Showing posts with label rising tuition costs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rising tuition costs. Show all posts

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Manhattan Institute Report: State Pensions Costs Threaten Higher Education. Dancing on the Titanic

Earlier this month, Daniel DiSalvo and Jeffrey Kucik of the Manhattan Institute published a brief report (only 10 pages of text) that should scare the hell out of American higher education. In essence, the report made three main points:

  • States are cutting contributions to higher education, something we already knew.
  • Tuition costs are rising to deal with the shortfall, and tuition increases are not being matched by a rise in median family income. We already knew that as as well.
  • State pension costs are out of control and will absorb a larger and larger share of most states' budgets.
This last point--the catastrophic rise in pension obligations--is also something we already knew, but DiSalvo and Kucik's report drives this point home with brutal clarity. 

As the authors explain in their introduction, the stock market crash of 2008 led to a sharp devaluation of pension fund assets--about a $1 trillion loss. In addition, persistent underfunding of pension funds "has led to a net deficit across all states of about $4 trillion, or one-third of total U.S. GDP." (p. 5, emphasis supplied).

All states have reformed their pension programs in some way to respond to the shortfall, but these reforms are not enough to bring pension fund liabilities in line with pension fund assets.

Meanwhile, the average number of pension beneficiaries per state has tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million, while the number of active public employees paying into pension funds has stayed roughly constant. (p. 7). Clearly, state pension funds are rapidly moving toward collapse

Let's look at the numbers for a few states.

California's pension liabilities have increased by 41 percent over just seven years to $890 billion in 2015. That was two years ago. By now California's pension liabilities must be nearly $1 trillion.  

New York's pension liabilities were nearly half a trillion dollars in 2015, a 30 percent increase over 2008. And Governor Andrew Cuomo is offering free college tuition to New Yorkers!

Texas, where my pension fund is located, had about a quarter of a trillion dollars in pension obligations in 2015--a 42 percent increase from 2008.

How is higher education impacted by this looming train wreck? States have no other choice but to reduce expenditures for higher education even further if they have any hope of meeting their pension obligations. 

Thus, it is clear, students will be forced to borrow more and more money in coming years in order to pursue postsecondary education.

Is anyone in higher education worried about this? No, college leaders are absorbed with more pressing matters--trigger words, safe spaces, and controversial commencement speakers.

In short, everyone in higher education--students, professors, and administrators--are behaving very much like the romantic couple in the movie Titanic--dancing in steerage while their ship steams closer and closer to a lethal iceberg.

Dancing on the Titanic

References

Daniel DiSalvo and Jeffrey Kucik. On the Chopping Block: Rising State Pension Costs Lead to Cuts in Higher Education. Manhattan Institute Report, May 2017.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

Student-Loan Default Rates Go Down As Enrollment in Income-Driven Repayment Plans Goes Up:" It Hurts So Much To Face Reality"

Earlier in the week, the Department of Education issued a press release that contains good news about the student loan program. Or does it?

DOE reported that enrollment is increasing in the Department's various income-driven repayment plans (IDRs), including PAYE, REPAYS and six other income-based student loan repayment programs.  About 5 million are now enrolled in IDRs, up 117 percent from March of 2014.

At the same time, student-loan hardship deferments, loan delinquencies, and new defaults are going down.  According to DOE:
As of March 31, 2016, about 350,000 [Direct Loan] recipients were deferring their payments due to unemployment or economic hardship, a 28.6 percent decrease from the prior year. In that same time period, there was a 36.6 percent decrease in the number of FFEL recipients in a deferment status due to unemployment or economic hardship.
DOE also reported that delinquency rates are down 10.6 percent from last year, and student-loan default rates are also down.

Is this good news? Yes and no.

Obviously, a trend toward fewer economic-hardship deferments, fewer student-loan defaults, and fewer lower delinquencies is a good thing. It is especially heartening to see a decline in the number of people who have loans in deferment, because these people see their loan balances go up due to accruing interest during the time they aren't making loan payments.

But this good news comes at a cost. DOE's report is a clear indication that more and more people are signing up for long-term income-based repayment plans that stretch out their repayment period for as long as 20 to 25 years.  According to DOE, five million people are in IDRs now, and DOE hopes to enroll 2 million more by the end of 2017. Clearly, long-term repayment plans has become DOE's number one strategy for dealing with rising student-debt loads.

What's wrong with IDRs? Four things.

Growing Loan Balances. First, as I have said many times, most people in IDRs are making payments based on a percentage of their income, not the amount of their debt; and most people's payments are not large enough to cover accruing interest on their loan balances. Thus, for almost everyone in a 20- or a 25-year repayment plan, loan balances are going up, not down.

This was starkly illustrated by a recent Brookings Institution report. According to a paper published for Brookings by Looney and Yannelis, a majority of borrowers (57 percent) saw their loan balances go up two years after beginning the repayment period on their loans. For students who borrowed to attend for-profit instiutions, almost three out of four (74 percent) saw their loan balances grow two years after entering the repayment phase

Reduced Incentives for Colleges to Rein in Tuition Costs.  As more and more borrowers elect to join IDRs, the colleges know that tuition prices becomes less important to students.Whether students borrow $25,000 to attend college or $50,000, their payment will be the same.

In fact, some IDRs actually may act as an inverse incentive for students to obtain more postsecondary education than they need.  I have several doctoral students who are collecting multiple graduate degrees. I suspect they are enrolled in the 10-year public-service loan forgiveness plan, the government's most generous IDR. Since monthly loan payments are based on income and not the amount borrowed, I think some people have figured out that it makes economic sense to prolong their studies.

Psychological Costs of Long-Term Repayment Plans. Third, there are psychological costs when people sign up for repayment plans that can stretch over a quarter of a century, a cost that some bankruptcy courts have noted. And these psychological costs are undoubtedly higher for people who sign up for IDRs in mid-life. Brenda Butler, for example, who lost her adversary proceeding in January of this year, signed up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan when she was in her early 40s, after struggling to pay back her student loans for 20 years. As the court noted in Butler's case, her loan obligations will cease in 2037--42 years after she graduated from college. That's got to be depressing.

A Drag on Consumer Spending. Finally, people who are making loan payments for 20 years have less disposable income to buy a home or a car, to marry, to have children, and to save for their retirement.  In fact, in the Abney case decided in late 2015, a bankruptcy court in Missouri rejected DOE's argument that a 44-year old truck driver should enter a long-term repayment plan to service loans he took out years ago for a college education he never completed.

As the court pointed out, Mr. Abney was a truck driver who was not likely to see his income increase markedly. Forcing him into a long-term repayment plan would diminish his ability to save for retirement or even to buy a car.

"It Hurts So Much To Face Reality"

As Robert Duvall sang in the movie Tender Mercies (the best contemporary western movie of all time), "it hurts so much to face reality."

Without a doubt, DOE is refusing to face reality by huckstering college-loan debtors into long-term student-loan repayment plans. DOE has adopted this strategy to keep student-loan defaults down, but IDRs do not relieve the burden of indebtendess for millions of student borrowers. Lowering monthly loan payments by stretching out the repayent period makes rising tuition more palatable, but it does nothing to check the rising cost of a college education--which has spun out of control.

In short, IDRs are creating a modern class of sharecroppers, whereby millions of people pay a percentage of their incomes over the majority of their working lives for the privilege of getting a crummy education from a college or university that has no incentive to keep tuition costs within the bounds of reason.

Image result for tender mercies movie
"It hurts so much to face reality."

References

Abney v. U.S. Department of Education540 B.R. 681 (W.D. Mo. 2015).

Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis, A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising default ratesWashington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015). Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/bpea/papers/2015/looney-yannelis-student-loan-defaults

U.S. Department of Education, Education Department Announces New Data Showing FAFSA Completion by District, State. Press release, June 16, 2016. Accessible at http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/education-department-announces-new-data-showing-fafsa-completion-district-state