Tag Archives: edmc

Will the Student Debt Movement Legitimize Occupy?

The mainstreamies out there are pretty occupied (pun intended) with working more hours for less pay, mortgage foreclosures and a host of other pressures. But for my money, the predatory lending practices, price hikes and unfair or outright fraudulent policies regarding payment, interest, or consolidation will bring Real America closer to realizing the progressive changes we need for the middle class to survive and the country to thrive.

It is the aspiration of nearly everyone, regardless of race, religion, politics, or creed, to attain higher education. It helps us expand and diversify our minds, meet new and interesting people, live free and wildly independent, study under the tutelage of wizened mentors, access courses, books and topics they otherwise may not have the opportunity to experience. People of any age go to school to grow philosophically, gain skills, learn seemingly secret or arcane knowledge, or, as the marketing departments tell us, to get better jobs and make more money.

Of course, it doesn’t really work that way, with an American workforce still in the shitter, skilled jobs scarce and a growing economic class of people below the rising line of college affordability. Parents and guardians, also burdened with co-signed loans, want what is best for their younger generations, but are crippled by Draconian corporations. A feedback loop of greed has been created by big education dealers like EDMC, usurious loan companies like Sallie Mae, and the collections agencies that sometimes fall under their own banner (not exactly a conflict for Sallie Mae, but a matter of compounding debt and problems for the indebted). If one were to be thoroughly conspiracy-minded, it wouldn’t take much to add a dystopian vision of private industry fueled by underpaid workers (a la Foxconn) enslaved by the debt of their overpriced and now apparently useless education, the return of debtor’s prisons in a private prison industry!

But enough slippery slope arguments, for the tamer future reality is nearly as frightening. No massive conspiracy, but hundreds of small ones perpetrated by the psychopathic CEOs at the top tiers of the power structures in this country, with no regard for the populace “below them” or indeed the very future of the country, the planet, or our species. This is what Occupy is all about, but this message hasn’t entirely translated to the mainstream America who gets their news from Fox, or more likely, doesn’t care to get the news at all.

You will undoubtedly see people criticize any progressive movement on the left, and decry any debt absolution, industry regulation, activism or protest movement as leftist propaganda and overreaching government attacking poor, defenseless billionaires such as Albert Lord, CEO of Sallie Mae. For every true story told at occupystudentdebt.com, one could likely find a snide youtube comment tearing them down. There will always be reactionary bullies and their herds of sheep. A perfectly natural (and primitively primate) revulsion of the youthful vigor for liberty.

Fortunately, the facts are overhwhelming, as student loan debt in America tops $1 trillion, some are seeing their loans triple due to interest, face ridiculous fees, with no way to negotiate, no bankruptcy protection, and no regulation. Since 1980, average tuition for a 4-year college education has increased an astounding 827%. Since 1999, average student loan debt has increased by a shameful 511%. Student debt collectors are incentivized to violate federal aid laws, and even Obama (who topped the list of those fighting for student debt reform) and the Department of Education rely on debt collectors profiting from student debt. And Republicans are again trying to double the interest rates for student loans. Which is really the overreaching government action?

If it looks like a bubble and acts like a bubble…

Unfortunately, as we have seen with issue after issue, facts do not necessarily sway voters. We need to reframe the issues, changing perceptions and public opinion, alter the very conversation in this country of where the money is going and why the prices are fixed as they are.

The student loan corporation heads (like all the clueless and insulated rich) must have received quite a shock upon realizing that the protest movement of their victims is coincidentally somehow both young and educated.

But once the bubble of student loan debt bursts, and make no mistake, it will, Americans will watch as the same drama plays out again with corporate bailouts and vulture capitalism that nearly wrecked us so recently.

Prices for education will not drop (they haven’t for homes), as the economy takes another hit unemployment will rise with no regard to the educated, skilled, or fealty to young innovators, things we once valued and prized in this country. Even the parents and grandparents will take up their torches and pitchforks if and when the shit makes such total abstract art of the fan. The first economic shitstorm of mortgage usury took everyone by surprise, and an unaware America could be fed nonsense and propaganda contrary to the facts or their better interests. But as George W. Bush once stated in his American dialect, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Years later, Americans are more skeptical of rushing off to foreign wars in Iran or Syria, compared to our gullibility in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re more savvy if we’ve lived through it once before in recent memory.

There are other options, of course, than utter collapse. Floating Universities and Open Education Resources are becoming more popular online for a fraction of the cost of similar coursework and lectures. Certain degrees in technology are being offered by once-exclusive institutions at affordable rates (even cheap as free), and tuition can be pre-paid or locked-in early to save money. Blogging itself is increasingly being seen as a scholarly activity. Some incentives exist to get courses for cheaper, though overall, scholarships and federal grants for financial aid are diminishing, and even community college costs are rising. And despite their innovation and necessity, let us not allow such cost-saving measures deter us from fixing the regulatory holes hemorrhaging the system.

A current bill is being proposed by Rep. Hansen Clarke, who might lose his seat due to Republican redistricting, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012 (H.R. 4170), that would give those Americans a way out debt by letting them pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 10 years. America is slipping behind with every year in education! We all need to educate ourselves, get informed, and act! Sign a petition, write your congressmen, or march in the streets if you can, to occupy our very right to be educated.

In the end, if worst comes to worst, they may not even call it Occupy, and they may not consider it ‘legitimized.’ But the looming financial hubris cannot be sustained, and unregulated will come to a point where no American can ignore it.

Everybody’s High on Education

As student loans officially increase to around 511% (nearing $1 trillion), as one of the largest for-profit educational chains (and an alma mater of yours truly) faces federal fraud charges, as students and unemployed all over the country vehemently protest large greedy corporations, and as loan corporations bloat an already non-sustainable bubble of debt with their record greed, the taut material holding this battered industry together catches by each thread and shreds slowly under the weight.

These are actually actionable viable threats to a system arterially hardened by its own butter-soaked gluttony. After bearing witness to our recent economic hubris relating to real estate, home mortgages, and big bank credit swaps, and thanks to books like Alan Collinge’s Student Loan Scam and documentaries like “Default: The Student Loan Documentary“, the population at large is becoming more and more aware of the corruption and predatory practices rife in the higher-educational system.

College rates are still on the rise, but not for long as related findings reveal that graduation rates are stagnant, the job market abysmal and placement through the school is laughable. Add in the amount that students and parents have to nearly immediately start paying back, which may last a lifetime, and it begs some serious questions of consumer rights.

When will college go on sale? And though I’m not talking about a (unnecessarily) controversial voucher system, it doesn’t take an analyst to realize that eventually the jig will be up, or at the very least this non-sustainable bubble will burst as the list of those who cannot afford higher education grows to encompass not only underprivileged lower-class, but the once-spoiled now-neglected middle class. The ones whose votes are actually not discounted or tampered with, and more importantly, whose main democratic voice is heard by the spending power of their wallets in our commercial machine. If you silence their credit limits, we most certainly will see even more industries topple and threaten to destroy the rich, shit trickling downhill as it has with so many economies already.

The sale(s) to which I refer would and should be consumer driven demand for basic necessities and, eventually as the middle class grows, extra related frivolities. A series of coupons and discount cards adding bulk value to the college credit system, and a downgrading of the overinflated price per credits, books, materials, etc. It may seem like some cheesy CVS/Safeway, bullshit, and may raise eyebrows to the legitimacy of the school’s accreditation at first, but in the face of dire financial ruin, who would fault them?

The government would have to dish out less, something that big money interested conservatives would be more than happy to hear (though I argue that much more money should be spent preparing an engineering and technologically savvy work force for this new century we’ve stumbled into). The students would have to dish out less, and though they’d still be in the same position as before, a little lateral flexibility would stimulate college spending both socially and academically. Granted a fair amount would squander the difference in savings on flash-in-the-pan adventures fit for fraternity fraternizing, but many may be able to save and put away to be better prepared for the harsh life after the college experience that had been keeping them in their adolescence. The percentage of this, I’d venture to guess, is no different than the squanderers and savers in the general populace.

Learn more about the college and student loan industry, and you begin to be really sick at the schemes intended to put students in ridiculous amounts of unforgivable (even under bankruptcy) debt, and keep as many as possible near or at default. But now with a discounted system, students at least have some gap between the deathly workhouses of indebted indentured servitude. And a consumer-rights-driven movement of demand would engender a mentality of paranoia for corrupt corporate conniving, so perhaps there’s less harm of fraud.

Only the school is losing some money, as the initial discounters. But they’ve shown they prefer quantity of low-income students to anything else, and as any student of economic history may point out, while Henry Ford was not the nicest person, his stroke of brilliance was to pay his auto workers more all over the country, effectively building a new middle class with an infusion of cash so that not merely the stingy upper .1% would be prospective customers.
The only ones who would ‘lose’ would be the massively wealthy and powerful loan companies, who have tripled their profits despite the economic crash and downturn. The risky loans, the odds and interest growing larger by default, and captive market require these greed machines to drive prices up into an untenable bubble. Which is why you can be sure it doesn’t happen.
But as with many industries, technology, information, and interconnectedness obliterate the vacuum, granting the consumer more choice, better deals, flexibility, and direct service and products from their vendor. And though the constant interstitial intervention of the government will remain, newer online markets of education and lower university operating costs may eventually see the end of the financial middlemen.

Protesting is great. But historically, boycotts work better than protest alone. Either way, something’s gotta give.