Showing posts with label student loans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student loans. Show all posts

Sunday, January 31, 2021

When did university book stores become T-shirt shops?

 I live about a mile from the Barne & Noble bookstore, the official bookstore for Louisiana State University. Yesterday, I walked over for a cup of hot chocolate at the bookstore's Starbucks coffee shop.

While the barista was constructing my cocoa (a laborious business), I contemplated the murals above the counter. Overhead, I saw some of the great English-language authors: Faulkner, Hardy, Joyce, Kipling, Melville, Nabakov, Shaw, Whitman, and others. 

I found myself wondering whether Barnes & Noble sold any books by the authors who are celebrated at Starbucks.  It is a college bookstore, after all.

So I went upstairs to the store's tiny "fiction and literature" section and looked for works by these famous writers.  Most of them I couldn't find: no Kipling, no Nabakov, no Whitman. 

I did see some comic books, however, in a section titled "graphic novels."  And I saw a hell of a lot of  $20 LSU T-shirts, $70 LSU sweatshirts, and hundreds of LSU ballcaps, selling for $25 a pop.

I also saw $9 LSU wine glasses and $27 LSU waterbottles. And I saw a pile of stuffed animals depicting Mike, the LSU tiger mascot.

In fact, as I scanned both floors of LSU's bookstore, I realized that Barnes & Noble's campus address isn't a bookstore at all; it's a T-shirt shop.  Yes, it sells some textbooks in an obscure corner, but most of the space is dedicated to overpriced souvenirs. 

I am not saying LSU students should be reading the authors who are memorialized at the Starbooks coffee shop.  I've read some Faulkner, some George Bernard Shaw, some of Henry James's excruciatingly dull novels. In my opinion, students can skip all that.

But I find it unsettling to see LSU students swiping their credit cards to buy exorbitantly priced junk and $5 lattes. Why? Because I know many of these students are purchasing that stuff with their student-loan money. 

If these students graduate and can't find good jobs--and many of them won't--what will be their best option? For millions, it will be to sign up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan. That's a high price to pay for an LSU T-shirt.






Monday, January 25, 2021

Neal v. Navient Solutions: A simple student-loan dispute ends up in 12 years of litigation

 Trey Neal took out a private student loan with JP Morgan Chase Bank in 2008.  Neal and Chase signed a promissory note agreeing that interest on the loan would be governed by Ohio law. 

Later, Neal concluded that he was being charged interest at a higher rate than Ohio allowed.  So he sued Chase for damages.

Mr. Neal ran into two problems in getting this dispute resolved. First, he had difficulty determining the proper party to sue.

Chase sold Neal's loan to Jamestown Funding Trust, which assumed Chase's interest in the loan. Jamestown is "related" to Navient Credit Finance, an affiliate of Navient Solutions. Navient Solutions then became Neal's loan servicer. Apparently, Neal was uncertain about who owned the loan because he dropped Chase from the lawsuit and added four Navient entities as defendants to his suit.

Neal's lawsuit had a second problem: he had agreed to arbitrate any dispute over his student loan rather than litigate.

The Navient entities asked a federal court to order Neal to arbitrate his claim under Neal's credit agreement with Chase. A federal district court rejected Navient's request, concluding Navient did not have the legal right to enforce the arbitration clause.

But Navient appealed that decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court's decision.  The appellate court ruled that Navient did have the right to compel arbitration under Ohio law. So Neal must submit his interest-rate complaint to an arbitrator, and Neal will probably be required to pay half the arbitrator's fees to get the matter resolved. 

A couple of points. First, Neal's complaint about the interest he was charged on his loan is a simple dispute, but it wound up before a federal appellate court that did not rule until 12 years after Neal took out his loan.

Second, Neal's private student loan became ensnared in a web of entities: 1) Chase Bank, 2) Jamestown Funding Trust, 3) Navient Solutions, 4) Navient Corporation, and 5) Navient Credit Finance Corporation, and Navient Private Loan Trust. No wonder Neal had trouble figuring out whom he was dealing with.

So Mr. Neal must submit his complaint to arbitration. 

One thing seems sure. Whether Mr. Neal wins or loses, his transaction costs will likely be far greater than the sum of money at stake. 

Thus, Neal v. Navient Solution teaches us all this message: Don't mess with the student-loan industry because it won't be worth your while.

References

Neal v. Navient Solutions, LLC, 978 F.3d 572 (8th Cir. 2020).



Saturday, January 9, 2021

Jamie Mudd v. U.S. Department of Education: A Nebraska bankruptcy court discharges a grandmother's student loans

 Between 2006 and 2015, Jamie Mudd took out 41 student loans to attend Heald College, a for-profit institution, and San Joaquin Delta College, a public institution. In 2015, she rolled these loans into two consolidated federal loans, totally about $72,000. 

Mudd put her student loans into an income-based repayment plan (IBRP) that established her monthly payments at zero due to her low income.  Under this plan, she was obligated to certify her income on an annual basis. Evidently, she forgot to do this because the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) removed her from the IBRP and reset her monthly payments at almost $800 per month. 

Mudd was readmitted into an IBRP, but she again failed to certify her income, and DOE set her new monthly payment at $963.

According to Bankruptcy Judge Shon Hastings, Mudd never earned more than $13 an hour, and she often worked two jobs to make ends meet. She lived in a one-bedroom apartment and incurred regular expenses caring for a grandson with disabilities. She also suffered from significant health problems.

Ms. Mudd filed an adversary proceeding, hoping to discharge her student loans, but DOE objected. First, DOE said Mudd's financial circumstances would probably improve, enabling her to make modest payments in an IBRP.  Second, Mudd was a smoker, and DOE said she should save her cigarette money and use it to pay down her student loans. DOE also claimed that Mudd's expenses for her grandson's video streaming were unnecessary.  Indeed, DOE disapproved of any money Mudd spent on her grandson.

Fortunately, Bankruptcy Judge Shon Hastings was considerably more compassionate than DOE. In a decision issued last month, Judge Hastings discharged all of Mudd's student-loan debt.

In ruling in Mudd's favor, Judge Hastings applied the "totality of circumstances" test approved by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. This is a summary of his reasoning:

Mudd has made a good faith effort to maximize her income. Mudd works approximately 53 hours per week at two jobs. . . . Overall, Mudd's expenses are necessary and reasonable and consistent with a minimal standard of living. . . . She has no savings, owns no assets of significant value (except her used car in which she holds no equity), lives in a one-bedroom apartment and obtains food and toiletries from local nonprofit organizations to make ends met. Her medical expenses are higher than budgeted, and she anticipates that her health care costs will continue to rise due to her high cholesterol and diabetes.  

In short, Judge Hastings concluded, Mudd did not have sufficient disposable income to pay on her student loans. Thus, the judge discharged all of this debt.

Judge Hastings specifically rejected DOE's suggestion that Mudd should not be credited for the expenses she incurred for her grandson. "[T]he Court finds it entirely inappropriate to find or suggest that Mudd should not care for her grandson or to weigh undue burden factors against her for doing so." 

Judge Hasting's ruling should not surprise us. Clearly, Jamie Mudd was in dire financial straits and entitled to discharge her student loans in bankruptcy.

What is shocking is the fact that DOE objected. Mudd v. U.S. Department of Education is just one more example of the federal government's heartlessness toward college-loan debtors, heartlessness that borders on viciousness

References

Mudd v. U.S. Department of Education, Adversary No. 19-04048, 2020 WL 7330054 (Bank. D. Neb. Dec. 9, 2020).



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."


Monday, December 14, 2020

Small private colleges are going down: Don't get trapped under the rubble

 Inside Higher Education carried a story today about major cuts being made at three higher education institutions. Marquette University, a Jesuit institution, is laying off 225 faculty and staff members. The University of Evansville, a Methodist college, is eliminating 17 majors and three departments. The College of Saint. Rose, a Catholic school, is cutting 16 majors and six master's degrees.

These three colleges are not alone. All over the United States, small, private colleges are suffering from declining enrollments and declining revenues.  Many of them will close over the next couple of years.

The colleges blame demographic trends.  There are simply fewer traditional college-age people in the American population.  Consequently, fewer students are going to college.

The coronavirus pandemic didn't help matters. The COVID outbreak caused a lot of young people to postpone their college plans. And it imposed high costs on institutions that were left with empty dorm rooms this fall.

An overall decline in religion has sapped the vitality of schools that were founded by various churches.  The University of Evansville, for example, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but how many young people choose a college because it has ties with a religious denomination?

The small private schools have been fighting desperately to reverse their enrollment crops. They've rolled out new programs, spiffed up their study-abroad offerings, hired public relations firms, and slashed tuition. But for many--these survival strategies won't be enough. 

If you are a young person in the process of deciding where to go to college, here is my advice. Do not go to a small, private school with enrollment below 1,000 students.  The smaller colleges are the most vulnerable. 

You do not want to enroll at a college that closes before you obtain your degree or shortly after graduating.  You don't want to take out student loans to pay tuition at a school that is slashing programs and laying off faculty.  You certainly don't want your parents to take out a Parent Plus Loan so you can study at some obscure little school in the Midwest that won't prepare you for a good job.

In short, private liberal arts education is on the verge of collapse. Don't get trapped under the falling rubble.






Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Parent Plus Loans: A despicable government program cruelly drives mom and pop into poverty so their kids can go to college

If you are not outraged by the federal government's Parent Plus student-loan program, you have a heart of stone.

According to The Hechinger Report, 3.5 million parents have taken out federal student loans to help their kids pay for college. Collectively, these parents owe almost $100 billion in outstanding debt, and about 12 percent have gone into default.

In other words, if you take out a Parent Plus loan to help finance your child's college education, you are running about a 1 in 8 chance of having your life ruined by debt you can't repay—pretty grim statistics.

Nevertheless, colleges and universities still offer Parent Plus loans as part of their individual student aid packages, and parents continue to take them out. Often parents do not realize that these loans are almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.  Even if mom and pop lose their jobs or are hit with significant hospital bills, they are still obligated to send Uncle Sam a monthly check.

The Hechinger Report tells the story of Jay and Tina Rife, who borrowed $40,000 so their son and daughter could attend public universities in Indiana. The loan balance has grown over 20 years, and they now owe $100,000. Their Parent Plus loan payment is bigger than their mortgage payment.

The Rifes' daughter, Stacy, is 41 years old and has her own student-loan payments. Meanwhile, Stacy's mother goes without health insurance so that she and her husband can make their Parent Plus payments.

The Hechinger Report quoted Amy Laitinen, a policy expert at New America, regarding Parent Plus loans.  "I don't think these loans should be presented with the financial aid offer at all," Laitinen said. "I think it speaks more to the school's desire to bring in the student than to what's best for the family . . . .To present [a Parent Plus Loan] as if it's really a way for paying for college when there's no way for those parents to pay it back is shameful and harmful."

Exactly. 

There is only one way to deal with this reprehensible government program, and it's a two-part response.  The Parent Plus program should be shut down immediately, and every parent who has been trapped by this despicable sham should be able to shed their Parent Plus debt in bankruptcy. 





Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Portland protesters: Are student loans and a crummy job market driving the anger?

Like many Americans, I have been surprised by the intensity of the Black-Lives-Matter protests that take place nightly in Portland, Oregon. Why Portland?

USA Today speculated yesterday that Oregon's racist past is fueling the city's protests.  As the newspaper pointed out, Oregon's territorial constitution, adopted in 1857, barred people of color from entering Oregon Territory.  And Oregon had a very active Ku Klux Klan during the early 1920s, as USA Today noted.

But I don't think Oregon's "dark history" of racism explains the violence in Portland's streets.  Portland is, after all, one of the most progressive cities in America. US News and World Report recently listed Portland as one of the nation's top ten best cities.

And no one can accuse Portland's politicians of being racist. The city's progressive political scene is so famous that the television series Portlandia lampooned it for eight seasons.

Nor is Portland torn by racial strife. Portland is a mostly white city in a primarily white state.  Only two percent of Oregon's population is Black, and only about one in twenty Portland residents is African American.  Compare that ratio to Baton Rouge, where I live. My city is 52 percent African American, and no one is rioting.

Watching the Portland protests night after night, I have been struck by the fact that most of the protesters are young, white people. I find myself wondering whether these enraged wokesters have college degrees, whether they have good jobs, and whether they have student-loan debt.

We know that millions of Americans are burdened by student loans that hinder them from getting married, buying homes, or saving for retirement.  And we know that a majority of these debtors are not paying down their loans.  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos admitted as much almost two years ago.

I'm guessing that a lot of the people who are protesting on Portland's streets have student-loan debt that is completely unmanageable. Although the demonstrators may have college degrees, those degrees did not lead to good jobs for many of them.

I am not questioning the sincerity of people who have taken to the streets of Portland this summer. I am sure most of them are genuinely disturbed by racism and economic injustice.

But I wonder: How many people who are throwing bricks and bottles at the police would stay in their homes at night, munch on popcorn and watch a Netflix movie if they believed they were financially secure, had a good job, and were not weighed down by student loans.

Portland protesters: most are young and white

Monday, July 6, 2020

Trejo v. U.S. Department of Education: A Texas bankruptcy judge grants student-loan discharge to 47-year-old single mom

The Sad Case of Jessica Trejo

In 2017, Jessica Trejo filed an adversary action in a Texas bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge $90,000 in student-loan debt. Ms. Trejo had borrowed about $65,000 to attend three Texas colleges. She also took out a Parent Plus loan for $13,522 to help pay for her eldest daughter's college education. And she owed a little over $7,000 in accrued interest.

At the time of trial, Ms. Trejo was a 47-year-old single mother with two dependent daughters. Both daughters were "afflicted with serious Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, psoriasis, eating disorders, severe depression, suicidal tendencies, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" (p. 2). Ms. Trejo testified that she had to continually monitor her daughters' activities due to their depression and suicidal tendencies.

From 2008 until 2013, Ms. Trejo took college courses on a part-time basis at Tarrant County College, Hill College, and Texas Wesleyan University. Her ultimate goal was to get a degree in bilingual education. However, "because of her family and financial situation, she no longer intend[ed] to return to college or obtain a degree" (p. 3).

At the time she filed for bankruptcy, Ms. Trejo's financial situation was precarious. As Judge Mark Mullin observed, Ms. Trejo had not had a full-time job in the last 15 years. She had worked part-time at a nail salon, but she gave up that work to care for her daughters. Due to her daughters' disabilities, she received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks from the Social Security Administration, totaling $1470 a month.

The U.S. Department of Education opposed Ms. Trejo's request for student-loan relief, arguing that she should sign up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan. According to DOE, Ms. Trejo's income was so low that she would not be obliged to pay anything under such a program (p. 4).

Judge Mullin applies the Brunner test and discharges Ms. Trejo's student-loan debt.

Judge Mullin applied the three-part Brunner test to determine whether it would work an undue hardship on Ms. Trejo if she were forced to repay her student loans. In Judge Mullin's view, Ms. Trejo met all three parts of that test.

First, the judge ruled that Ms. Trejo could not maintain a minimal standard of living for herself and her two dependent daughters if forced to pay her student loans.

Second, Ms. Trejo had shown that her financial situation was not likely to improve in the foreseeable future.

Third, Judge Mullin ruled that Ms. Trejo had handled her student debt in good faith. Although she had not made any payments on her student loans, she never had the financial wherewithal to do so.

Implications of the Trejo decision

Judge Mullin made the right decision when he discharged Ms. Trejo's student-loan debt. Clearly, she could not maintain a minimal standard of living for herself and her family and pay back her student loans. And, as Judge Mullins recognized, it was highly unlikely that Ms. Trejo's financial situation would improve significantly in the years to come.

The Trejo decision is a significant decision for at least three reasons. First, Judge Mullin flatly rejected DOE's tired argument that distressed student-loan debtors should be forced into long-term income-based repayment plans instead of getting their loans discharged in bankruptcy.  Over the years, DOE has snookered some bankruptcy judges with that silly argument, but those days may be over. It is absurd to deny an honest debtor bankruptcy relief in favor of a 25-year plan that requires the debtor to pay nothing.

Second, Judge Mark Mullin is one of a growing number of bankruptcy judges who are interpreting the Brunner test compassionately and with a dose of common sense. Judge Mullin took great care to write a judicial opinion that will be difficult to overturn on appeal. His decision contained 124 footnotes showing that his ruling was based on evidence in the trial record.

Finally, the Trejo decision prompts us to think about the enormous cost of higher education today, particularly when we consider how often the college experience does not lead to a good job.  Ms. Trejo borrowed about $65,000 to pay tuition at three colleges and got minimal benefit from the experience. Nevertheless, all three institutions that took Ms. Trejo's tuition money get to keep it.

We need to find a better way to provide low-income people like Jessica Trejo with the postsecondary education and training they need to become self-sufficient citizens. Clearly, the federal student loan program, as it is now operating, is not doing a good job.



References

Trejo v. U.S. Department of Education, Adversary No. 17-4052, 2020 WL 1884444 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 15, 2020).

Monday, June 29, 2020

Coronavirus update: The Fed bought $428 million of corporate debt while distressed student-loan debtors get diddly squat

Perhaps you have noticed, as I have, that a high percentage of the George Floyd protestors are young White people.

 Youthful White men and women helped pull the ropes that brought down statues of Confederate figures across the South. And it is Millenials--White Millenials--who joined in the vandalism and destruction that damaged many American cities.

Why is that? Are White protestors merely standing in solidarity with their Black brothers and sisters over the residue of racism in the United States? Or do they have their own grievances?

I think it is both. In this season of discontent, we should remember how many Americans have been thrown out of work--tens of millions.  And we should never forget that 45 million Americans--more young than old--owe $1.7 trillion in student debt, and only about half can pay it back.

This nation has been in lockdown for four months now due to the coronavirus epidemic.  Public employees--professors, teachers, administrators, etc.--are still getting paid.  Workers in the private sector have been laid off by the millions, especially in the service industry. And many of these unemployed workers have student loans.

What has our federal government done to assist laid-off student-loan debtors?  Diddly squat.  The Department of Education has granted a brief reprieve from making monthly loan payments and is abstaining from charging interest, but that is about it.

Oh, yes, DOE said it would stop collection efforts against defaulted college-loan borrowers until the coronavirus crisis had passed. But last May, DOE was sued for allowing employers to continue collection efforts.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank is buying up corporate debt--over $400 million. So far, the Fed has bought corporate debt owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Boeing, Exxon-Mobile, Ford and Walmart. And it has distributed more than $350 million in forgivable loans to businesses that promise to maintain their payrolls.

Who has benefited from the Fed's helicopter money over the last few months?  Corporate executives and corporate stockholders, that's who.  And--in case Fed Chair Jeremy Powell hasn't noticed--the people protesting on America's streets don't own stock.

I don't mean to question the motives of White protestors who join the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. I feel most are expressing real and legitimate anger about race relations in the United States.

But I also believe that White protestors feel a kinship with Black protestors on economic issues and consider themselves to be fellow victims of corporate America.  And I agree with them about that.

Many White demonstrators have racked up thousands of dollars in student debt and are not holding down jobs that will allow them to pay back what they owe. Some have come to realize that their college education was way too expensive and didn't prepare them for decent jobs. 

Now, these student-loan debtors are out of work and struggling to make their loan payments. They realize that our federal government has been spewing out billions of dollars to corporations to help them deal with the coronavirus while it has done virtually nothing for distressed college borrowers.

They are angry. I would be angry too--very, very angry. 





Saturday, June 27, 2020

Planning on going to college this fall? Why not wait a year or two?

Since time immemorial, middle-class parents have urged their children to get a college education. A college degree, parents believed, was the indispensable ticket to a good life.  College was where young people prepared for the world of work, where they often met their future spouses, and where they formed lifelong ties to classmates.

But listen carefully. Times have changed. The coronavirus, campus unrest, and a troubled economy have undermined the value of a college degree. If you are thinking about enrolling for college this fall, you might want to postpone that plan--at least for a year. And here is why:

The coronavirus pandemic. First of all, the COVID-19 epidemic forced virtually every American college to close last spring and to shift from live instruction to a distance-learning format.  Most schools have announced that they will be teaching their courses online this fall. 

Moreover, dorm life, college sports, and extracurricular activities will all be negatively impacted by the coronavirus.  In short, going to college next year may not be much fun.

Colleges and universities will learn to adapt to a post-pandemic world, but it will probably take a couple of years before they figure it out. Why not postpone college for a year or two while this transition is ongoing?

Less police protection.  Colleges have a legal duty to keep their students safe on campus and in the dorms. Most colleges meet this responsibility by maintaining a campus police force.

In the wake of George Floyd's killing, however, many colleges and universities are facing intense pressure to dismantle their police forces. As Insider Higher Ed recently reported:
 Student organizations, workers’ unions and individual activists at dozens of universities are calling on administrations to cut ties with local police or disband campus police departments, saying that policing institutions enact violence upon black people and uphold white supremacy.
So if you go to college this fall, there is a good chance that police protection on your campus will be diminished from what it was a year ago or even eliminated.  In my view, this is another reason to postpone going to college. Wait until the debate about campus law enforcement is resolved before embarking on your college career.

Growing uncertainty about the worth of a college degree. Although the higher-education industry tirelessly touts the value of college education, that mantra is becoming shopworn.

Without question, the cost of going to college is far too high.  In particular, students who take out student loans to major in "soft" disciplines (social sciences, humanities, gender studies, etc.) are finding that their degrees leave them with massive debt and no job.

Some young people go to college with a clear idea about how their degree will qualify them for vocations in such fields as engineering, business, computer sciences,  or medical technology. But others are clueless about why they are on campus.

If you have only a hazy notion about how you want to make a living, you should strongly consider working for a year after graduating from high school. You should use the time to reflect on your future and explore alternatives to chasing a college degree.

In my state, thousands of people have gotten technical training at vocational and community colleges and gone on to get good jobs with six-figure salaries.  If you ask these people whether they are sorry they didn't acquire a bachelor's degree, I think most will tell you no.

So think long and hard before going to college this fall, especially if you plan to finance your studies with student loans. Your chosen university will still be around in 2021 if you decide to pursue a college education. 



Saturday, April 4, 2020

"Seeing poor white people makes me happy": Should you take out student loans to attend SUNY Old Westbury?

Do you remember Associate Professor Nicholas Powers, who made the national news a while back for posting an online essay titled "Seeing poor white people makes me happy"?

According to the New York Post, Powers penned an essay in which he wrote that "White people begging us for food feels like justice . . . it feels like a Black Nationalist wet dream."

Professor Powers is a tenured professor at SUNY Old Westbury, a public university in the state of New York. He makes $82,122 a year, plus benefits, which undoubtedly includes excellent health insurance and a pension plan.

And yet he rails against poor white people.  Describing his reaction to seeing a homeless white man in a black neighborhood, Powers wrote, "Should I kick him in the face? Hard?" Also describing his emotions about seeing a white homeless man, he wrote: "Today I own my anger. I want to snatch his food and say, 'Go beg in a white neighborhood!' And eat it. And rub my belly. And laugh."

So what does it cost to attend SUNY Old Westbury, where Professor Powers teaches in the English Department?  For in-state students, it cost about  $24,000 for tuition, fees, room, and board. That's roughly $100,000 for a four-year degree.

America has plunged into a deep economic Depression. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the unemployment rate may hit 32 percent--higher than during the 1930s.  Young people who are in college now need to keep their expenses down and study a subject that will lead to a good job.

So if you are a young New York college student, ask yourself this question. Does it make sense to take out student loans to attend SUNY Old Westbury and take classes from Professor Powers? I don't think so.

On the other hand, if you borrow money to get a degree from SUNY Old Westbury and can't get a job, you shouldn't worry. You can always sign up for a 25-year, income-based repayment plan to service your student loans.

That plan will terminate when you are in your fifties. By that time, Professor Powers will probably be retired and living on his generous New York state pension, a pension you will help pay for with your taxes.


Professor Nicholas Powers: "Seeing poor white people makes me happy."




I

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Luxury" apartments for college students: How will the kids pay the rent?

Bloomberg Businessweek carried a story recently about the emergence of luxury housing for college students. In recent years, real estate developers have been building "amenity-rich luxury apartments" near universities. These new apartment complexes are very attractive to students, especially when compared to the often run-down dormitories that the universities operate.

But these so-called luxury apartments are expensive, and they've contributed to the rising cost of student housing. As Bloomberg writer Ali Breland reported, "the estimated cost of on- and off-campus room and board at a four-year public university climbed by more than 82 percent, adjusted for inflation." During the same time period, rents across the nation as a whole only rose 19 percent.

How are students paying for their fancy digs? Many of them are paying the rent with student loans. The average college graduate now leaves school with $35,000 in student debt, and for many students, a significant chunk of that money was spent on housing.

So what's the problem?

First of all, a lot of students are taking out student loans for housing they really can't afford. When their student-loan bills come due, a lot of them will wish they had lived more modestly while they were working on their degrees in medieval literature.

Second, by borrowing money to pay for "luxury" living, students are living a lifestyle they can't sustain after they finish their studies and go looking for a job. It is hard for college students to accept the reality that their standard of living will go down once they've obtained their college degrees.

The upscale student-housing boom imposes a cost on college communities as well.  A lot of this so-called luxury student housing isn't luxurious at all.  Student-housing complexes may have swimming pools, clubhouses, and shiny appliances, but many of them are shoddily constructed, with plastic interior doors and particle-board cabinets.

I live just a few blocks from some of these student-oriented apartment complexes, and even the newer ones are beginning to look the worse for wear.  The day is fast approaching when these faux-luxury apartment buildings will just be slums.

But the real estate developers don't care. These complexes are being packaged and sold to investors as commercial real-estate-backed securities--very similar to the mortgage-backed securities that were being peddled before the housing crisis of 2008.

In my view, the luxury student-housing boom is a bubble. Too many of them are being built. No wonder the default rate on student-oriented housing mortgages has rocketed up to 9 percent!

Luxury student housing: Living the good life while still in college

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dude! Don't move to India to escape student loans!

Zero Hedge posted an article yesterday about people who fled the United States to escape their student loans. (Annie Nova wrote the original story for CNBC).  Chad Haag, for example, graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and emigrated to India to get away from $20,000 in college-loan debt.

Apparently, Haag is somewhat ambivalent about India. He gets to see elephants--a plus.  But Haag is not crazy about the plumbing. "Some toilets here are holes in the ground you squat over," he confided.

Zero Hedge went on to report on a woman who went to Japan to teach English and a guy who moved to China--also to teach English. Both said they were partly motivated to leave the U.S. by their student-loan debt.

Dudes! Don't move overseas to dodge your student loans. People who cannot find good jobs can enroll in one of the Department of Education's income-based repayment plans (IBRPs). If they are unemployed or living below the poverty line, their monthly loan payment will be zero. An IBRP is a terrible option, as I have often said. But for most people, it beats moving to Asia.

Frankly, I'm not buying the underlying premise of this story. Millions of people have defaulted on their student loans and hardly any of them have left the U.S.  Why would they? People can't dodge their student loans by moving overseas. The debt will be waiting for them when they return, along with accumulated interest and penalties.

My guess is that student-loan debtors who leave the United States have multiple motives. Mr. Haag, for example, married an Indian national, which must be the major reason he is living in a country that doesn't meet his hygiene standards. And thousands of people teach English overseas simply to experience another culture.

If we are looking for signs of suffering, we shouldn't focus on a handful of people who have left the country with student loans hanging over their heads. We should reflect on plummeting birth rates, declining homeownership, and inadequate savings for retirement.

The student-loan program is a catastrophe but publicizing a few outliers is a distraction. We need to relieve the suffering experienced by millions of people. In my mind that can best be accomplished in the bankruptcy courts. And then we need to find a better way to finance higher education.




Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Kansas bankruptcy judge grants Vicky Jo Metz a partial discharge of her student loans, and she wins her appeal

Vicky Jo Metz borrowed $16,613 back in the 1990s to attend a community college, but she never got a degree. Over the years, she filed for bankruptcy three times, but she continued making payments on her student loans under court-approved repayment plans. In fact, she paid almost 90 percent of what she originally borrowed.

Nevertheless, Metz's student-loan debt kept growing due to accruing interest. By 2018, her total debt had grown to $67,277--four times what she borrowed. 

In 2017, Metz commenced an adversary proceeding in a Kansas bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge her student loans. Her creditor, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), objected to a discharge. Put Metz in an income-based repayment plan (IBRP), ECMC demanded. 

But Bankruptcy Judge Robert Nugent disagreed. Metz, who was 59 years old, would never pay off her student loans under an IBRP, Judge Nugent reasoned. On the contrary, if Metz entered a 25-year IBRP and faithfully made her income-based monthly payments, her debt would continue to grow due to accruing interest. By the time Metz completed her repayment plan, she would owe $157,277—nine times what she borrowed! Although her student-loan debt would be forgiven after 25 years of making payments, Metz would face significant tax liability because the IRS considers forgiven debt as taxable income.

 Judge Nugent granted Metz a partial discharge of her student loans. He canceled all the accrued interest on her student debt but required her to pay the original $16,613.

ECMC appealed Judge Nugent's decision to a federal district court, and Judge John Broomes upheld Judge Nugent's ruling. Like Judge Nugent, Judge Broomes applied the three-part Brunner test to determine whether it would be an undue hardship for Metz to repay her student loans.

In Judge Broomes' view, Metz could not repay her student loans and maintain a minimal standard of living. Thus, she met part one of the Brunner test. Moreover, she met part two of Brunner because her financial situation was not likely to change. Finally, in Judge Broomes’ view, Metz met part three of the Brunner test because she had handled her student loans in good faith.

In its appellant’s brief, ECMC renewed its argument that Metz should be placed in an IBRP and downplayed the tax consequences of such a plan. Metz would probably suffer no tax consequences from an IBRP, ECMC argued, because she would likely be flat broke when her IBRP concluded.  Under current law, ECMC pointed out, individuals pay no federal tax on forgiven debt if they are insolvent at the time the debt is forgiven.

In a footnote, Judge Broome pointed out the absurdity of ECMC’s position “The import of that argument,” Judge Broome wrote, “is that under ECMC’s plan, [Metz] will be kept insolvent, if not entirely impoverished, until she is eighty years old and the debt is forgiven—what a pleasant system.”

Judge Broomes’ Metz decision is the second appellate court decision out of Kansas to uphold a bankruptcy court’s partial discharge of student-loan debt. The first decision, Murray v. ECMC, granted a partial discharge to Alan and Catherine Murray, a married couple in their late forties, whose student-loan debt had quadrupled over 20 years due to accruing interest.

Together, Metz and Murray stand for the proposition that long-term, income-based repayment plans are not appropriate for insolvent student-loan debtors when it is clear that debtors in these plans will never pay off their loans. Had ECMC had its way with Vicky Jo Metz, she would have made monthly student-loan payments for a quarter of a century—until she was in her eighties.  At that point, she would face a huge tax bill for $150,000 in forgiven debt or she would be insolvent. As Judge Broome remarked: What a pleasant system.



References

Educational Credit Management Corporation v. Metz, Case No. 18-1281-JWB (D. Kan. May 2, 2019).

In re Murray, 563 B.R. 52 (Bankr. D. Kan 2016); aff’d sub nom. Educational Credit Management Corporation v. Murray, No 16-2838, 2017 WL 4222980 (D. Kan. Sept. 22, 2017).

Monday, April 1, 2019

University of Kentucky college students go on hunger strike over food insecurity. UK President Eli Capilouto makes $790,000 per year.

More than sixty students at the University of Kentucky began a hunger strike this week. Some will go cold turkey (so to speak) and take nothing but water and edibles required by medical necessity--which I presume will not include Snickers. Others will restrict themselves to one meal a day.

Why are they refusing to eat? Are they calling attention to the student loan crisis, which has destroyed the lives of millions? Are they calling for student-debt relief? Are they asking for student-loan debt forgiveness?

No, they are going on a hunger strike because they might get hungry! Well--that's not quite accurate. Actually, the strikers are protesting what they say is the university's inadequate response to students' food and housing insecurity.

These are the strikers specific demands as reported by a local newspaper:

1) They want UK to establish a Basic Needs Health Center "focused on helping students with housing and food-related challenges."

2) They want the University to establish a Basic Needs Fund, which would distribute small cash grants to students with food or housing issues.

3) Finally, the strikers want the university to hire a full-time person dedicated to helping students meet their food and housing needs.

UK's president, Eli Capilouto, roused his public relations staffers from their slumbers, and the PR team pumped out a suitably sensitive and vapid public response. Here is a sample:

"[W]hile we may disagree in some of our specific approaches [to hunger]," Capilouto purred sympathetically, "we will never disrespect the concerns that have been raised or those who have raised them."  So--no tear gas or pepper spray. That's a relief! No one wants to get tear gassed on an empty stomach.

Capilouto went on to say that UK had cut the cost of its most popular meal plan and expanded the operating hours for the university food pantry. He also said the university was raising money for an emergency fund.

"These next steps are a beginning, not an end," Capilouto assured the strikers. "This is a journey we are on--as a campus community and as compassionate, caring citizens in a larger world."  Don't you love that journey bullshit?

And then President Capilouto concluded his feeble statement with a flourish: "After all, we share the same goal--a commitment to making progress  in ways that ensure the health and wellness of our students as we prepare them for lives of meaning and purpose."

Wow! I give President Capilouto and his PR hacks an A minus for producing a hunger-strike response that is as flavorless and boring as the ramen noodles his students are eating.  (I deducted a few points from his grade because he didn't include the words "transparent" and "inclusive.")

I don't mean to make light of food insecurity on college campuses. In spite of the fact that students borrow on average about $37,000 to get their college degrees, they sometimes fall short on grocery money. But isn't  that what the UK food pantry is for?

Let's take a closer look at what the UK hunger strikers are demanding: "A Basic Needs Center focused on helping students with housing and "food-related challenges." But UK has a student-housing staff and people in charge of the campus dining halls. That's not enough?

And the strikers want small financials grants--apparently to meet food and housing emergencies. But isn't that what the federal student loan program is designed for? And part-time jobs, for that matter.

But the strikers' last demand is truly ludicrous. The strikers, delusional perhaps due to lack of protein, want UK to hire ANOTHER ADMINISTRATOR who will be dedicated to "addressing students' food and housing needs."

I'm sure UK will be happy to comply. Heck, it might hire a half dozen new administrators to staff a Basic Needs Center.  Sure it will cost money, but UK can always raise its tuition; and students will simply take out bigger student loans to absorb the cost.

Why do you suppose the UK protesters didn't call a hunger strike to protest the student-loan crisis and the outrageous cost of going to college? You know why. UK would probably turn the fire hoses on them.

And here's a footnote. President Capilouto--Mr. Sensitive--makes $790,000 a year. That will buy a lot of ramen noodles.

President Capilouto--Mr. Sensitive--makes $790,000 per year.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

We are all peasants now: The student-loan crisis is destroying the middle class

As the world changed, we reverted to social divisions that we'd thought were obsolete.  . . . A plain majority of the townspeople were laborers now, whatever in life they had been before. Nobody called them peasants, but in effect that's what they'd become.
World Made By Hand
James Howard Kunstler 

American higher education is the emperor who wears no clothes. College leaders boast that our nation's universities are the envy of the world while they rake in so-called federal "student-aid" and parade about in medieval regalia peddling worthless degrees.



And America's young people are the losers. They've been gulled into thinking they can gain a middle-class lifestyle by getting a college degree and maybe a graduate degree as well. But millions are finding that their college degrees gained them little more than massive debt. And those online MBAs and doctorates they purchased with borrowed money--just junk.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank, outstanding student-loan debt reached $1.56 trillion last January. Around 45 million Americans have student-loan obligations and 7.4 million are enrolled in long-term repayment plans that stretch out for as long as a quarter of a century.  As Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos admitted with shocking candor last November, only one out of four student borrowers are paying off the principal and interest on their loans.

It is now well documented that student-loan debt is contributing to the nation's declining birth rates--now near a record low. People can't afford children because they're paying off student loans.

Young people can't afford to buy homes, they can't save for retirement, they can't pay off their debts.  Their liberal arts degrees, their shoddy law degrees, their fluffy MBAs and doctoral degrees qualify them to become baristas and clerical workers.

We are now in the early stages of the 2020 presidential election season, and what do our politicians talk about? Russia, border walls, free health care, and the Green New Deal.  We should be discussing the New Raw Deal--the deal our government and our universities have imposed on guileless young people.

For too long, Americans have bought the line that our colleges and universities operate for the public good and that the people who run them are wise and kindly. We particularly revere the ivy league colleges where we get nearly all our prune-faced Supreme Court justices and most of our presidents.

But if the folks who run Harvard are so goddamned wise, how could they have fallen for Elizabeth Warren's scam that she's a Cherokee? And if our elite college leaders are sensitive and kindly, how did little boys wind up getting raped in a Penn State shower room? And how could dozens of female athletes get groped by Larry Nasser while he was on Michigan State's payroll?

No, let's face the truth. Many American colleges and universities are not run by wise and kindly people; most are run by administrators who are primarily concerned with the bottom line. And far too often, higher education is not preparing young Americans to enter the middle class. On the contrary, by forcing people to take on oppressive levels of debt to get a college degree, colleges are setting up millions of Americans for a lifetime of peasantry.








Friday, February 8, 2019

Kinney v. National Collegiate Master Student Loan Trust: Iowa bankruptcy judge discharges student loans that a man cosigned for his niece

Anthony Kinney, a 52-year-old working guy with a modest job in the plastic industry, co-signed three student loans for his niece. His niece defaulted, and National Collegiate Master Student Trust I (probably an investment fund) began efforts to collect on two of the loans from Kinney.

Kinney filed for bankruptcy to discharge the loans, and he made two arguments. First, he argued that the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" rule didn't apply to him because he only cosigned the loans and received no benefit from them. Second, Kinney maintained that paying back his niece's loans would be an undue hardship.

Bankruptcy Judge Thad Collins declined to rule on Kinney's first argument, but he agreed with Kinney that repaying the loans would be an undue hardship. In ruling for Kinney, Judge Collins interpreted "undue hardship" under the "totality of circumstances" standard, which is the standard used in the Eighth Circuit.

Judge Collins noted that Kinney made about $37,000 a year and was never likely to make more than $40,000. Moreover, Kinney had no financial resources other than his job, and his 401K retirement account only contained about $3,000.

Judge Collins also examined Kinney's living expenses, which he found to be reasonable and necessary. Kinney's resources were adequate to maintain a modest living standard, the Judge determined, but not enough to maintain a minimal standard of living if forced to pay his niece's student loans, which were accruing interest at  more than 12 percent. In addition, Kinney was living with an aunt and uncle while he went through bankruptcy, but this was a short-term solution to his housing needs. Kinney's future housing costs were definitely headed upward.

Judge Collins concluded his brief opinion by observing that Kinney was "in a very precarious financial situation," with no savings and minimal retirement funds. Having found that Kinney had no capacity to make loan payments, the Judge ruled that "requiring [Kinney] to repay either of the two loans . . . would result in undue hardship."

Judge Collins ended his opinion with a brief comment about the fact that Kinney was a cosigner of his niece's student loans. Although Kinney's cosigner status was legally insignificant to the Judge's undue hardship determination, Judge Collins found it relevant that Kinney received no educational benefit from his niece's student loans. In the Judge Collins' opinion, the lack of educational benefit weighed against Kinney's creditor.

Why is the Kinney case important? Two reasons:

First, the case illustrates the terrible consequences that people can face when they cosign a relative's student loans. The original lender probably didn't care whether Kinney's niece could pay back her loans because it knew that Kinney was also on the hook.

Second, Judge Collin's succinct decision went to the heart of the matter concerning student-loan debt. It was quite clear that Kinney would never be able to pay back his niece's student loans, which were accruing interest at 12 percent and which had nearly doubled in size since she originally borrowed the money.

Isn't ability to repay a student loan the only reasonable consideration when an overwhelmed student-loan debtor files for bankruptcy? And when it is clear that a college-loan borrower cannot repay his or her student loans, why not give that borrower the fresh start the bankruptcy courts were established to provide?

Thank God for bankruptcy judges like Judge Thad Collins. We need more judges like him.

Don't cosign a student loan!


References

Kinney v. National Collegiate Master Student Loan Trust I, 593 B.R. 618 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa 20180.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Steven Brint says American higher education Is doing great!: Pardon me Professor Brint, but what planet do you live on?

 Steven Brint, a professor at UC Riverside, wrote an essay for Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Is This Higher Education's Golden Age?" Brint didn't answer this question directly, but his article argues that American higher education is doing great.

Here's his evidence:

Lotsa money! Brint boasts that the demand for postsecondary education has remained steady in spite of rising tuition, which is true. Families are still willing to pay college tuition at nosebleed levels, at least at the elite colleges.  The most prestigious colleges continue packing in the suckers. A quarter million dollars for an Ivy League degree? Hey, no problem!

And, as Brint points out, the federal government is still higher education's sugar daddy. Brint notes that the feds shovel  $65 billion a year in Pell grants, work study, and tax benefits; and a lot of that money eventually winds up in college coffers.  Federal research money amounts to about $30 billion a year, Brint says; and the Department of Education pumps out  another $100 billion a year in student loans. And there's no sign the government will ever shut off the money spigot. So that's good news from Professor Brint's perspective.

More degrees! Brint also celebrates the rising number of college degrees. In 1970, American colleges produced 840,000 college graduates. In 2015, 1.9 million people received bachelor's degrees. Over that same time period, American higher education tripled its annual production of master's degrees and more than doubled the number of doctorates. In fact, in 2015, American universities dispensed more than three quarters of a million doctoral degrees.

That's certainly good news for the universities, their deans, and their professors. But graduate degrees have become insanely expensive, and it is now clear that a lot of people who got law degrees or MBA degrees from second-and third-tier universities were throwing their money away--not to mention the people who got master's degrees in the fine arts.

More professors! The United States is employing more college teachers than ever before, and Professor Brint thinks that's good news. In 2005, the nation employed 1.3 million postsecondary teachers. By 2015, the number had grown to 1.9 million--an increase of 300,000 professors and instructors in just ten years.

More research! And all those professors are doing more and more research. As Brint reports: "[T]he Web of Science indexed 12,000 journals, 160,000 conference proceedings in more than 250 disciplines, and reached a total count of 90 million records and more than a billion citations."

Professor Brint is the director of the Colleges & Universities 2000 Project at his home university and the author of a book about higher education. So we should presume, I suppose, that he knows what he's talking about.

But in fact, Brint's article is nonsense. Sure, higher education is doing great from the perspectives of the insiders: tenured professors and over-paid administrators. As Brint points out, the professors managed to eke out annual raises even during the recession of 2008 when millions of Americans lost their homes in foreclosure and millions more saw their retirement accounts deflate. Unlike most Americans, college professors enjoy lifetime employment, defined-benefit pensions, and gold-plated health insurance. Yes, for the professors, life is indeed beautiful.

But are we supposed to cheer because the Web of Science lists 12,000 journals and contains 90 million research documents? Have you read the titles of some of those articles and conference presentations?

I'm sorry, Professor Brint, but your insouciant boast about the value of research reminds me of that scene in the movie Out of Africa where Meryl Streep's character tries to convince a Kikuyu chief to allow the children in his village to be taught how to read.  The chief is skeptical. "The British know how to read," he pointed out, "and what good has it done them?"

The education research community has produced thousands of books, articles and scholarly presentations over the past 30 years on education topics. Are American kids better educated?

And the law schools turn out literally thousands of law-review articles every year. Do we have more justice?

I would like Professor Brint to think a moment about higher education's students--a constituency he said precious little about in his essay. Almost 45 million Americans owe on student loans. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, as of this month, total outstanding student-loan indebtedness has reached $1.56 trillion.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a speech last November in which she reported that only 1 out of four student debtors (24 percent) are making payments on both principal and interest on their loans.  In fact, she acknowledged, 43 percent of all outstanding student loans are "distressed."

Although academia is a pleasant place for Professor Brint,the federal student-loan program is a train wreck. Millions of people have their loans in deferment, which means they aren't making loan payments while interest accrues on their loan balances. Another 7.4 million are in income-based repayment programs and are making monthly payments so small that their loans are negatively amortizing.

And the disastrous student-loan program is pulling down the small, nonprofit liberal arts colleges, especially in New England the Mid-Atlantic states and the upper Midwest. Legal education has been corrupted by the flow of student-loan money, with bottom-tier law schools turning out lawyers who can't find jobs.

And then there is the for-profit college industry, rife with corruption, fraud, and cronyism. Professor Brint said nothing about that problem.

So is higher education in a Golden Age, Professor Brint? I don't think so.

I close by noting that Professor Brint is a sociology professor. I was once told that sociology is nothing more than the painful enumeration of the obvious. But after reading Brint's essay, I would modify that observation. In fact, sociology is the painful enumeration of the oblivious.

Professor Steven Brint
Universities are stronger than ever?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Fewer new international students are enrolling in U.S. colleges: Have foreign families figured out that American higher education is a scam?

Earlier this week, Chronicle of Higher Education reported a drop in new enrollments by foreign students in U.S. colleges. Over a two-year period, new foreign enrollments dropped nearly 10 percent. According to the Chronicle, foreign students contributed $42 billion to the U.S. economy in 2017, so a drop of this magnitude is a significant revenue loss for American higher education.

Why are foreign students staying away from American colleges and universities? Some people blame the "Trump effect." As the Chronicle explained, "The combination of policies and rhetoric from [President Trump], the thinking goes, are making international students reconsider coming to the United States amid a political climate hostile to globalism."

To my knowledge, no one has produced any empirical evidence to support that theory; and Chronicle of Higher Education went on to give some alternate explanations. For example, higher tuition prices and the strong U.S. dollar may have priced some foreign families out of the American higher education market. In addition, some countries are scaling back their financial support for foreign study. Finally, as one expert explained, American colleges are facing stiffer competition for foreign students. "The biggest new development is there are real competitor countries out there that we've never had before," said Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education.

But I offer yet another possible explanation for the decline in new college enrollments from foreign students. Maybe foreign families have figured out that American universities are wildly overpriced and aren't worth the tuition they are charging.

As Peter Morici pointed out in an article for MarketWatch, U.S. colleges have lowered admission standards to keep their enrollments up and have watered down their curriculum to teach students who aren't qualified for postsecondary study.

This phenomenon has led to a poorer overall college experience for many students. Moroci notes that "s]tandardized tests indicate four years of college often adds little to students' analytical abilities and four in 10 graduates lack the critical thinking skills necessary for entry-level professional work."

And Morici also points out that 40 percent of young college graduates are stuck in jobs that don't require a college degree and 3.6 million American college graduates live below the poverty line.

In short, for millions of Americans, their college experiences have been a scam. After four years of largely meaningless study, college graduates are stumbling into a tight job market with little to show for their educational investment other than massive amounts of student-loan debt.

Foreign families may not understand all the dynamics of the big scam called American higher education, but many of them have figured out that it is not worth what U.S. universities are charging.  Little wonder that new foreign student enrollment has dropped nearly 10 percent in two years.

Photo credit: North Idaho College


References

Peter Morici. Opinion: A sensible way to fix the student-loan problem. Marketwatch.com, November 26, 2018.

Vimal Patel. Is the 'Trump Effect' Scaring Away Prospective International Students? Chronicle of Higher Education, November 13, 2018.