Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why can't a woman become a social worker without it leading to financial ruin?

Gina Moss, a single mother, from Baltimore decided to go to college in the hopes of carving out a better life for herself and her daughter. Ms. Moss, however, worried about the cost of going to school. But then she was offered a package from a school in Ohio that she simply couldn't turn down. This entailed taking out about $7,000 a year in loans in order to become a social worker. But there were other costs  - books, living expenses, etc. - so when Ms. Moss graduated, she told the reporter in this interview about the student loan debt crisis, that she ended up owing around $50,000. As a result of accrued interest, Ms. Moss now owes well over $70,000. That number continues to grow minute by minute, day by day, month by month. She is not alone . . .

She cannot find a job in her field. She has no support from the man who is the father of her child. Why? Ms. Moss was sexually assaulted in school. A traumatic experience that no person ought to face. But violence like this is unfortunately all too common. After the assault, Ms. Moss learned that she was pregnant. She made the decision to keep her child.

At one point the reporter asked, "why didn't you think about getting a degree that would allow you to earn more money?"

Ms. Moss replied, "at the time I didn't think about. I didn't think about getting an MBA or a law degree . . ."

While I appreciate this report overall, I think that question was a poor one. This woman wanted to become a social worker, because she likes to help people. As a result of wanting to help people, and not earning an MBA or a law degree, Ms. Moss is now homeless. Why? She took out FFELP loans. These loans were in collection, and Ms. Moss was advised by this lender's collection department to pay money on her loan instead of on her rent. Since I abide by the belief that in order to truly understand a person's life and struggles, you must walk in that person's shoes first, I will not judge her for the decision she made. I can only imagine the critics and their loud, taunting voices on here, shouting things like: "Well, she should have known better!" or "Why would she have taken such stupid advice. It's her own fault!"

Instead of standing afar and casting a cruel judging eye upon this particular woman, I want to emphasize that her struggle is a collective one. Go to the message boards affixed to all these stories about student lending issues - you will find thousands and thousands of stories like Gina Moss's! She is NOT alone. But yet we all feel very alone, don't we? We - the new indentured educated class - have been effectively silenced by a corrupted, bureaucratized system and now our bourgeois spaces serve as our prisons. These enclosed spaces were once, for the educated bourgeoisie - safe havens, but not anymore. Not for this new indentured educated class.

So, we may have access to internet, own a nice television (Ms. Moss, mind you, does not even have a T.V nor does she have a home), but we are enslaved by the student lending industry (I also see the DOE as culpable).

I ask Mr. Obama: are we REALLY engaged citizens? What sort of change are you offering your educated middle-class, Mr. President?

If Mr. Obama had not written that wonderful memoir about his father, HE and HIS WIFE would still have student loan debt. THE president of THE United States of America would still owe debt had it not been for that marvelous book. Now, I ask all of you, even the critics, doesn't that seem ABSURD?

At least glaneurs could glean without the fear of accruing interest from the things they collected! What sort of prison have we created for our own class?


forgiveness? said...

Are one (or more) of the items below the core of your argument?

a)School (college) should be free
b)Tuition should be based on earning potential of the degree, not the cost of delivering the degree
c)Loans should be interest-free

I think no one disagrees that fraud is certainly unacceptable, just as with any type of loan. But outside of literally reducing or eliminating the tuition costs, what method other than a (legit) loan is going to pay for the degree? What alternatives should Ms. Moss or others have utilized? Just trying to understand the argument here as I didn't really see it presented in the post.

Also I don't know that the Obama's situations as any more or less of a concern or representative simply because he is President.

Rob Applebaum said...


I do not accept the premise of your question. Nothing in life is free and to suggest that I think that education should or even could be made "free" would be, at best, naive. I do, however, believe that governmental spending priorities should be re-evaluated so that our tax dollars are spent wisely and not frivolously. Throwing trillions of dollars at the banks and other institutions responsible for the current economic mess is not wise and quite frivolous. For a fraction of the cost, we could free up the student loan debt obligations of millions of hard-working, middle class Americans who are the backbone of our economy. Freeing up this debt would unleash a new era of freedom, prosperity, entrepreneurship and innovation. I am in favor of letting the educated poor use their educations for the betterment of society. A well-educated citizenry is essential to our prosperity as a nation but, so long as so many of our educated citezens are shackled by such exorbitant, intractable debt, they are unable to buy homes, cars, make investments, start small businesses or any other economically stimulative behavior that would allow them to reach for the American Dream. As for the choices that were available to Ms. Moss - that's exactly the point. Her choice was to either borrow heavily for her education, or not receive an education at all. To the extent that we've passed the onus of the costs of higher education onto the students, we're ultimately going to wind up in a situation where none but the rich could afford to obtain an education and, thereafter, lead a debt-free life. Recent studies have shown that educational costs have risen faster than health care costs - at more than twice the rate of inflation. As a result, more and more students have to borrow more and more money just to obtain an education that no longer has the same value it once did.

woeland said...


I think Mr. Applebaum pretty much covered things, and I wouldn't want to make assumptions about Ms. Johannsen's intentions, but I will address what I believe are some important issues not explicitly stated in the post, but which are surely some of the underlying motivations behind the student loan reform/forgiveness movement.

For the past few decades the cost of education has skyrocketed (see Mr. Applebaum's point above with regard to health care) while wages have remained flat (and possibly declined, relative to inflation; I don't recall the most recent numbers, but I know this was true several years ago). That means that the people who need the benefits of a college degree the most are increasingly denied access to education...unless they're willing to borrow. All my life I was told that an education is priceless, and that over the course of their lifetimes people with college degrees earn, on average, $1 million more than those without. Surely a $50-100k investment is worth that kind of return! Well, someone else was paying attention to those statistics, too, and they used an historic relaxation of lending oversight and some favorable political connections to get as big a piece of the pie as they could. And while I'm not naive enough to believe in the possibility of universal free education (though I consider it a noble ideal), I find it immoral and disturbing that a massive, private, for-profit industry has sprouted up around what should otherwise be a non-profit endeavor. But really, there is a profit in educating people, it's just harder to measure in dollars and cents. But Mr. Applebaum touches on it above when he says that a "well-educated citizenry is essential to our prosperity as a nation" - and for me, that prosperity goes beyond finances. It's also about the health of our society and culture, our quality of life, crime statistics, teen pregnancy rates, illicit drug use, etc. I'm not religious, but I'll make recourse to the Bible for a second here, because Jesus was such a cool dude: to me, this is the equivalent of moneylenders in the temple. For a long time, the acadamy WAS a temple, and the student loan industry has sullied it. If you'll indulge me, again, to reference a similarly lofty personage, this one from pop culture, Sallie Mae is little more than a legitimized, corporatized Paulie Walnuts, declaiming indignantly to its bureaucratic Tony Sopranos: "They got theirs, I want mine."

When such vile characters are not only wolfing down their (sizable) piece of the pie but also colluding with the baker to decide who gets any of it, we're in a pretty tough spot. Should education be free? Yes, but it can't be. But that doesn't mean that a private industry should decide who has access to it. Tuiition should be lower for all people seeking degrees, from accounting majors, to music majors, to aspiring doctors and historians - all have something to contribute, and none should pay more than the other. But neither should they pay with their soul or their freedom. A particularly incisive argument from the student loan forgiveness movement, to me, concerns how we reward behavior. Do we reward dangerous, irresponsible behavior by bailing the very people/institutions that caused our problems in the first place, or do we tell hard-working middle-class folks that their sacrifices and responsible attempts to better themselves (and, by extension their society/country/world) will pay off? I vote for the latter. And I think that by restructuring how we reward people who want to improve themselves through education, we can lower the cost of education for everyone.

Finally (enough already, I know), I wouldn't say that loans should necessarily be interest-free, but they should certainly be at a very low rate, and the lenders that make them shouldn't be rewarded when people can't pay (which is what the current system does). If we're not going to let people discharge a student loan in bankruptcy, then we should at least say, more or less, "pay what you can, when you can."

woeland said...

@forgivness? (cont'd)

I realize my first post was a bit ramble-y, but the corruption, dirty tricks, and back-room deals that made this situation possible in the first place are complicated and multi-faceted. The various movements to clean up the mess are responding to a whole host of problems. Hopefully I managed to emphasize a few of the more serious ones.