Nevertheless, I write this post with the a growing sense of anxiety. Perhaps it's because I am leaving the country for a new job in less than a week (I have my visa interview tomorrow at the Korean Consulate). But on second thought, that's not the case. Not in the least. I am worrying that the White House is being told to avoid those of us who are drowning in debt. "Focus on the prospective students," they're saying (i.e., the college and universities) over and over again. I bet there are some in the White House who are also discussing that so-called "moral hazard" issue with student debtors. Here's why I think they're being fed these lines about prospective students and looking toward the future:
(a) Most of the call was about increasing Pell Grants, expanding programs for those on their way to college, etc., etc. That's fine. I am all for helping incoming college students and graduate students. That's not my issue. At least not entirely.
(b) There was talk about helping recent graduates and expanding IBR. Again, that's good. I praise them for their concern and their efforts to really expand this program.
BUT . . . it is all too clear who's influencing their decisions. It's not just the lenders. It's the colleges and the universities and their armies of lobbyists. Every single initiative was about funneling money through these entities. That means these institutions have total control over where and to whom the money goes. Think of it like Tony Soprano and his soldiers. The college and universities are Tony Soprano. The lobbyists are his soldiers. Then there's the rest of us, and we have no say in where the money goes or how it's spent. We just hope we're lucky enough to win Tony's favor and receive some scraps (and we definitely don't want his soldiers breakin' our knee caps - that's where the lenders come into the picture!).
The question I asked and the answers I received confirm my hunch. Here's how that went:
CCJ: At least 1 in 3 loans are in default . . . We can't forget that the student lending crisis is an inter-generational problem. So, are there any plans to help defaulters?
Ms. Macguire: IBR is directed at helping those from [inaudible remarks] . . . we're trying to help those avoid going into default.
CCJ: But what about those who are already in default?
Mr. Rodriguez: There is not a particular proposal in place . . . there is no plan to help those in default. We're talking about initiatives to help students in the future . . .
CCJ: Thank you for that, but you're leaving out a lot of people . . .
So, that's where they stand apparently. But that leaves me wondering why Mr. Obama said these inspiring things in his State of the Union Address.
For starters, he said: "[I]n the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. And it's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs."
Bravo, Mr. President! You're absolutely right. But to whom is he speaking? To the current indentured educated class? Or to those who are prospective students? Because from the sounds of it, and based upon actual answers from Mr. Rodriguez, who serves in the White House Domestic Policy Council as Special Assistant to President Obama for Education, I can only conclude at this juncture that President Obama was referring to those future students. That's when everything, apparently, will be "so much" better. Ahem.
It's baffling to think that they're only concerned about prospective students. It contradicts a poignant question and concluding points that President Obama discussed when speaking of other countries and playing some sort of waiting game.
Here's what he said:
"From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.
Indeed, Mr. President and Mr. Rodriguez, how long should we - the indentured educated class - have to wait? Are we supposed to put our future on hold? If that's the case, and so it seems now, this country is headed for even darker times. That's a shame, because we have you, Mr. President, and (overall) a stellar team of people in the White House who could act boldly, who could stand up to the student lending industry AND to the colleges and universities, and radically change the way higher education is financed.
We're sending Mr. Rodriguez, Sec. Arne Duncan, and Deputy Under Secretary Robert Shireman letters of appeal - we're asking you to open up a dialogue with student loan debtors. We deserve a chance at a table too.