Showing posts with label student loan debt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student loan debt. Show all posts

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

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: 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)

Friday, October 13, 2023

Stressed About Student Debt? Register for a Free Webinar! (NJ Citizen Action)



Now that student debt repayments are back in full swing, it is more important than ever to learn about the options student loan borrowers have.


Thanks to the Student Borrower Protection Center, a FREE webinar is available to learn about your options. Learn about how to take advantage of all opportunities available to federal borrowers and the steps you may need to take to access them. 


The webinar will discuss the following topics:

  • recent Supreme Court decision on student debt relief and what it means for borrowers,
  • programs that can provide debt relief, including the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Account Adjustment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), and Fresh Start,
  • and what to expect as student loan payments resume.

The webinar is FREE and open to all! Use the link below to register

Monday, September 25, 2023

Art Institutes Close. Students May Be Eligible for Student Loan Forgiveness.

The Art Institutes (Ai) is closing its doors this Friday, September 30. Ai has locations in Miami and Tampa (FL), Atlanta (GA), Austin and Houston (TX), and Virginia Beach (VA). About 2000 students are affected.  The Art Institutes website provides closed school information.

The Art Institutes chain had a storied history, starting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1921 and growing to 50 locations by 2010. Its boom was the result of intensive profit-making in the higher education business in the 1990s and early 2000s. Goldman Sachs was a key contributor to its explosive growth.

Ai's decade-long decline was part of a wave of for-profit colleges that faced increased federal scrutiny for low graduation rates, high levels of student loan debt, and declining enrollment. Unlike Corinthian Colleges (2015), ITT Tech (2016), Westwood College (2016), and Virginia College (2018), the Art Institutes survived with government assistance--but with less than ten campuses. 

Art Institute Students 

Students from the Art Institutes may transfer to other schools, but many of their credits may not be accepted by other institutions. Consumers should also be extremely wary of the schools they plan transferring to.  

Students would normally be allowed to have their student loans forgiven through a process called Closed School Discharge. But that avenue for remedy has been paused. Present and former students, however, may be able to have their student loan debt relieved through Borrower Defense to Repayment if they can prove that they were defrauded. 

Borrower Defense-Sweet vs Cardona is a Facebook space for people who have already succeeded in getting their student loan money returned to them and others working on claims. Borrower Defense-Sweet vs Cardona has more than 14,000 members. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Student Loan Repayments Have Restarted (New Jersey Citizen Action)

Earlier this summer the Supreme Court had denied President Biden the option to cancel $10K - $20K of federal student loan debt. As a result, the COVID-19 student loan payment pause ended on August 31, 2023. Student loan interest will have resumed starting 9/1/23 and payments will be due starting in October. 

Fortunately, the White House just released the SAVE plan, an affordable plan to lower monthly payment for millions of borrowers.

Borrowers should go to to learn more and get started on their application. Read more about the SAVE plan in this fact sheet.

Borrowers will start receiving bills in September and payments will be due in October 2023. Please feel free to share the Borrower Checklist and/or the summary below:

o Set up your account on

o Review loan forgiveness options—if you have FFEL program loans, consolidate.

o Update your contact information with your student loan servicer (Loan Servicer Contact Information)

o Enroll in SAVE plan (verbal enrollment available for 6 months)

o Enroll in auto-pay

Here are additional links for borrowers:For borrowers who were in repayment before and are going to resume payments
For borrowers who haven’t made a payment before
For information about the new income-driven repayment plan
Register & save the date for the U.S. Department of Education's Repayment 101: Get Help with Your Federal Student Loans Webinar

Don't delay, get ahead of your student loan repayment!

Beverly Brown Ruggia, Financial Justice Program Director, New Jersey Citizen Action

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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

The US Department of Education is holding more than 900,000 student loans that are at least 30 years old. Tens of thousands of these loans originated almost a half-century ago. And it's likely that most of the total balances are the result of interest charges that have accumulated over the decades--from people who can't ever pay back their loans.

Source: US Department of Education  

Will these student loans finally be forgiven under the latest Biden forgiveness plan?  Or will the US continue to honor (and bail out) the rich while punishing generations of the working class for their mistakes?  

The information in this article is part of a larger effort to examine quality of life, disability, and premature death among student loan debtors. Our most recent Freedom of Information requests to the US Department of Education attempt to gather more information.

The Higher Education Inquirer is asking for the age and cause of death of the last 100 student loan debtors whose debt was relieved because of death.  The age and cause of death should be listed on the death certificates sent to the US Department of Education for student loan relief.   (Date Range for Record Search: From 09/09/2022 To 09/09/2023)

The Higher Education Inquirer is requesting the number of loans and the dollar amount of loans that have been discharged each year for the last ten years due to (1) death and (2) disability.  If available, we would also like an estimate of the number of debtors affected in that decade.   (Date Range for Record Search: From 09/08/2013 To 09/08/2023)

From Glen McGhee:

A study published in the Journal of American College Health[2] reveals that student loans are associated with negative health outcomes among college students, including delaying medical care. The study found that those with student loans are more likely to delay medical, dental, and mental health care[1]. 
Another study published in Health Soc Care Community[4] found that borrowers behind or in collections on student loans are forgoing healthcare after self-reporting general physical ill-health. The study's objective examines whether falling behind on student loans may compound ill-health by deterring people from seeking healthcare. The results of this study confirm that student loans are associated with poor health. 
A survey conducted by ELVTR[5] found that 54% of respondents say their mental health struggles are directly related to their student loan debt. Additionally, over 80% of participants say student loan debt has delayed a major life event for them. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Student Debt Relief Tool (Debt Collective)

Yesterday, we launched a new tool that files an appeal to the Department of Education to cancel each borrower’s student debt. All of the debt. Automatically. With the flick of a pen. 

This type of tool has never existed before—until we created it and launched it yesterday. In the first 24 hours, more than 5,000 borrowers completed the tool. 


If you haven’t filled out the tool yet, do it now so we can keep up our momentum. If you haven’t shared with a buddy or three, please pass it on. We want to reach our goal of twenty thousand applications submitted by Labor Day! 

Fill out the Dispute Tool

Monday, May 22, 2023

Sharing a Dataset of Program-Level Debt and Earnings Outcomes (Robert Kelchen)

[Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Kelchen on Education blog.]

Within a couple of hours of posting my comments on the Department of Education’s proposal to create a list of programs with low financial value, I received multiple inquiries about whether there was a user-friendly dataset of current debt-to-earnings ratios for programs. Since I work with College Scorecard data on a regular basis and have used the data to write about debt-to-earnings ratios, it only took a few minutes to put something together that I hope will be useful.

To create a debt-to-earnings ratio that covered as many programs as possible, I pulled median student debt accumulated at that institution for the cohorts of students who left college in the 2016-17 or 2017-18 academic years and matched it with earnings for those same cohorts one calendar year later (calendar year 2018 or 2019). The College Scorecard has some earnings data more than one year out at this point, but a much smaller share of programs are covered. I then calculated a debt-to-earnings ratio. And for display purposes, I also pulled median parent debt from that institution.

The resulting dataset covers 45,971 programs at 5,033 institutions with data on both student debt and earnings for those same cohorts. You can download the dataset here in Excel format and use filter/sort functions to your heart’s content.
Robert Kelchen is a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are his own.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Borrower Defense Claims Surpass 750,000. Consumers Empowered. Subprime Colleges and Programs Threatened.

The Higher Education Inquirer has posted a number of articles about student loan debt. In 2023, the student loan mess has reached epic proportions. Not only has the US Federal Student Aid debt portfolio reached more than $1.6 Trillion, we learned that $674 Billion was estimated to be unrecoverable. 

In California, the US District Court in Sweet v Cardona agreed to a $6 Billion settlement between student debtors and the US Department of Education. 

In Texas, a group representing for-profit colleges has sued the US Department of Education for their actions in settling Borrower Defense claims. 

And across the US, about 40 million student debtors and their families are awaiting a decision from the US Supreme Court—a decision that will not likely favor the debtors.

Borrower Defense, Subprime Colleges, Subprime Programs

Borrower Defense to Repayment claims are claims by student loan debtors that their school misled them or engaged in other misconduct in violation of certain state laws. The Department of Education may discharge all or some of the student loan debt and hold the school and its owners responsible. 

As of January 2023, there are more than three quarters of a million Borrower Defense claims against schools. And each month, about 16,000 new claims are added.  Evidence from the Sweet v Cardona case revealed that only about 35 workers were responsible for processing hundreds of thousands of claims. Those claims have been disproportionately made against a number of for-profit colleges and formerly for-profit colleges, what we call “subprime colleges.”   

Some of these subprime schools have closed (Everest College, ITT Tech, and Westwood College for example), some remain in business as for-profit colleges (like University of Phoenix and Colorado Tech), some have changed names and become covert for-profit colleges or robocolleges (like Purdue University Global, University of Arizona Global Campus, and the Art Institutes), and some schools act act like subprime colleges regardless of tax status. This includes low-return on investment programs at several US robocolleges and overly expensive graduate programs offered by 2U, an online program manager for elite colleges.  

In the Sweet v Cardona case, more than 200,000 student borrowers are expecting to receive full debt relief after years of struggling.  A Facebook group Borrower Defense-Sweet vs. Cardona currently has more than 14,000 members. 

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)

Transparency and Accountability 

The US Department of Education keeps an accounting of Borrower Defense claims, but only publishes the aggregate numbers, not institutional numbers. Those institutional numbers do make a difference in promoting transparency and accountability for the largest bad actors. So why does the Department of Education not publish those institutional numbers?
The National Student Legal Defense Network submitted a FOIA (22-01683F) to the US Department of Education (ED) in January 2022 asking just for that information. And what HEI has discovered is that just a small number of schools garnered the lion's share of the Borrower Defense claims. To get a digital copy of that information, please email us for a free download.

Related links:

Borrower Defense-Sweet vs Cardona (Facebook private group)  

Project on Predatory Student Lending

Sweet v. Cardona Victory (Matter of Life and Debt podcast)

I Went on Strike to Cancel My Student Debt and Won. Every Debtor Deserves the Same. (Ann Bowers)

An Email of Concern to the People of Arkansas about the University of Phoenix (Tarah Gramza)

The Growth of "RoboColleges" and "Robostudents"

Friday, February 10, 2023

People's Rally for Student Debt Cancellation to be held outside Supreme Court, February 28, 2023

[Update: This event will be livestreamed at

Sign up for the People's Rally for Student Debt Cancellation to be held outside the US Supreme Court, Tuesday morning, February 28, 2023.  And please share this event with people in your network. 

The Supreme Court case involves the constitutionality of President Biden's order to cancel more than $400 billion in student loan debt, that according to the NY Fed would provide a disproportionate amount of relief to low and middle-income families

Supporters of the People's Rally include the Debt Collective, NAACP, National Urban League, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, SEIU, the National Consumer Law Center, Young Invincibles, and Move On. Senator Elizabeth Warren will be one of the speakers. 

While there is no substitute for People on the ground, folks can also attend online.  

Before the hearing, the People are invited to use the #CancelItSCOTUS! hashtag and flood Twitter with personal and shared stories of why the cancellation is so vital. Access the toolkit to join the Twitterstorm on 2/28 at 9-11am.

Currently, there are about 45 million Americans carrying student loan debt. Based on our interpretation of the 2022 Financial Student Aid Annual Report, about 40 percent of the federal student loan debt portfolio ($674 Billion of $1.7 Trillion) is unrecoverable.* 

Meanwhile, student loan debt collectors like Maximus receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the US government while sometimes using unethical and predatory business practices. 

Students who attended subprime schools or who had low financial value majors have been hardest hit. And the debt takes its toll on millions of citizens, their families, and their communities--and reduces their opportunities to live the American Dream. 

About 200,000 student debtors who were defrauded by subprime schools are also facing a legal battle in the 9th Circuit Court to have their debt forgiven. Hundreds of thousands more have filed Borrower Defense to Repayment claims and are awaiting for decisions that can take several years, due to  understaffing and an enormous backlog at the US Department of Education.


So far, ED has only approved Borrower Defense to Repayment claims from a handful of closed schools, and it appears that victims of fraud from other subprime schools, like the University of Phoenix, have received blanket denials.  

Pushing back against the debtors, Republican lawmakers are calling for mandatory loan repayments to restart.  

Stay tuned to this post for more information.  #strikedebt 

 *We have asked the US Department of Education press team for a comment, but they have not responded, which is often the case.

Related link: I Went on Strike to Cancel My Student Debt and Won. Every Debtor Deserves the Same. (Ann Bowers*) 

Related link: Assessing the Relative Progressivity of the Biden Administration’s Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Proposal (NY Fed)

Related link:  Federal Student Aid FY 2022 Annual Report 

Related link: Sweet v Cardona (Borrower Defense to Repayment) 

Related link: Maximus, Student Loan Debt, and the Poverty Industrial Complex 

Related link: Borrower Defense to Repayment Loan Forgiveness Data

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Need Student Debtors to Provide Information about Low-Financial-Value Postsecondary Programs (Updated February 15, 2023)


[Editor's Note: The public comment period ended February 10, 2023.]  

The US Department of Education is accepting public comments as a Request for Information (RFI) about "Public Transparency for Low-Financial-Value Postsecondary Programs."  The announcement is available at the US Federal Register.  

The URL to make these comments is at

As with most US government rules and policies, industry insiders have great influence in these decisions--and concerned citizens are often shut out of the process. When consumers do have a chance to speak, they may not even know of those opportunities.  That's why the Higher Education Inquirer is asking student loan debtors to contribute to this RFI while they can.   

Tell DC policymakers and technocrats about your unique struggles (and your family's struggles) tied to student debt--and what could be done to better inform consumers like you. 

There you can find public comments that have already been made.  As of February 15, only 129 comments were posted. 

According to the announcement: 

"a misalignment of prices charged to financial benefits received may cause particularly acute harm for student loan borrowers who may struggle to repay their debts after discovering too late that their postsecondary programs did not adequately prepare them for the workforce. Taxpayers also shoulder the costs when a substantial number and share of borrowers are unable to successfully repay their loans. The number of borrowers facing challenges related to the repayment of their student loans is significant."  

The Request for Information continues...

"Programs that result in students taking on excessive amounts of debt can make it challenging for students to reach significant life milestones like purchasing a home, starting a family, or saving enough for retirement, ultimately undermining their ability to climb the economic mobility ladder. Especially for borrowers who attended graduate programs, debt-to-income ratios often rise well above sustainable levels. IDR (Income-Driven Repayment) plans also cannot fully protect borrowers from the consequences of low financial-value programs. For instance, IDR plans cannot give students back the time they invested in such programs. For many programs, the cost of students' time may be at least as significant as direct program costs such as tuition, fees, and supplies. Loans will also still show up on borrowers' credit reports, including any periods of delinquency or default prior to enrollment in IDR."

"The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to improving accountability for institutions of higher education. One component of that work is to increase transparency and public accountability by drawing attention to the postsecondary programs that are most likely to leave students with unaffordable loans and provide the lowest financial returns for students and taxpayers."

CECU, an group representing for-profit colleges, has an organized effort to protect its interests. 
Meanwhile, Robert Kelchen has provided an EXCEL spreadsheet that provides many answers. The dataset covers 45,971 programs at 5,033 institutions with data on both student debt and earnings for those same cohorts. We found more than 12,200 programs where debt exceeds income. And more than 7200 programs resulted in median incomes of less than $25,000 a year with debt greater than $10,000.

While some of these high-debt programs in medicine and law may eventually be profitable, many more paint a picture of struggle with a lifetime of debt peonage. Cosmetology schools had a large number of low-income programs.  But the fine arts, humanities, social sciences, and education also produced low-value programs in terms of debt to income ratio. 

Some of subprime schools HEI has been investigating (Purdue University Global, University of Arizona Global, The Art Institutes) had a number of low-value majors. But elite and brand name schools like Duke, Drexel, Emory, Syracuse, Baylor, DePaul, New School, and University of Rochester even have high debt and low-income programs. 

Related link:  I Went on Strike to Cancel My Student Debt and Won. Every Debtor Deserves the Same. (Ann Bowers)

Related link: More Transparency About the Student Debt Portfolio Is Needed: Student Debt By Institution

Related link: The College Dream is Over (Gary Roth)

Related link: Even Elite Schools Have Subprime Majors (Keil Dumsch and Dahn Shaulis)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

I Went on Strike to Cancel My Student Debt and Won. Every Debtor Deserves the Same. (Ann Bowers*)

Image of Ann Bowers, courtesy of the Debt Collective

[Note:  This article originally appeared in In These Times on June 2, 2022.  The Higher Education Inquirer is now working with Ann Bowers and the Debt Collective to restore GI Bill benefits to veterans preyed upon by for-profit colleges.]

This week, former students of Corinthian Colleges — a predatory for-profit school that once boasted more than 100 campuses across the country — received news that their student loans will be canceled. In an announcement, a Department of Education (DOE) press release called the move ​“the largest single loan discharge the Department has made in history.” As a former student of Everest College, which is a branch of Corinthian, I am overjoyed that everyone who attended the scam school will finally be made whole.

The action, announced on June 2, will impact 560,000 former Corinthian students and $5.8 Billion in total student debt will be cancelled. This amounts to a stunning victory for debtors who took collective action to win relief.

But I want to set the record straight. This victory is not the result of the Biden administration’s good will. It is the outcome of a fierce organizing campaign by debtors that has been going on for almost eight years. I should know. I was part of a group of former students that launched a 7-year long student debt strike to win loan cancellation from the federal government.

Now, as President Biden considers cancelling student loan debt more broadly, the outcome for former Corinthian students should send a clear message that the only way to resolve the issue of pernicious student loan debt is to cancel it for everybody and to do so automatically, without making borrowers individually apply.

My involvement started back in 2014 when I read an article that revealed my school was suspected of lying to and defrauding borrowers, many of whom were from low-income families. I was outraged to discover that Corinthian had been under investigation by the U.S. Senate since at least 2010 for breaking the law — all while continuing to receive billions of dollars per year in government funding. Investigators found that Corinthian lied to students about job placement rates, enrolled people who were not prepared for college-level work and offered a sub-par education. The college also provided falsified placement information to accrediting agencies in order to keep federal money flowing. Some of the evidence against Corinthian was compiled by then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who sued the school in 2013 for false advertising.

Furious and determined to fight back, I turned to social media and found that hundreds of former students of my school were gathering online to address the dilemma that we had found ourselves in: huge debts and worthless degrees.

Organizers from the Debt Collective, a union for debtors, had also heard about the plight of Corinthian borrowers and found our group on Facebook. They proposed that everyone who had attended the school join together to pressure the government to cancel our debts. There were few other choices: student debts cannot be erased in bankruptcy except in a few extreme circumstances. Turning our individual burdens into a collective demand was our only option.

In the winter of 2015, a group of former students met in person to plan the campaign. We were all in a similar situation. None of us had been able to find the high-paying jobs that Corinthian had promised, and none of us could afford to pay back the astronomical sums that we owed. We turned our inability to repay into a rallying cry and launched a student debt strike — the first in U.S. history — to demand the cancellation of our loans. We called ourselves the Corinthian Fifteen.

The law was on our side. We relied on an obscure legal mechanism called Borrower Defense to Repayment that required the government to cancel the debts of defrauded students. Since the DOE did not even have an application available to those who wanted to apply for relief, we worked with lawyers to design a form and then made it available on the Debt Collective’s website. By the spring of 2015, applications from former for-profit college students rolled in by the thousands.

Public opinion was also on our side. Our campaign went viral. Dozens of news outlets covered the story of the scammed borrowers who were taking on the Obama administration in March 2015. Strikers met in Washington, D.C. with officials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Department of Education and the Treasury Department. We shared our experiences of being lied to and defrauded by Corinthian and delivered hundreds of applications for loan relief into the hands of Ted Mitchell, the Undersecretary of Education under President Obama.

Our campaign won the support of major media organizations like the New York Times editorial board and politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Hillary Clinton. As more former for-profit college students realized they had been scammed, our numbers grew. We were joined by students who had attended other predatory schools such as ITT Technical Institutes. Our group of 15 strikers soon grew to 100. Thanks to the Debt Collective, we met with lawyers who helped us understand the consequences of not paying our debts. We knew that defaulted debtors could face wage garnishment and tax offsets. Older borrowers might have their social security benefits garnished. But we were ready for those consequences. Most of us could not afford to pay anyway and were already in default, so the strike was a way to politicize our inability to pay. We stood together for everyone in our situation across the country.

Unfortunately, the Department of Education dragged its feet. Officials claimed they cared about us and wanted to help, but rather than just canceling debts that were shattering lives and ruining futures, they set up a series of administrative processes and claimed they needed to study the issue. Little by little, a few former students who filled out the correct forms and checked the right boxes got their loans relieved. But hundreds of thousands of others waited in anguish.

I was one of the lucky ones. Finally, in 2017, I received an email from the DOE that said my loans were being canceled. My joy was tempered by the fact that thousands of others were still in debt. The news got even worse when President Donald Trump came into office. His Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, halted the relief process that had begun slowly under Obama.

But the fight is far from over, and the stakes are higher than ever.

Back in 2010, when I enrolled at Corinthian, I didn’t know there was such a thing as for-profit education. I assumed that if the government was funding a college, it must be offering a quality education. My experience organizing a debt strike and talking to borrowers who attended colleges of all kinds has taught me that the problem is larger than scam schools. The for-profit college industry is part of a larger system of higher education that often promises the world while failing to deliver for students like me who don’t come from wealthy backgrounds.

Just like former Corinthian students won by turning our individual struggles into a collective demand, I believe we can win even more if student debtors from colleges of all kinds fight back together. We can demand a more fair and just higher education system and an end to the for-profit schools that prey on low-income students.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

US Department of Education Projects Increasing Higher Ed Enrollment From 2024-2030. Really? (Dahn Shaulis and Glen McGhee)

The US Department of Education (ED) continues to paint rosy projections about higher education enrollment despite harsh economic and demographic realities--and increasing skepticism about the value of college degrees.  

Image from Digest of Education Statistics (2022) 

Since 2011, higher education enrollment has declined every year--a more than decade long trend. The Covid pandemic of 2020 to 2022 made matters worse with domestic and foreign enrollment-- (temporarily) ameliorated by government bailouts and untested online education.  Foreign enrollment continues to languish. And the enrollment cliff of 2026, a ripple effect of the 2008 Great Recession, is now just around the corner. 

ED is projecting enrollment losses in 2022 and 2023, but why is it projecting enrollment gains from 2024 to 2030?  Apparently, one of the problems is with old and faulty Census projections made during the Trump era that were not corrected.

Based on these Census numbers and other factors, the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects increases in high school graduation numbers.  The Western Interstate Commission for Higher (WICHE), in contrast, projects declines in high school graduates starting about 2025. (see graph below). 

For ED, relying on overly optimistic projections for high school graduates creates a statistical train wreck that's made even worse by what's not in their formula.  

Popular opinion about college has been declining for years, and there is no indication that attitudes will improve.  A growing number of younger folks have joined the "educated underclass," becoming disaffected by underemployment and oppressive student loan debt.  While progressive policies could change attitudes, deep skepticism about the value of education is an important statistical wildcard.

This is not the first time that the Higher Education Inquirer has questioned overly optimistic US Department of Education projections. While NCES has updated projections from time to time, it seems to have relied too much on the past and been too slow to change.  

Related link:  Millennials are the first generation to prove a college degree may not be worth it, and Gen Z may be next (Chloe Berger, Forbes/Yahoo Finance)

Related link: America’s Colleges & Universities Awarded $12.5 Billion In Coronavirus Bailout – Who Can Get It And How Much (Adam Andrzejewski, Forbes)

Related link: Online Postsecondary Education and Labor Productivity (Caroline Hoxby)

Related link: U.S. Universities Face Headwinds In Recruiting International Students (Michael T. Nietzel, Forbes)

Related link: Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (Nathan Grawe)

Related link Why U.S. Population Growth Is Collapsing (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic)

Related link: Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2021 (Federal Reserve)

Related link: Many US States Have Seen Enrollment Drops of More Than 20 Percent (Glen McGhee and Dahn Shaulis) 

Related link: Community Colleges at the Heart of the College Meltdown

Related link: Projections of Education Statistics to 2028 (NCES)

Related link: US Department of Education Fails to Recognize College Meltdown (2017)