Schooled Reporting on education

The national education albatross

Education | Newly released student loan data paints a bleak picture for graduates and the U.S. taxpayer
by Leigh Jones
Posted 9/27/17, 03:31 pm

The federal government now holds $1.34 trillion in outstanding student loans, a jaw-dropping quantification of the importance Americans place on a college education.

According to new data released by the Department of Education, 57 percent of borrowers owe less than $20,000. But more than one-third, 37 percent, owe between $20,000 and $100,000. The largest group of borrowers, 41 percent, attended public universities. Just 22 percent attended a private school, although they hold 32 percent of the outstanding debt.

Critics of subsidized student loans note the government’s increasing role in funding higher education hasn’t done anything to lower costs. As “more” money became available, schools increased tuition, forcing students to take out more loans. Private schools, already more expensive than their public counterparts, have an incentive to keep tuition and living costs as low as possible to fill classroom seats and dorm rooms. But even they aren’t immune to raising fees, especially for graduate students, knowing federal loans are relatively cheap and easy to come by.

The amount of outstanding debt wouldn’t be so bad, even at subsidized rates, if the government expected to get all that money back, with interest. But a large portion will fall on taxpayers to write off, either through defaults or legitimate forgiveness programs.

In July, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the government would write off $24 billion in student debt through Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that requires borrowers to work in a qualifying government or nonprofit job for 10 years. In 11th year, the government cancels the outstanding loan balance, whether it’s $5,000 or $50,000. Other programs also allow borrowers to write off potentially large balances while working in any job they want.

Given the increases in student debt in the last decade, it’s not surprising free college tuition plans are gaining traction. A recent poll by the Campaign for Free College Tuition, an obviously biased source, puts support for free state schools at 73 percent. Democrats are much more interested in such a plan, with a whopping 89 percent expressing support. But 56 percent of Republicans also voiced interest, showing how desperate students and parents are to make higher education more affordable.

I’ve written before about one conservative solution, championed by former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University. Brown University, an Ivy League school, has rolled out its own plan to keep students debt-free. Through The Brown Promise, the Providence, R.I., school pledges to remove all loans from student aid packages beginning next year. The loans will be replaced with grants that don’t have to be repaid. Administrators expect the plan will only add $4.5 million to the annual financial aid budget, in part because the school already stopped asking for parent contributions for students from families making less than $60,000. It also already stripped loans from aid packages for students from families that make less than $100,000 a year.

Brown probably won't have much trouble raising the $120 million it needs to fund the program, given its elite status and deep well of high-earning alumni. But what would it take for a small Christian college to implement such a program? Is it possible to imagine a time in which Christians pulled together to give their children a high-quality, Christ-centered education that didn’t handicap them with seemingly insurmountable debt just as they begin their adult lives?

Associated Press/Photo by David Eggert Associated Press/Photo by David Eggert Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

DeVos issues new rules for campus sexual assault investigations

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued new guidance on campus sexual assault investigations Friday, a move she promised earlier this month. Under the temporary rules, university administrators have more discretion in how they handle assault claims.

The Obama administration required schools to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, a relatively low threshold for determining guilt. Now, schools can choose to use that or a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which comes closer to the legal system’s foundation of “innocent until proven guilty.” Victims’ rights advocates claimed the new government guidance would make it easier for predators to attack women and get away with it, while those who advocate for fairness say DeVos is simply correcting the Obama administration’s over-correction.

DeVos stressed the importance of fairness in making the formal rule change announcement: “Schools must continue to confront these horrific crimes and behaviors head-on. There will be no more sweeping them under the rug. But the process also must be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes.”

The new guidance is only temporary. The Education Department has launched a formal rule-making process to come up with new guidelines, a crucial step to ensuring everyone involved has a say in the new standards, DeVos said. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Associated Press/Photo by Jacquelyn Martin Meghan Downey protests at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., after an on-campus speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Sep. 7.

Here come the lawsuits

While Secretary DeVos prepares to solicit input on the new rules, Education Department lawyers likely are preparing to defend against legal challenges. A new group founded by former Obama administration officials plans to represent students who want to challenge the new Title IX rule in court, as well as those angry over the Trump administration’s handling of student loan discharge applications.

“If Secretary DeVos continues to roll back protections for students without following the law, she will have to answer in court,” said co-founder Aaron Ament, a former chief of staff and special counsel at the Department of Education.

The National Student Legal Defense Network also plans to represent transgender students who want to sue for access to the restroom and locker room facilities of their choice. —L.J.

Students get government backing

Speaking of lawsuits, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday said the U.S. Justice Department would intervene on behalf of any student who claims campus violations of free speech rights. During an invitation-only event at Georgetown University’s law school, Sessions repeated the common refrain that universities are “becoming an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.” The debate over free speech on university campuses exploded last year after protesters at schools across the country disrupted conservative speeches and events. Free speech advocates on both sides of the ideological spectrum say students should learn to converse with their opponents, rather than trying to silence them. If they don’t, they could find themselves conversing with government lawyers in court. —L.J.

At long last

Students at Brigham Young University can now buy caffeinated soft drinks on campus. Last week, the school that’s owned and operated by the Mormon church made the announcement on Twitter by posting a photo of a can of Coca-Cola and two words: “It’s happening.” The ban on campus soft drink sales stood for about 60 years, even though The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints declared caffeinated soft drinks OK in 2012. BYU students could drink soft drinks on campus, they just couldn’t buy them. Since coffee remains forbidden by the Mormon church, they had to find some way to make it through those all-nighters. —L.J.

Anything for their baby girl

Last week I linked to an interesting story about a little-known side of college dorm life. This week, I bring you a story from toney Town & Country about the women who help college socialites get into the sorority of their dreams. Eye-popping tidbit: One consultant’s most popular package costs $1,500, and a big part of that consists in teaching the girls to master the kind of face-to-face social interactions young people just don’t have anymore. —L.J.

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Leigh Jones

Leigh is acting managing editor for WORLD Radio. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.

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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 10/17/2017 02:23 pm

    College degrees are overvalued.  They will become more meaningful, college educations will become less expensive, and the economy will become more robust, when we teach children that they will be most successful by doing what they are best at with a good work ethic.