Sunday, August 30, 2009

Marjorie Dillon - Is there more to her story?

Tim Grant of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote a recent piece entitled, "Student loans put college graduate into deep financial hole." It's about a young woman named Marjorie Dillon from Coraopolis, PA. While a few blogs have been somewhat sympathetic toward Ms. Dillon, the story has been recycled by others in hideous ways. I won't even bother providing links, because the recounting of this woman and her problems (whether or not she made "bad" decisions) is beyond vicious at certain sites and the posters are, in my mind, a bunch of brutish sewer dwellers.

Regardless of Ms. Dillon's decisions, I am sympathetic. I also don't think this story adds up, and it's my feeling that the borrower is trying to be blamed instead of other individuals. I wrote an email to Mr. Grant below raising my concerns and questions about the holes I found in this particular article.

My email to Mr. Grant, which was subsequently mailed to Congressman Mike Doyle and President Lauren Asher at the Institute for College Access & Success:

Dear Mr. Grant:

My name is Ms. C. Cryn Johannsen, and I am the promotional writer and marketer for Robert Applebaum's Forgive Student Loan Movement.

I read you article about Marjorie Dillon with great interest ( Based upon some of the things you wrote, I had a few questions that I'd like to ask you, and perhaps you'd be interested in seeking answers from the appropriate individuals at Robert Morris University.

At one point you state that
"Ms. Dillon's story also shows the consequences of a lack of financial planning, missing federal aid application deadlines and not meeting academic requirements for federal programs."

The article continues, "[i]n this case, the student frequently came into the financial aid office after school had begun and in some cases on the date bills were due and asked what her financing options were," said Mike Frantz, vice president at Robert Morris.

However, I'm suggesting that there might be a chance that the university may be responsible and not the student. The deadline for the FAFSA would not be at the beginning of the school year, but at the end of it. Plus, she may have been eligible for Stafford loans before she got into academic trouble. Did anyone tell her that she may have been eligible for Stafford loans?

It seems safe to assume that she she got herself out of academic trouble. She did, after all, graduate. Therefore lack of satisfactory academic progress may not be a sufficient reason to deny her Stafford loans.

Granted, perhaps she should take the measures the newspapers' expert provides, but the first questions ought to be related to whether she was incorrectly advised about her eligibility for Stafford loans or other forms of aid under the FAFSA.

Moreover, the Sallie Mae private loan is not limited to tuition and fees, but Cost of Attendance minus aid received. This allows for living expenses whether your a campus resident or not.

I have a hunch that someone is trying to paint the borrower as irresponsible for taking out loans beyond tuition and fees.

Also, do you know if Ms. Dillon has contacted Congressman Mike Doyle about her situation? It is my understanding that he has an office in Coraopolis, correct?. I've actually sent him this email at his website here -

There are gaps in this story, so I'm just seeking clarification.

Thanks for your help and time.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Ms. C. Cryn Johannsen
Promotional Writer and Marketer, Robert Applebaum's Forgive Student Loan Debt Movement

Incidentally, I have already reached out to Ms. Dillon and hope to speak to her some time today or early next week. 


Dat said...

Her lifestyle choices very likely explain all of her present problems... Did she party? The media doesn't dare ask, nor question her having a baby in poverty. Where is the father now?

For almost a year after college, I worked at a depressing part-time job for just $8 an hour (no tips!) and my degree is a BS in bioscience.

It is very discouraging sometimes. The colleges should tell you that - not just show glossy broschures about how great life is with a degree.

Cryn Johannsen said...

Dat - to be blunt, you are wrong. Her lifestyle choices are not the sole cause of her present problems. I am investigating the way the financial aid office at Ms. Dillon's university is structured, and finding out things that may be quite disturbing. It is my hunch that Ms. Dillon was a victim of some very bad consulting practices in which this school was, and perhaps is presently, involved.

Of course, I could be wrong, but once I find out, I'll confirm.

Her lifestyle habits as a college student are irrelevant, and in my opinion the reporter painted her in an awful light.

I also have no idea why you asked about the father? I hope you're not implying that Ms. Dillon is to blame for being a single mother. That would be highly problematic.

I do not jump to conclusions about this person's life.

I find it frustrating that you received a degree in bioscience and found yourself working for only $8/hr. That's awful!

I've been there myself. After I graduated from the University of Chicago, I couldn't find a job. Everyone told me, "you're over-educated and under-qualified." Great! How encouraging, right?

So, I got a job as a waitress at a French bistro. I earned a whopping $2.75 + tips.

It is very discouraging, Dat. I feel for you. That's why I'm blogging about Robert Applebaum's movement and demanding that Congress LISTEN.

If they don't our class - the indentured educated class - will become extinct.

Christine S said...

This is why I don't tell my personal story. I would get way too much unjustified flack for not being rich in the first place, resulting in "bad choices".

Cryn Johannsen said...


Rest assured, I would never assume that you made bad choices and are in a situation because it's your "own fault."

That's an absurd assertion, and it's missing the point.

These are clearly systemic problems, and I will be writing about Ms. Marjorie Dillon's school and the shady things that I *think* went on when she received advice from the Financial Aid office.

You are NOT alone, Christine.

I just spoke to a woman today who will be sharing her story with a reporter with whom I'm speaking this afternoon.

I think we - as a society - do an excellent job of blaming people who are victims. I used this analogy today (when speaking to this woman about her financial aid problems) of what a rape victim must go through in order to "prove" s/he was raped. It is not the perpetrator who must go the police and report the incident (obviously). I realize that a person who has been raped must do these things, and also submit themselves to hospital testing for evidence.

But rape victims feel such shame, they oftentimes do not take these necessary steps to seek the justice they deserve. They are too ashamed, they take on the guilt that should be placed solely on the shoulders of the perpetrator, and they do not wish to put themselves through a series of tests and answer a number of questions to help the police find his/her assailant. Many rape victims describe this process as being similar to the actual rape. In fact, it re-traumatizes many of them. This makes sense, and it is a shame.

So . . . how does this relate to the student lending crisis?

There are thousands and thousands of students (more likely - HUNDREDS of thousands) who have been VICTIMIZED by a system that is broken and utterly corrupt. They are the ones who are being blamed by people who simply do not understand the institutional complexity behind this crisis (God bless them for their simple-mindedness. If only I could be as ignorant and able to just judge, judge, judge. Ha!).

Those who attack people like Ms. Dillon are naive and insensitive (again, God bless them - we can only hope they will some day be given the gift of wisdom). Indeed, these nasty critics neither have the capacity to think about these problems at a macro level nor could they even begin to understand its complex layers.

These close-minded nitwits, instead, take pot shots at those who were indeed victimized by a system far more powerful than many can imagine - once you've spent some time around K St. and Dupont Circle, you pick up on these things. But those critical people (most of them, thankfully) are not the ones who shape policy. That is why I am on a mission to have conversations IN PERSON with people at Think Tanks (as I did recently), people who stroll the halls of Congress (the ones who have the power to change things), etc.

As I already said, this issue is a SYSTEMIC problem. There are many institutions (the lenders, the DOE, universities, etc.) who are culpable. The whole industry needs, once and for all, TO BE REGULATED.

Thanks to Reagan's policies, oversight went out the window, and he opened up the way to excessive deregulation. Look at where it's gotten us after 30 years. We're in an awful fix, and the student lending crisis is just one of the many problems that show his reckless policies and the ilk who carried them out.

It is my hope that we can demand for REAL change and help people like you, Christine.

Feel free to email me and share your story - I'd be happy to listen, and it can be between you and me.

My email is

We're fighting for you, and we don't think you're to blame.


Promotional Writer and Marketer, Robert Applebaum's Forgive Student Loan Debt Movement

Dat said...

I know perspective is everything, and you can't judge people for being human. But to me it is like students crying their head hurts after banging it on a wall, and that it's not fair since they can't afford a padded cell like the rich.

I admit I am only bitter at being childless, but my compensation is my money. When someone with kids reaches for my wallet (via public programs, etc.) I have to ask why I bothered being responsible. Maybe I should have had a family and lobbied for assistance instead.

Cryn Johannsen said...

Dat - thanks for your honesty. I don't think that Ms. Dillon is asking for some kind of handout because she has a child. There's probably a complicated story behind that . .

Many people have decided not to have children because of their debt. It is my hunch that Ms. Dillon probably wasn't aware of the trouble she was getting into - I think she was, to put it crudely, ripped off by some advisers who did not have her interests in mind.

All I can say, Dat, is that I'm sorry you're bitter for being childless. That's terrible!

She's not asking for a hand-out.

Besides, if you had 10 kids and were in debt because of this sham of a student lending industry, I'd still defend you to the end.

Don't blame the victims. We all in this together. Our stories are different - we have kids, we don't have kids, etc. But we are all victims of a corrupt and broken system.

That's why it's high time to join together and not judge.

I hope you continue to post and think about my responses to you.

In peace,

Unknown said...

Any update on this story? Did you hear back from Ms. Dillon or Mr. Grant?

Cryn Johannsen said...

Hi, Nosmow:

I haven't heard from Ms. Dillon, but that's understandable. (I did speak to her twice during August). She was made to look like a fool, so she's hesitant to speak publicly.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Grant never wrote to me. I'd like to hear what he has to say about his poor journalistic approach to his subject matter - where did he study to be so bad? That's my question.

On a "positive" note, I did receive a very, very disappointing letter from the PA Dept. of Ed. They said there were no problems at RMU. I am not sure they are correct.

In fact, I received a letter from Dr. Rod Niner. He is a Higher Education Associate for the Department of Education in Pennsylvania.

I'll pluck a few disappointing, lackluster things from that letter:

"[With a case like Marjorie Dillon's], the Pennsylvania Department of Education cannot act on behalf of individual students, but will investigate issues related to State Board of Education regulations and statutes. Robert Morris University is in good standing with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. In our division records, I am not aware of any student complaint being lodged against Robert Morris University for impropriety. Robert Morris University has been cooperative and compliant in their relationship with the Department of Education. Their online information indicates clearly their policies, procedures, restrictions, etc. regarding financial aid. The information complies with State Board of Education Regulations."


Unknown said...

Dear Cryn,
I am surprised that Ms. Dillon would not grant you an interview (that you would be permitted to publish).

It seems that you are not only sympathetic to her predicament, but you also are in the position as a blogger and activist to not only set the record straight by cleaning up any misinformation, but also it seems that you may even be able to help have her absolved of any wrongfully assumed educational debts.

It seems strange that she would turn down assistance from a potentially powerful ally...

I would be interested in reading an article on how the Income-Based Repayment (IBR)program applies to someone in Ms. Dillon's situation (I read your post regarding married student debtors). From my understanding, IBR is not applicable in a situation similar to Ms. Dillon's due to having a co-signor, the type of loans, etc. Still, I think it would be good to show that scenario, and how IBR falls short there as well.
Thanks for your blog, it is very informative.

Cryn Johannsen said...

You're welcome, Nosmow. I think you raise some good points about Ms. Dillon's situation and IBR. I don't think Ms. Dillon is a fan of being in the spotlight, and she was treated quite harshly by a reporter. I just have to respect her silence. She knows I am here to help, but I don't want to pester her.

Anonymous said...

The story with Marjorie Dillon continues. There is a reason that some have lost contact with her, and that all of the facts have not been properly reported.

I would be very interested into seeing her try to provide some current facts about herself.

1. How many years have transpired since this story first came to light?

2. How much of the student loans have been repaid to date? I already have the answer on that one!

3. How much longer before these loans are repaid in full?

4. Were these loans obtained without fraud?

Not much has changed in her life since this story was first published. Think it is getting better or worse? The facts state it all

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.