam."

And DOE also hired Taylor Hansen, a former for-profit lobbyist, to be a consultant. At least Hansen had the decency to resign his DOE position after a public outcry was raised.

These hires, along with DOE's decision to delay compliance deadlines for for-profit colleges to meet DOE's "gainful employment" regulations, are a strong indication that the Trump administration will not vigorously regulate this bandit industry.

Senate Democrats could put enormous pressure on Trump and DeVos if they would hold hearings on the for-profit colleges. I would like to see Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders question some of the so-called educators who run these diploma mills.  Nearly half of the students who took out federal loans to attend for-profit colleges default on their loans within five years of beginning repayment.

And Senate Democrats also need to examine the student-loan debt collectors who slap huge fees on student-loan defaulters and engage in high-pressure collection tactics.  Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), for example, was hit with punitive damages last year for repeatedly garnishing the wages of a bankrupt student-loan debtor in violation of the Bankruptcy Code's automatic stay provisions.

Senator Warren might ask Janice Hines, ECMC's CEO, to disclose her compensation package--surely well over $1 million a year. And Senator Sanders might ask Hines how ECMC amassed $1 billion in assets.

Great political theater! So why don't the Democrats get busy and schedule those hearings? I tell you why. Too many politicians--Republicans and Democrats alike--are in bed with the for-profit college industry.  Read David Halperin's article in The Nation for details.

Janice Hines: How much money do you make running ECMC?

References

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

Patricia Cohen. For-Profit Schools, an Obama Target, See New Day Under Trump. New York Times, February 20, 2017.

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

David Halperin. The Perfect Lobby: How One Industry Captured Washington, DC. The Nation, April 3, 2014.

 Shahien Nasiripour. , Betsy DeVos Hands Victory to Loan Firm Tied to Advisor Who Just Quit. Bloomberg News, March 20, 2017.
  
Predator Colleges May Thrive Again (editorial). New York Times, March 23, 2017, p. A 24.




Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Bernie Sanders' proposal for free tutiiton at public universities could actually save taxpayers money. So why don't we do that?

Bernie Sanders has proposed free tuition at all American public universities. Let's look at that proposal and also examine the reasons why Bernie's scheme will never be implemented, even though it would cost taxpayers less money than they are spending now on student financial aid.

According to Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, free tuition at the nation's public universities would cost about $70 billion, which is a lot of money.

But the federal government will distribute almost $35 billion  this year in Pell Grant funding to low-income students. If Congress closed the Pell Grant program and simply provided free tuition at public universities, half of the estimated cost of Sanders' plan would be covered by the switch.

Where would the other $35 billion come from?

In addition to Pell Grants, the federal government operates the federal student loan program, which will distribute more than $100 billion a year in college-loan money. About a third of that sum will be lost due to defaults It would actually be cheaper to provide every American with free tuition at a public university than to operate the federal student-loan program at $100 billion a year and the Pell Grant programs at $35 billion.  In fact, this change would save the federal government about $65 billion a year.

Why then don't we adopt Bernie Sanders' proposal?  Three reasons:

1) The for-profit college industry would collapse. Currently, the for-profit colleges get about 25 percent of all federal student-aid money. If the government stopped subsidizing the for-profit college sector, the for-profits would be forced to close because they get 80 to 90 percent of their operating revenues from federal funds. In fact, offering free tuition at public universities in lieu of the current student-aid system would shut down the for-profit college industry almost overnight.

This sleazy sector of higher education will never allow Bernie Sanders' plan to be operationalized. The for-profit colleges have made strategic political contributions to key congresspeople, and they own most of the lobbyists in Washington. For this reason, Bernie's free-tuition program is already dead.

2) Nonselective private colleges would collapse.  Bernie's free-tuition plan would also kill the nondescript private colleges. Why would anyone attend Malloy University on Long Island, Cabrini College in Philadelphia, or Pine Manor College in Boston if they could go to a state university for free? This sector of higher education will surely do everything it can to make sure Bernie's pipe dream never  becomes a reality.

3) Elite colleges and universities would suffer. Free tuition to attend a public university would not mean the death of Harvard, Yale, Vassar, Dartmouth, and the other elite private colleges. Most of them have large endowments that would keep them afloat even if the federal student-aid program was closed. Moreover, there will always be wealthy families willing to pay almost any amount of money for their children to attend an Ivy League school, even if the public universities were free.

Nevertheless, the Harvards and the Yales do quite well under the status quo. They certainly get a hefty financial boost from Pell Grant money and federal student-loan revenues.  Having a federal cash infusion allows then to jack up their tuition, because they know students will simply borrow more money to cover tuition hikes. When Catharine Hill of Vassar spoke out against Bernie Sanders' free-college plan in the New York Times yesterday, she was speaking not just for Vassar but for all the elite colleges.

Conclusion: Bernie's Free-Tuition plan is Dead On Arrival

In short, Bernie Sander's proposal to give everyone a free undergraduate education at a public college or university is DOA.  The for-profit college industry  and the non-profit private universities simply will not allow it.  These two groups own Congress, and they like the status quo.

Image result for "bernie sanders" images
Bernie's College-For-All plan: DOA

References

American Council on Education. The Status of Federal Student Aid Programs. Washington, DC: Author, 2015. Accessible at: https://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/The-Status-of-Federal-Student-Aid-Programs.pdf

David Halperin. The Perfect Lobby: How One Industry Captured Washington, DC. The Nation, April 3, 2014. Accessible at:  https://www.thenation.com/article/perfect-lobby-how-one-industry-captured-washington-dc/

Catharine Hill. Free Tuition Is Not the Answer. New York Times, November 30, 2015, p. A23. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/30/opinion/free-tuition-is-not-the-answer.html?_r=0

Monday, June 9, 2014

For what we have done to you, we are truly sorry: The Baby Boomers should apologize to the Millennial Generation for the student-loan mess

Frank Bruni wrote a long op ed essay in yesterday's Sunday Times about the wrongs the Baby Boomers have committed against the Millennial generation.   According to Bruni, the Baby Boomers are leaving today's youth with towering problems: climate change, a sick economy, and a mounting national debt. Bruni quotes former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey as saying the nation is spending too much on the last generation (Medicare, Social Security, and Veterans' benefits) and not enough on the next one.

Dear Millennnials: We're Sorry for the Student Loan Crisis (burp)!
Kerrey is right of course, and so is Bruni. The Baby Boomers have bequeathed the young people of our nation with a host of problems--problems that are only going to get worse because this generation doesn't have the courage or integrity to face them.

Bruni's op ed essay was in harmony with an editorial that appeared in the same issue of the Times entitled "Starting Out Behind." The Times points out that young people are graduating from college with massive indebtedness only to face a sickly job market.  Unemployment among people in their early 20s is higher than the national average, and underemployment (those people who are unemployed, employed part-time or who have given up looking for work) is very high--16.8 percent.

The Times editorial quoted statistics showing that 44 percent of today's college graduates hold jobs that do not require a college education.  There was a time, the Times observed, when people working in jobs that did not require a college degree made decent money--tradespeople like plumbers and electricians, union workers, etc. Today, a lot of college-educated young people are working as waitresses, bar tenders and store clerks.

Perhaps the most disturbing bit of data the Times mentioned is the fact that more than half of young adults (55 percent) still live with their parents. Nobody wants to see that number go higher.

The Times editorial did not mention the burgeoning student-loan indebtedness that is crushing this nation's young adults. And this is odd, because  of all the problems this generation passed on to the Millennial generation, the federal student-loan mess is the most egregious and the easiest one to fix.

Addressing climate change,  the national debt, and our sickly national economy are complicated problems with no easy or certain solution. But we could easily do some things to ease the burden of student-loan indebtedness on our nation's young people; and we could do these things today.  Here are a few things we could do that would be helpful:

1) The federal government could remove any higher education institution from the federal student loan program that does not freeze tuition and fees at current levels.   In essence, our government would be telling the nation's porky colleges and universities that the party is over.

2) Congress could amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow insolvent student-loan debtors to discharge their loans in the bankruptcy courts so long as they file for bankruptcy in good faith.

3) The Obama Administration could instruct the Internal Revenue Service to stop garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly people who defaulted on their college loans.

4) Congress could easily shut down the private student-loan industry by making it easier for distressed debtors to discharge their private student loans in bankruptcy.

5) Congress could shut down the for-profit college industry, which has the highest student-loan default rates and which is riddled with fraud and abuse,  simply by making all for-profit colleges ineligible to participate in the federal student aid program.

Of course none of these things are going to happen.  So far, the Obama administration, which is fully aware of the magnitude of the student-loan crisis, can think of nothing better to do than extend students' loan repayment period from 10 years to 20 or 25 years.  Not very bold or creative in my opinion.

But Frank Bruni is right: the Baby Boomers generation owes the Millennial generation an apology.  But it should apologize for more than global warning and the national debt; it should say it is sorry for corrupting higher education with a corpulent and abusive federal student loan program that has put this nation's young people in debt to the tune of $1.2 trillion.

References

Frank Bruni. Dear Millennials, We're Sorry. New York Times, June 8, 2014, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.

Editorial. Starting Out Behind. New York Times, June 8, 2014, Sunday Review Section, p. 10.