Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Trump 2024 and the Student Loan Portfolio

The US Department of Education (ED) handles the student loans of about 40 million US citizens, holding on to about $1.6 Trillion in debt--which is considered an asset to the US government.  And ED-FSA (Federal Student Aid) hires tens of thousands of workers, mostly contractors, to service the debt. But that could change in a few years. If Donald Trump is elected President.  

Under President Trump, debtors might expect that their loans to be transferred over to large corporations--at some point--with the sale being used to reduce the federal deficit, and to cut labor at ED. This would aid in the effort to eliminate the US Department of Education, as Trump has promised on the campaign trail.

Selling off the student loan debt portfolio may or may not require approval from anyone outside of the President. At least one study, by McKinsey & Company, has already been conducted regarding this possibility. 

In 2019, the Trump administration hired McKinsey to analyze the $1.5 trillion federal student loan portfolio. This analysis was part of a broader effort to explore options for managing the portfolio, including potentially selling off some of the debt. Results were never published. The analysis was conducted alongside a study by FI Consulting, which focused on the economic value of the portfolio, noting that the valuation could vary depending on future default rates, prepayment rates, and economic conditions.

The new owners of the sold off debt would most likely be big banks and other large companies, both domestic and foreign, that find value in the debt. There would be political and social resistance.  And many questions would need to be answered, in detail.

Would large banks or other large corporations be better stewards of the debt?

Would the bidding be transparent?  

Would consumers be able to challenge loan repayments or ask for forgiveness?  

What would happen to the contracts of the existing debt servicers?  

Will this expand the existing Student Loan Asset-Backed Securities market? 


Related link:

The Student Loan Mess Updated: Debt as a Form of Social Control and Political Action

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Capital One-Discover Merger: Another Blow to the Educated Underclass

Capital One and Discover Financial Services have publicly announced plans to merge. The deal worth a reported $35B would give this new entity greater power, competing (or colluding) on a higher level with JP Morgan Chase, Visa, and Mastercard.  

For working people who know anything about finance and debt, and have debt themselves, this should be frightening. Together, both banks hold about 400 million credit cards.  

Capital One and Discover are both banks and high-interest credit card lenders. That means they are issued cheap money from the US Federal Reserve and lend it to naive and desperate consumers. 

Discover student loans are used by college students who have used up their Pell Grants and federal loans and are working (and borrowing) to graduate or extend their education. The interest rates can exceed 12 percent.  

Nelnet is the student loan servicer for Discover private student loans, but their $10.4 Billion portfolio is for sale.

Discover also bundles student loans and sells them as securities, student loan asset-backed securities or SLABS. Institutional investors, like retirement and investment funds, buy the debt up as stable investments.  

Capital One does not have student loans, but college students use credit cards from both of these companies to make their way through school, paying the price later. 

While there may be regulatory challenges for the Capital One-Discover deal, it's not likely that the merger, or any other financial consolidation, will be prevented--no matter how onerous it is to consumers.  

Related links:

"Let's all pretend we couldn't see it coming" (The US Working-Class Depression)

One Fascism or Two?: The Reemergence of "Fascism(s)" in US Higher Education

The Student Loan Mess Updated: Debt as a Form of Social Control and Political Action

SLABS: The Soylent Green of US Higher Education

Monday, February 19, 2024

Ambow Education Continues to School Naive Investors

The Higher Education Inquirer has been tracking Ambow Education (AMBO) for about two years.  Ambow Education is the owner of the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in San Diego (NSAD) and the former owner of Bay State College which closed in 2023. NSAD is facing serious accreditation issues.  The only other asset to speak of is an idea called HybriU, which may or may not be a real technology.  

Tomorrow, February 20, 2024, Ambow completes a 1-10 reverse stock split to pump up its stock price just enough to avoid delisting from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The company, which until recently was based in Beijing, has a troubled history. At one time it was reportedly valued at $1 Billion. Today it's valued at about $9 million. The latest company headquarters is in a small, rented office space in Cupertino, California.  

What we saw in trading on Friday, one business day before the reverse stock split, was alarming: share volume was more than 280 times normal: 70 million shares versus a daily average of about a quarter million. The price more than doubled, from 12 cents a share to 30 cents at close. The highest price was 58 cents, almost five times the day's beginning price. What we were seeing was more than abnormal. Was it stock manipulation? We cannot say.  

HEI asked Ambow for a comment but they had no answer for this doubling in value in less than 24 hours and for any news of material change. We also reported the event to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)--twice in the same day. These reports were in addition to previous complaints to the SEC and the NYSE.
$AMBO is a Clown Car of Lies, Incompetence, and Poor Governance Speeding toward a Second Delisting (Ecliipse Research)

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Massachusetts removes college degree requirements from most state jobs (Bryan Alexander)

[Editor's note: This article was first published at BryanAlexander.org]

Over the past year at least a dozen American states have taken a very interesting step. They have removed a college degree requirement for applicants to some or most state jobs. It’s a way of helping people “break the paper ceiling,” of advancing without needing to have postsecondary education credentials. Examples include Alaska, California, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania (and Philadelphia), South Dakota, Utah, Virginia.

Now Massachusetts has joined them. (alternative link)

Governor Maura Healey filed an executive order on Thursday to ensure most state government job listings do not include degree requirements and hiring managers use a “skills-based” approach when picking candidates to fill open positions.

Skills-based instead of credential-driven: that’s an important shift.

Healey announced this decision during a speech to Associated Industries of Massachusetts on Thursday, in part to spur companies to rethink their approaches to hiring. She noted that career success shouldn’t be limited to the portion of the state’s population — nearly half, per a recent census count — with a bachelor’s degree.

Did you catch that last point, about almost 50% of the state having a degree? In fact, Walletbub just determined that Massachusetts was the most educated state in America. And that state now set aside those educational requirements at scale.

I don’t want to overstate this decision. After all, Massachusetts employs fewer than 50,000 people (source) so we’re not overhauling the state’s labor force. At the same time, nothing in the governor’s decision prevents people with degrees for applying to state positions. Moreover, the states which have taken such steps number not even one third of the lot; a majority of American states still require postsecondary sheepskin for public jobs. A powerful reason for those decisions is the currently low unemployment level; when that rises, perhaps these states will reverse their positions.

And yet I think this is noteworthy. It stands opposed to the inherited “college for all idea,” instead viewing non-academic achievement as on par with college or university degrees. It may encourage other organizations to do the same – other states, businesses, nonprofits – to similarly downgrade reliance on postsecondary attainment. As word of these shifts gets out it might depress college enrollment to a degree.

Note, too, that this isn’t a partisan move. Republicans and Democrats alike seem equally fond of the idea so far, even in our hyperpolarized times. It’s easy to find examples of this, starting with how the state leaders who have taken this step are members of both parties. A bipartisan pair of governors urged others to reduce college requirements. While the conservative National Review praised the strategy, so did Barack Obama:

Here’s an example of a smart policy that gets rid of unnecessary college degree requirements and reduces barriers to good paying jobs. I hope other states follow suit!

Let’s keep an eye on this trend. As 2024’s elections ratchet up, this could become a partisan issue. Or it might just continue with more governors deciding to open up public jobs beyond academic achievement. Is the college for all consensus shattering?

Friday, February 9, 2024

The Student Loan Mess Updated: Debt as a Form of Social Control and Political Action

[Editor's note: The FY 2023 FSA Annual Report is here.] 

In 2014, the father-son team of Joel Best and Eric Best published The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion Dollar Problem. Their argument was that rising student loan debt posed a major social and economic problem in the United States, exceeding $1 trillion at the time of publication (predicted to reach $2 trillion by 2020). This "mess" resulted from a series of well-intentioned but flawed policies that focused on different aspects of the issue in isolation, ultimately creating unintended consequences.

Key Points of the 2014 book:

History of Federal Involvement: The book explored the evolution of federal student loan programs, highlighting how each policy change created new problems while attempting to address the previous ones.

Cost of College: Rising tuition fees along with readily available loans fueled the debt crisis, as students borrowed more to cope with increasing costs.

Repayment Challenges: The authors delved into the difficulties graduates face repaying their loans, including high interest rates, complex repayment plans, and limited income mobility.

Societal Impacts: The book examined the broader societal consequences of student loan debt, such as delayed homeownership, reduced entrepreneurship, and increased economic inequality.

Beyond the Mess: While acknowledging the complexity of the issue, the authors discussed potential solutions, including loan forgiveness programs, income-based repayment plans, and increased government regulation of for-profit colleges.

Overall, "The Student Loan Mess" provided a critical historical analysis of the factors contributing to the crisis and suggested pathways towards a more sustainable system of higher education financing.

Expansion of Federal Loan Programs (1960s-1990s):

The creation of federal loan programs initially aimed to increase access to higher education.

This led to rising tuition costs as universities saw guaranteed funding, with less pressure to remain affordable.

Loan eligibility expanded, encouraging more borrowing even without clear career prospects for graduates.

Cost Explosion and Predatory Lending (1990s-2000s):

College costs skyrocketed due to various factors, including decreased state funding and increased administrative spending.

Loan limits were raised, further fueling the debt increase.

Private lenders entered the market, offering aggressive marketing and deceptive practices, targeting vulnerable students.

Recession and Repayment Struggles (2008-present):

The Great Recession exacerbated loan burdens as graduates faced limited job opportunities and stagnant wages.

Complex repayment plans and high interest rates created a challenging landscape for borrowers.

The rise of for-profit colleges further complicated the issue, often saddling students with debt for degrees with low earning potential.

Growing Awareness, Advocacy, and Reform (2010s-present):

Public awareness of the student loan crisis grew, leading to increased advocacy and demands for reform.

Issues like predatory lending, debt forgiveness, and income-based repayment gained traction.

In 2010, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act made a significant change to the federal student loan system. Previously, the government guaranteed private loans, meaning it reimbursed lenders if borrowers defaulted. In turn, lenders received subsidies for participating. The Act ended these subsidies for private lenders, resulting in over $60 billion saved that could be reinvested in student aid programs.

Debates on the role of government and private lenders in financing higher education continued.


Next Chapters?

Since 2014, almost ten years after the Student Loan Mess was published, several major developments have unfolded concerning student loan debt:

Growth and Persistence:

Debt continues to climb: While the growth rate has slowed somewhat, outstanding student loan debt has surpassed $1.7 trillion and remains a significant burden for millions of borrowers.



 

Racial and socioeconomic disparities persist: African American and Latinx borrowers disproportionately hold a higher amount of debt compared to white borrowers, exacerbating economic inequalities.

Policy Changes: 

https://x.com/The Biden-Harris administration has provided $136.6 billion in debt relief. 

Expansion of income-driven repayment plans: Options like Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) have been expanded, allowing borrowers to adjust their monthly payments based on income.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) challenges: Legal uncertainties and administrative backlogs have plagued PSLF, leaving many public servants struggling to qualify for loan forgiveness.

Temporary pandemic relief: During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal student loan payments were paused and interest rates set to 0%. Payments resumed in 2023.

Debt cancellation debates: Proposals for broad-based student loan forgiveness have gained traction, with several Democratic lawmakers pushing for different cancellation amounts. However, these proposals have faced legal and political hurdles. In 2023, the 9th Circuit Court ruled in favor of mass cancellation of loans from predatory for-profit colleges (Sweet v Cardona). A few months later, the US Supreme Court struck down President Biden's plan for debt relief to more than 30 million Americans.

Increased attention to for-profit colleges and online program managers: Scrutiny of predatory practices and low graduate outcomes at for-profit institutions has intensified. Gainful employment rules have been reestablished, but whether they will be enforced is in question.  


Looking forward:

The future of student loan debt remains uncertain. Key questions include:

Will broad-based loan forgiveness materialize?

Can income-driven repayment plans be made more effective?

How will future administrations address affordability and access to higher education?

What role will the private sector play in financing higher education?

How will declining enrollment numbers and skepticism about the value of higher education affect student loan debt and debt relief?  


Will higher ed institutions be held accountable for the debt of their former students and alumni?

Can higher education reduce consumer costs and provide value to consumers and communities at the same time?  

How will student loan debt affect disability, retirement, and life expectancy among long-term debtors?     

Policy Drivers:

Economic factors: A strong economy could increase government revenue, potentially enabling broader debt forgiveness or increased funding for higher education access initiatives. Conversely, an economic downturn could make policy interventions more challenging.

Elections and political pressure: Public opinion and the results of future elections will influence the political will for reform. Continued activism and pressure from advocacy groups could sway policy decisions.

Legal challenges and court rulings: Lawsuits over debt cancellation programs and loan servicer practices could impact the legal landscape and shape future policy options.

Private sector involvement: Developments in the private student loan market and potential regulations of lending practices could affect access to credit and repayment options.

Consumer Decisions:

Debt burden and economic outlook: The level of outstanding debt and future job prospects will significantly influence borrower behavior. Increased debt loads could incentivize riskier repayment strategies or delaying major life decisions like homeownership.

Awareness and financial literacy: Improved understanding of loan terms, repayment options, and alternative financing methods could empower borrowers to make informed decisions.

Government programs and incentives: Changes to income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness programs, and other government initiatives will directly impact consumer choices about managing their debt.

Emerging Trends:

Alternative financing models: Innovations like income-share agreements and skills-based financing could disrupt traditional loan structures and offer new options for students.

Technology and automation: Increased use of technology to streamline loan management and repayment could improve efficiency and transparency.

Focus on affordability and value: As concerns about the value proposition of higher education grow, there might be a shift towards emphasizing affordable options and skills-based learning.


How does student loan debt affect the lives of Americans?

Student loan debt has a profound impact on the lives of millions of Americans in various ways, affecting not just their finances but also their major life decisions and overall well-being. Here's a breakdown of some key areas:

Financial Impact:


Burden of debt: The average graduate has over $40,000 in student loan debt, significantly impacting their monthly budget and disposable income. This can limit savings for retirement, emergencies, and major purchases like a house.

Lower credit scores: Missed payments or delinquencies can negatively affect credit scores, hindering access to future loans and increasing interest rates on other forms of credit.

Delayed milestones: High debt burdens may cause individuals to delay major life milestones like buying a home, getting married, starting a family, or pursuing further education due to financial constraints.

Career Choices:

Job dissatisfaction: To make loan payments, some graduates might feel pressured to stay in high-paying but unfulfilling jobs, sacrificing career satisfaction for financial stability.

Entrepreneurial risk: The fear of financial failure due to debt may discourage individuals from pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, hindering innovation and economic growth.

Limited career mobility: Debt may lock individuals into specific career paths based on earning potential, restricting their ability to pursue desired career changes.

Mental and Emotional Wellbeing:

Stress and anxiety: The constant pressure of debt repayment can lead to significant stress and anxiety, impacting mental and emotional well-being.

Lower self-esteem: Feelings of financial instability and hopelessness can negatively impact self-esteem and overall life satisfaction.

Stigma and discrimination: Some individuals may face social stigma associated with student loan debt, further exacerbating the emotional burden.

Societal Impact:

Economic inequality: Student loan debt disproportionately affects certain groups, like minorities and low-income students, perpetuating and widening economic inequality.

Lower homeownership rates: High debt burdens can hinder homeownership, negatively impacting the housing market and contributing to wealth disparities.

Reduced consumer spending: Debt-burdened individuals have less disposable income, limiting their purchasing power and affecting the overall economy.


Social Class and Student Loan Debt

There's a well-documented and intricate relationship between social class and student loan debt, characterized by significant inequalities and disparities. Here's a breakdown of some key points:

Higher burden on lower classes:

Borrowing rates: Individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to borrow student loans due to limited family resources and higher college costs compared to their income.

Debt amounts: Borrowers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often take on larger debt loads due to higher tuition fees and living expenses, often exceeding their earning potential after graduation.

Repayment challenges: They face greater difficulty repaying loans due to lower-paying jobs, making them more susceptible to delinquency and default. This hinders wealth accumulation and upward mobility.

Contributing factors:

Limited financial support: Lack of parental financial support or savings forces students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to rely heavily on loans for college expenses.

Limited college options: Limited access to affordable, high-quality educational institutions often steers individuals towards for-profit colleges with deceptive practices and low graduation rates, leading to high debt with limited job prospects.

Ongoing Debate


There is ongoing debate on solutions to address the student loan crisis, with proposals ranging from broad-based loan forgiveness to reforms in higher education financing and income-driven repayment plans. The future of student loan debt and its impact on Americans remains uncertain and depends on various factors, including policy decisions, economic trends, and individual financial choices.

The Student Loan Debt Movement

There has been an organized effort for student loan debt relief since the 2010s. This movement, using direct action, lawsuits, and lobbying has had some gains, putting pressure for accountability for schools that use predatory practices--and getting debt relief for hundreds of thousands of debtors.  The most notable organization has been the Debt Collective.  


Image of Ann Bowers, courtesy of the Debt Collective


There have been legal allies too, such as the Harvard Project on Predatory Student Lending (PPSL) and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC).    


Named plaintiffs Theresa Sweet (L) and Alicia Davis (R) outside the federal district court in San Francisco on November 6, 2022, three days before the final approval hearing in Sweet v Cardona (Image credit: Ashley Pizzuti) 

Resistance to Debt Relief

The reasons why some people might not support student loan forgiveness. Some conservatives believe that it is unfair to forgive the debts of those who willingly took out loans, while others believe that it would be a waste of taxpayer money. Additionally, some believe that student loan forgiveness would not address the root causes of the problem, such as the high cost of tuition.

It is important to note that not all conservatives oppose student loan forgiveness. Some support income-based repayment plans or public service loan forgiveness. Additionally, some believe the government should focus on making college more affordable, rather than simply forgiving existing debt.

According to a 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center, 54% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents opposed forgiving all student loan debt, while 37% supported it.

Student Loan Debt Power Analysis: Who Benefits from Inaction?

There are elites and elite organizations who are (at least on the backstage) against student loan debt relief: student loan servicers (e.g. Maximus, Nelnet, Navient, and Sallie Mae), big banks, large corporations, and the US military. For them, debt serves as a way to get others to do their bidding. Debt is essential as a leverage tool to recruit and retain workers. Debt relief could also create more competition for better, more meaningful jobs, which some elites may not want for their children. States may be unwilling or unable to further subsidize higher education if elites are unwilling to pay. This situation is likely to worsen as Medicaid budgets are used for a growing number of elderly and increasingly disabled Baby Boomers.  
 
 

Student Loans and a Brutal Lifetime of Debt (Dahn Shaulis and Glen McGhee)

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Robocollege Update

 


Robocolleges are a mix of for-profit and non-profit online colleges, both secular and Christian.  Their focus is on automation and reduced costs, particularly labor costs:

Instruction is delivered through automated Learning Management Systems (LMS) and online platforms, relying less on professors and more on pre-recorded lectures and automated grading. Even support staff are being replaced by chatbots.  

While some qualified individuals might be involved, educational content is often developed by large teams with varying expertise, potentially sacrificing quality for cost-effectiveness.

Marketing and advertising continue to be costly. But targeting marketing (e.g. targeting military service members and veterans, teachers, nurses, and government workers in low-income neighborhoods) can improve cost efficiency. 

Robocolleges offer degrees with a wide range of value to consumers (return on investment versus debt).  For people who need a degree (or an advanced degree) to play the game in government and medicine, these credentials may have value. 

Competency-based education and credits for life experience reduce the number of courses some students need to graduate.  Servicemembers going to Purdue Global, for example, can get an AA with as few as five college courses and a BS with as little as seven additional courses.

Cheating is probably easier for online students who are so inclined and whether these companies care is not really known.  

Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) continues to be the growth and efficiency leader, with the highest enrollment, more than 160,000 students. SNHU is also experimenting with artificial intelligence to reduce labor costs. In addition, SNHU works with Guild (aka Guild Education), which recruits workers from Walmart, Target, Waste Management, and other large employers.  

Grand Canyon (for-profit) and Liberty University (non-profit) target Christians for online credentials.  But oppressive debt is a concern with some of their programs. Social mobility for students is subpar.  

Purdue University Global and University of Arizona, Global Campus are two former for-profit colleges now owned by state universities. Information about their financial status is sketchy. Like SNHU, Purdue Global works with Guild to recruit working folks.  Purdue Global owes its online program manager. Kaplan Education, about $128 million.  Arizona Global has had financial difficulties which have affected the University of Arizona's bottom line.  

The University of Phoenix has returned to profitability by reducing instruction and student services by $100 million a year and legal costs by $50 million a year.  Consumers continue to file fraud complaints by the tens of thousands.  And debt is an enormous problem with former students.  It's not apparent whether Phoenix can maintain such enormous profits, but its future as a non-profit affiliated with the University of Idaho may reduce its tax burden and legal liabilities. 

Here are the most recent numbers from the US Department of Education College Navigator:

American Intercontinental University: 89 full-time instructors for 14,333 students.
American Public University System has 332 F/T instructors for 48,688 students.
Aspen University has 27 F/T instructors for 7,386 students.
Capella University: 180 F/T for 39,727 students.
Colorado State University Global: 40 F/T instructors for 9,565 students.
Colorado Technical University: 55 F/T instructors for 24,808 students.
Devry University online: 61 F/T instructors for 26,384 students.
Grand Canyon University has 550 F/T instructors for 101,816 students.*
Liberty University: 735 F/T for 96,709 students.*
Purdue University Global: 337 F/T instructors for 45,125 students.
South University: 41 F/T instructors for 7,707 students.
Southern New Hampshire University: 130 F/T for 164,091 students.
University of Arizona Global Campus: 122 F/T instructors for 34,190 students.
University of Maryland Global: 177 F/T instructors for 55,838 students.
University of Phoenix: 80 F/T instructors for 88,891 students.
Walden University: 235 F/T for 42,312 students.

*Most F/T faculty serve the ground campuses that profit from the online schools. 

 

Related links:


Robocolleges, Artificial Intelligence, and the Dehumanization of Higher Education (2023)