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“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Making Student Loans Dependent on Ability to Repay – What a Novel Concept

In my last post on this subject, I discussed the rise of for-profit schools and other non-traditional sources of education which can serve as a way to expand educational opportunities at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

In a blow to private, for-profit schools, a federal district judge in Washington ruled on June 23rd that the U.S. Department of Education can determine if students attending for-profit colleges are eligible for financial aid based on graduates’ ability to pay off their school debt. The focus on earnings as an outcome of education is grounded in the belief that a student should be fiscally better after the program than before entering it. What a novel concept.

The crux of the decision was that for-profit schools could participate in federal aid programs only if they could prove that a certain number of their students were engaged in “gainful employment” after leaving the program. U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled that the phrase “gainful employment” was ambiguous and that the department “reached the sensible conclusion that it should test the profitability of students’ employment by asking whether students earn enough to pay their bills.” He went on to say that: “student loans allow a student to defer the cost of education to a later time. As such, student loans requiring repayment directly impact the disposable income of students after leaving the program.” You can’t put anything past ol’ Judge Bates.

From a recent note in the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems:

“For-profit institutions respond to market forces in higher education. Community colleges and non-profit public and private post-secondary institutions cannot meet the current demand for higher education in the United States…Supporters of for-profit colleges argue that these schools provide traditionally underserved populations with access to higher education, while critics contend that for-profit institutions target the most vulnerable populations subjecting them to unacceptable degrees of market volatility and risk.”

Those same critics are probably the same people that Charles Cooke referred to in his book “The Convervatarian Manifesto”, when he says:

“We have bought heavily into an educational model that is extraordinarily rigid, worshipping at the altar of official credentials to the extent that we have begun to ascribe class values to educational attainments and to determine people’s future opportunities on the basis of whether or not they are in possession of the “correct” pieces of paper.”

I’m sure those same critics are much more sanguine about those who’ve run up over a trillion dollars in debt to get degrees in gender studies or whatever may be the current major du jour. Perhaps we should apply the rationale in the above case to our public univesities, as well. We’d all be better off.

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  1. Here’s a common sense solution: if a borrower defaults on a loan, repossess the merchandise.
    If a student decides after having purchased the education that it is a faulty product, allow the alternative of returning the merchandise.
    Strip the student of all credits and credentials and cancel the loan. If the student is ever shown in the future to have falsified job application by claiming a (rescinded) educational credential, reinstate the debt with accrued interest and enable fast track collection process.

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