Saturday, May 29, 2010

Quick Post: First Editorial on Shared Sacrifice - Please Listen And Spread The Word! We're On The Radio

Thanks again to Shared Sacrifice for asking me to come on board and share my research, writing, and advocacy work on the student lending crisis. I encourage all of you to listen to my first podcast and spread that word. We - the indentured educated class - are on radio now! (Also, Matt Stannard's talk about the Teabaggers is well worth listening to . . . it's after my editorial).

Also, the White House letter writing campaign went exceedingly well. I am grateful to those of you who continue to volunteer and help others - many of you came out to join this second letter writing campaign, and I am greatly appreciative for the high turnout. Moreover, I am thinking of new goals, and hope that you will provide me with feedback and suggestions on how we can raise awareness about this crisis and therefore recruit more people to get involved.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Steve Eisman Blasts For-Profits, Arguing "Subprime Goes To College"

As a result of a lot of reading and research on this topic, I've mentioned the same thing, i.e., that the subprime mess looks pretty much the same when it comes to the student lending industry. In fact, I made a point to discuss the way in which Deutsche Bank and others have invested in student loans. I think it's all well and good that Steve Eisman is turning his attention to for-profit schools and blasting them for carrying out the same sort of unscrupulous activities as those  did on Wall Street. (Mr. Eisman, incidentally, was chronicled by author Michael Lewis in the Big Short for his open criticism of the subprime gambling on Wall St). Indeed, this problem needs to be exposed. However, I find this sole focus on the for-profits to be disconcerting for one important reason. It's great that Mr. Eisman has noted, as I have countless times (along with other student loan advocates) that we're on the "cusp of a social disaster." I would actually disagree with Mr. Eisman and say we're not on the cusp, we're there. It is noteworthy that he compares this situation to those who lost their homes. Even worse, as most of my readers know, student loan debtors can't flee from their debts (in some cases it follows you to the grave). If we can't make education affordable, as I've said countless times, we can say hello to becoming a Third World Country. This crisis is problem that I think needs to be addressed and needs to be solved immediately. I write that with different and deeper views on education as a result of the time I am spending here in South Korea as an instructor. But I digress. My biggest concern is this: it's not just the for-profits who should be scrutinized. The entire system is a disaster, and that means that all universities and colleges should be forced to reconsider the way in which they are allowed to increase tuition whenever they so choose.

On another note, I've referred to us for a long time as the indentured educated class, and it turns out . . . student loan-backed securities are labeled as indenture instruments. That's right! Now, if that doens't make your stomach turn as an indentured educated citizen, I don't know what does . . . Yikes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The son who wants to help the struggling family (In your own words: Reflections on Student Loan Debt - Part III)

In my first two installments of a series entitled, "Reflections on Student Loan Debt," - (see here and here) - I  encouraged you, indentured educated citizens, to share your own stories about either being or not being in denial about that debt you've amassed as a result of going to school. Many of you have been willing to share your testimonials, and I think it's critical to share those personal tales about what it's like to be in the depths of this type of debt. One reader recently submitted her story, and in it she wrote:

"My husband has owned and operated a small business for nearly 25 years. As he was beginning to come out of debt, the economy crashed. He has been able to survive by clinging to the life of the business by the tips of his nails. I decided to get my master’s degree with the hope of getting a higher paying job that would allow us to make it through the final push of his plan (he is 53, had originally intended on going into semi-retirement at the age of 50, now who knows).

I graduated in December of ’09 with my master’s degree and have yet to find a job in my field. I’ve spent the equivalent of a full-time job searching, sending resumes, and engaging in follow-up[s], only to make it several times to the last round and lose out to someone else. We have been living sparsely, borrowing money from each other when we get it to make ends meet. Our son turned 11 on May 12[th] and asked me what he should do with his birthday money. I told him he should save it but instead, he asked how he could be contribute to the family budget—he feels compelled to 'put it to the best possible use.'

My student loans are out of control. Between undergrad and grad school, the loans have amassed exponentially. I did pay on them regularly in between undergrad and grad, but with the state of the economy (I worked in fine dining for over 20 years in a tourist area, which of course, was one of the first areas to drop off when the economy went bad), I am terrified to assess and evaluate [the] payment[s] of my new loan situation. If I end up getting a job starting at $30,000 a year, that would be the answer to our financial prayers. However, at this point, how much of that is going to go toward student loans now? We are barely hanging on as it is……I am doing freelance writing to help supplement the grocery budget, which I can do from home since we decided to use one vehicle and share it. (And in rural Ohio, trust me, that is a sacrifice.) We pay cash for our medical care and medication, have pared our budget to the core, and weigh every penny we spend against the need for the product/service. 

I fear, however, that adding student loan payments into an already frayed budget will push us over the edge. And this is IF I can find a job! If not, I can defer payment a while, but that is just delaying the inevitable. So what’s the solution? Why, get my PhD, naturally! I know of a friend who is working on his PhD on and off in order to put off paying on his student loans, and now I am considering the exact same thing. Which only makes the end result worse—higher loans. But desperate times, desperate measures, and all that jazz…………Wish me luck, and good luck to everyone else who is facing student loan debt right now."

Eternal Recurrence? These boys helped their family out during the previous Great Depression. And the same goes for the Great Depression Deux . . .

Monday, May 24, 2010

ANNOUNCEMENT: The letters for the second letter writing campaign are rolling in!

[I am interrupting my series on denial to make this announcement. Also, I am receiving a lot of testimonials about being in denial, and those will be posted shortly, too.]

Volunteers! Please don't forget that today - May 24th - is the day when you send the second letter to the White House. Thanks again for your participation in this political action. It means a lot to me and it's important for all indentured educated citizens. It's good civic duty, is it not?

Let's express some gratitude today! Thanks to all the volunteers. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reflections on Denial (Part II)

[This is the second post in a series of several installments. Moreover, if you're interested in sharing your story of what's it likes to either be, or not be, in denial about having student loans, please contact me (, and I'll include your own reflections on the subject. Anonymity is highly valued here, so I wouldn't use your name, if that's what you request. In addition, the names and identities of the people mentioned in these blogs have been changed in order to protect their privacy.]

In my previous piece in this series on denial vis-a-vis the student lending crisis, Mr. X, a student loan debtor, asked me: "How many people [with whom you interact and are part of the indentured educated class] are in denial about the total amount of debt they owe?

And, as previously stated, that question is an excellent one.

I said to Mr. X, "Well, I think it depends on their level of awareness about the student lending crisis." For instance, many of those who have been reading me for over a year now, and who are or have been actively volunteering their time to help the cause (the letter writing campaigns to the White House are just one of many examples -see here and here and here) have very different attitudes toward their debt than those who have recently discovered this movement and our efforts.

"But how's it different?" Mr. X inquired.

"Well, I think those who have volunteered and been reading my work are pretty much acknowledged their financial servitude."

I continued, "Furthermore, those who are in this state are on a continuum of sorts, that's to say, they range from severe or chronic denial to milder forms of denial. Of course, I imagine that a person fluctuates on this continuum. There may be some days or weeks in which the debtor is on the severe end, and then will suddenly shift to minor feelings about his or her debt. In contrast to fluctuations about one's debt, I think it's safe to assume that most remain 'stuck' at one end (the bad one), and that can lead to serious bouts of depression and so forth."

After these points, Mr. X began to lament his own student loan debt.

As many of you are aware, I am always happy, no eager, to chat with student loan debtors via Facebook. There is also a strong group of State Support Leaders who are also more than happy to be of support on the group I created entitled, "The Support Group for the Indentured Educated Class." 

Moreover, my Facebook page is dedicated entirely to my work and research on the student lending crisis. In any event, that's where these sorts of conversations most often take place. (I am also inclined to speak to debtors by phone on occasion, especially if they make an appeal to touch base in that way. I don't mind doing that either. I think it's important that indentured educated citizens know they're not alone in their struggles, and that they can reach out to me in any way they so choose).

There's another noteworthy debtor who is in denial like Mr. X. Let's call this individual Ms. Y. Like Mr. X, Ms. Y is highly intelligent. In addition, Ms. Y has an excellent job in the government sector, and is extremely well-spoken. Unlike Mr. X, Ms. Y has been following my work at Education Matters closely - at least that seems apparent to me, based upon our conversations via Facebook. Indeed, she seems to have clearly taken the time to do her own research on student loan reform and the student lending crisis. In fact, if it weren't such a risk to her career, she'd be an active volunteer with the work I'm doing. Indeed, I know Ms. Y would make an outstanding State Support Leader, but I understand why that can't come to fruition. (I'm always, keep in mind, looking for volunteers!)

In any event, Ms. Y is holding out far too much hope that once the bankruptcy bill is passed, i.e., the one that would once again allow for student loans to be included in bankruptcy, that things will be fine for her. She insists, "things won't just be fine. . . . my financial problems will be solved." That's not verbatim, but Ms. Y has expressed this sort of sentiment on countless occasions.

I also don't think it's fair to be absolutely harsh when conversing with my readers, and that's not because I think they should somehow be shielded from the "brutal" truth. Rather, I can - at times - be too negative about the student lending crisis. That's thanks to a lot of research and digging, as well as being privy to information that most of my readers are not. In addition, when it comes to my conversations with Ms. Y, I'm probably the harshest. Why is that the case? Ms. Y has a high level of tolerance for bad news and analysis, and she seems to handle these things well.

So, when she brings up the bankruptcy bill, I tell her that it hasn't even passed yet, and I warn her to be aware that the lenders are busily informing this legislation. It's the same way Wall St. money, as this recent article discusses, is influencing this putatively revolutionary finance reform bill. Although I've been in touch with senators' offices - viz. Sen. Brown's and Sen. Harkin's - those individuals and others are bombarded by an army of people who work for the lenders' interests. That's one of the reasons why I'm so frustrated. After all, I write this piece and carry out my advocacy work from Korea! Many of of my readers - I'm grateful for the words of support - have asked me, "why the hell hasn't a Congressperson or an organization for student borrowers hired you to work for them yet?"

Since I respect the hell out of my readers (they are, after all, smart, educated, and more than just reasonably informed politically-speaking), that sort of support and belief in my advocacy work means a lot to me. It is my plan that I will be able to establish a non-profit of my own to help the indentured educated class. But I digress. Ms. Y's denial continues to bother me. 

To be continued . . . 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reflections on Denial

[This post is the first in a series of several installments. Moreover, if you're interested in sharing your story of what's it likes to either be, or not be, in denial about having student loans, please contact me (, and I'll include your own reflections on the subject. Anonymity is highly valued here, so I wouldn't use your name, if that's what you request.]

Denial has a way of singing to people, especially if they are addicts. Even when addicts know that they are not supposed to take that first step in abusing whatever it is that makes them feel better, that there will be consequences, they still do it anyway and forget about everything else. If addicts do not have support, these addictions can destroy them. Even worse, those who have sought the path to recovery oftentimes find themselves lured back to that which is most lethal for them, and it's Denial, that lurking "pal," who is always there to assist in these setbacks. Of course, one doesn't have to be an addict to understand the power of Denial, especially when it comes to the student lending crisis and student loan debt. Indeed, in this case, denial is two-fold. First, let's talk about the borrowers.

As a result of being in touch with hundreds upon hundreds of indentured educated citizens, I encounter people who express an array of emotions and attitudes about:

(a) their own student loan debt
(b) the student lending crisis
(c) the lack of Government attention to the crisis
(d) etc., etc., etc.

Recently, I had a conversation with a highly educated social worker. Let's call him Mr. X. Mr. X is highly committed to his clientele. Unfortunately, he is not providing as much care to patients as he had prior to the Great Recession. In fact, Mr. X's clients have dropped by 50%. In any event, we had an interesting conversation about denial (I am indebted to Mr. X, in fact, for inspiring these installments).

Mr. X asked me the following question: "How many people [with whom you interact and are part of the indentured educated class] are in denial about the total amount of debt they owe?"

This question is not just a good one, but a superb one. In fact, it's kept me up for over a week and - as I said above - inspired me to write these pieces. The question deserved such consideration that I turned to writing a full essay about it by pen. (I can't remember the last time I penned an essay. Sure, I've taken lengthy notes in archives, for long research papers, etc., etc., but I have no memory of when I penned an essay of this length). And, so, I sifted through my thoughts and memories of all the confessions I've read from student loan debtors. Of course, I recall the ones who struck me so deeply that my only response was to cry. Indeed, so many were and are raw, that is, they tell me the plain and painful facts about their circumstances, how those closest to them are suffering (I know a few divorces on the way, and the causes of those fractured marriages are as a result of student loan debt-related issues), all of it because they are part of the indentured educated class.

How did I respond to Mr. X's excellent question? Just how many indentured educated citizens are in denial?

My answer(s) coming up next . . . 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Student Loan Finance, Industry Leaders Head to iiBIG's Student Loans D.C. Forum

When I read about these upcoming meetings, it makes me more than a bit frustrated that I am not in D.C. Rest assured, if I were there, I'd be attending this forum incognito. In case you're wondering, I wouldn't be some heckler. However, I am confident I'd learn a great deal about the age-old and incestuous relationship that the DoE has with student lenders. After all, the Dept. did give birth to these destructive and abusive lending children. Did they know how brutal they would become when they grew up, and when the lending cousins came along, realizing how much money was to be made off of 18-year-olds. 

So, State Support Leaders, if you are in the area and have the time, I implore you to attend this Forum. And now I wish I could become a fly and be hanging out on a wall at this event. 

Note to all the lovely indentured educated citizens: I urge you to read the link in its entirety. It sheds a lot of light on how money is to be made off your hard earned degrees. 


 Could I get away with it? Would my disguise work?


Friday, May 7, 2010

Big Gaffe By Sec. Arne Duncan or Harris Miller (the For-Profit Lobbyist in DC) on Frontline's "College Inc" with Martin Smith? I think so . . . why ain't nobody else talkin' about it?

In a recent story on Frontline entitled, "College Inc.," correspondent Martin Smith interviews for-profit ilk (particularly a so-called "Christian" named Michael Clifford) about their soaring profits and how great their schools are for populations who previously had no access to such great and . . . uh (ahem) PHONY and WORTHLESS paper degrees. (Blame a Ph.D. from Cambridge for unleashing this "market" in the U.S. of for-profits, who was none other than the founder of the highly hailed and fully federally funded Universities of Phoenix. Conveniently located at every highway stop every 20 minutes. But I digress). 

Moreover, Sec. Arne Duncan was interviewed by Mr. Smith in a few segments.  Of course, Frontline showed some students who were deeply in debt with basically worthless degrees to show for it, after which Frontline confronted the proprietaries' lobbyist, Harris Miller.  Miller immediately said that if the allegations were true, the Department could cancel the debt.  Frontline then immediately switched to Sec. Arne Duncan, who seemed totally unfamiliar with his own powers, and denied that he could do anything about it. Yikes! Waa? Is he not aware of what he could be doing for students? Because if he were, I am pretty sure he'd be a huge hero, as would his boss, Pres. Obama.

So, was the gaffe that of Harris Miller's, for suggesting that taxpayers should bear the burden of unscrupulous schools and lenders? Yeah, that's a shameful position, but I am to believe that Miller is right in terms of the law, i.e. the Secretary has powers to act. If I were the Secretary, you better believe I'd be stripping these schools of their accreditation, so that taxpayers weren't subsidizing for-profit ventures.

Here's a quick list that the Sec., and his staffers with whom I've been in touch, may benefit from reading:

1) The Secretary can discipline schools, lenders, guaranty agencies, and even discharge loans in response to certain situations. 

2) If the Secretary does not think current regulations are adequate, he can issue emergency regulations to protect consumers.  

Since Sec. Duncan admitted to needing to do better, here are some questions I have for him: what has he done in his year in office?  How many schools, lenders, guaranty agencies has he disciplined in any way?  Has he even explored the possibility of canceling borrowers' debts for school or lender fraud?  

If he has done any of this, it's news to me. Trust me, if it's been done, I'd be the first to let ya'll know and praise Sec. Duncan! 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

In a free market world, anyone is game - even the most vulnerable

I am pleased to see that reporters are going after for-profit schools like the U. of Phoenix. It is disgusting that the U.S. has allowed this sort of thing to, for lack of a better term, flourish as a result of Pres. Obama's higher education plans, among other things.

When it comes to the sordid tales of how for-profit schools recruit, there's another telling piece of evidence in this recent article entitled, "The Homeless at College." Even worse, the infamous name of Goldman Sachs appears. As far as I am concerned, when that name comes up, you know something is going to be bad. Moreover, and thanks to Bush's relaxing of regulatory rules on online classes, the reporter writes, " [this particular sector of the] industry is now fully mainstream. Goldman Sachs (GS) owns 38% of the for-profit Education Management Corp. in Pittsburgh, which has 136,000 students in programs ranging from fashion to culinary arts, and former President Bill Clinton took a position as honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities, owned by Baltimore-based Laureate Education. Investors are flocking to the industry, drawn by the stability of government funding and the profit potential of online classes [my emphasis]. But some of the unsavory practices that spurred Congress to act are springing back to life, with a new wrinkle or two." (It's nice to see President Clinton's name there, too. Oh, and as I recall, he's been defending Goldman. Indeed, it's all the more "shocking" when you think about his future son-in-law who, if memory serves me, works for that despicable outfit).

On another financial front, Sallie Mae recently struck a deal with Goldman Sachs. That's right. Sallie Mae raised $1.5 billion for private loans, all of which is being financed by Goldman. [Whack! Take that regulatory reform.]

All the while, people raise hell about taking "personal responsibility" for pursuing higher education. What about the concept of corporate responsibility? Do these critics ever step back and think about that? From the posts I read and the nasty emails I receive, I'd say they don't.

The focus shouldn't be solely on for-profits and their relationship to the student lending industry. It is my view, that they are easy targets. While I think this form of higher education is enormously problematic, they are not the only ones who are responsible for the student lending crisis. Why aren't we going after the colleges and universities, too? Aren't they culpable for the increased cost of tuition, too?

If the Obama Administration truly values higher education and accessibility to it, they need to take a hard look at the financing behind it. Why is it the individual is burdened with financing higher education? Why do we accept that tuition will just continue to sky-rocket (even in a deflationary economy)? Why can't we come up with some strategies to help those who are being taken advantage of (I'm using that term broadly too)? Do we not see a connection here between the financial sector and the student lending industry? I'd say it's pretty clear how they're intertwined, and if it's a free market, well, . . . we've seen in other sectors what that leads to . . . it ain't good for U.S. citizens, but I guess who gives a damned? We stopped being "citizens" and instead have become consumers of shitty products, and that includes higher education "products." If we can't get our act together when it comes to financing higher education, I see a bleak future, one that will send the U.S. to the lowest of levels in performance on the global stage.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Seeking More Testimonials

My regular readers are aware that I am collecting testimonials for a book about the student lending crisis - it's a tale about how the best and brightest in the U.S. have been s$%*#ed by the student lending industry and been turned into indentured educated citizens. This industry, as a result, has turned college into a racket (they ain't no better than a bunch o' loan sharks - the only difference between these folks and other loan sharks? Their activity has been legalized). Moreover, I am asking people (again) to share there stories here on Education Matters. So, if you are interested in being featured on Education Matters, please let me know via email ( I am particularly interested in hearing from people who are parents and either (a) trying to help their kids pay off their loans or (b) have co-signed on student loans and struggling to make ends meet as a result. In addition, I am interested in hearing from professors, attorneys, and doctors. Previous testimonials have been anonymous (you can either choose to go by your first name or just an initial - your choice).

On that note, I wish to thank those who have been brave and already shared their tales here - I know that I am not the only one who appreciates your stories and honesty. Your testimonials help others overcome their shame and talk frankly about their own struggles as an indentured educated citizen.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Raising The Issue On Blog Talk Radio - Next Up? PodCasts on Shared Sacrifice

I am always seeking new ways to raise further awareness about the student lending crisis. It is with great pride that I have relationships with key offices on the Hill and elsewhere. Moreover, I am proud to be an affiliated partner of SponsorChange.Org (if you haven't watched Raymar Hampshire talk about his organization's idea yet, I encourage you to check out the follow clip here).

So, what's next? What's new?

I am happy to announce that I will be recording podcasts for Shared Sacrifice each week.

I want to thank them, and especially Matt Stannard, for their continued interest in my work on the student lending crisis. So . . . stay tuned for upcoming recordings from me!