Friday, February 5, 2010

Last call with the White House (Roberto Rodriguez and Mary Ellen Macguire)

Before I discuss why I am disappointed by the answers I received from Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Macguire during the recent telephone conference call with the White House, I want to make it clear that I am impressed by this Administration's willingness to hold these types of discussions with the public. It is an honor and a privilege to be able to raise questions for millions of student loan debtors with top advisors to Vice President Biden and President Obama. The Obama Administration should be recognized for their efforts to be more transparent, and I applaud them on that end. (Indeed, those on the right - and I am speaking of the extreme right - are absolutely wrong when they claim that the President is doing things in secret - there are many cases, such as this one, that demonstrate the exact opposite). 

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.

For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:

How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold? [my emphasis]

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China's not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany's not waiting. India's not waiting. These nations aren't standing still." 

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.

President Obama inspired me to believe: Change for the indentured educated class is now


Karl Ellwein said...

I'm glad you are keeping a level-head instead of blowing off steam..(like I would be doing).
Your dissapointment with the WH call was expressed well in your blog. (I'm in feedback mode). I think you did a good job expressing your true feelings and being polite as you are, and still firm, is the best way to get your point across to the ... See MoreWhite House, (I think). It is true that those in student loan distress have no "lobby" and no power within the DC beltway. They have to hope for good ol basic compassion to shine upon them from the policy makers. Karl Ellwein, Maryland USA

Anonymous said...

Not going to lie Cryn, this makes me a little nervous. It's almost like they pushed you aside with out care or concern. Those of us who are supposed to be funding this country can't. They're going to go through a generation (or two or three) of complete poverty before we can get this country back on it's feet. At least, from they way they sound to be fixing things.

Ernest R. Rugenstein, Ph.D. Cultural History said...

Good job and I like the way you kept those of us already with loans in the conversation. I am afraid you are right about the universities and colleges. Here in Troy RPI has been trying to have a 9000 sg ft mansion built for the president of the college because the 4800 sq ft one now being used is to small. They say it wil be built through donations from the board and won't come out of the school budget. The question is why not put that money to work for the students to lower tuition or to hire back the professors they laid off because of the economy. It's easy to see the direction, higher tuition, bigger classes and a new mansion for the pres.

LizaCardona said...

I don't think these people understand how our nation is affected with the current student loan crisis. The explosion in high-priced student loans will haunt the U.S. economy for years. Many graduates are so debt-burdened that they are delaying home purchases, limiting vacations, even eating out less to pay loans off on time. The stress and anxiety associated with this burden is making our graduates sick. Enough is enough!! Is time someone takes a stand for the indentured educated class. Mr. Obama needs to take action now!!

Anonymous said...

As a 56 year old unemployed defaulter this information is very discouraging. The President needs to listen to the peole not the lobbyists. Think about who they are and who they represent, very well paid mouthpieces to one of the most legal criminal institutions this country promotes...the student loan industry. They are crushing large numbers of American citizens who felt they were doing the right thing by getting an education to hopefully better themselves. Thanks to the student loan industry, the American Dream has become the American Nightmare and there is no waking up. As I see it I will die a pauper, never owning anything, nothing to leave my children or grandchildren, depending on the kindness of friends and family to keep a roof over my head and food in my mouth all because I wanted an education and for NO other reason. Please listen to us Mr. President, we believed in you and we desperately need your help.

NewB_librarian said...

How discouraging.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, C Cryn, very illuminating. Somehow, we need to get our point across - this report made me think that more "radical" tactics might be needed. I was heartened to hear the "How long are we supposed to wait?" portion of Obama's address, but until i see some actual policy....I've been waiting for 20 years already. I put off finishing my education b/c i couldn't afford to go to school then (and then the private college i went to for a year was 11K a year, now it's about 26K) and DIDN't want to be in debt. I went back to school when Clinton was in office b/c it was better than minimum wage (about $5 an hour at the time) and i was HOPEFUL....After ten years of education i spent the following 8 years feeling increasing anxiety and depression at being so in debt and living on marginal income. Now that Obama is in office i want to shout to someone in the White House: I have ALREADY put my life on hold; i have put having children on hold (and lets face it, having just turned 40 it looks less and less like a possibility) this rate i will be in my 60s or 70s before something changes, and i am not even sure i will make it that far anymore. I am tired. Sorry to keep repeating a broken record, but it just doesn't seem like anybody in power GETS it. People are not theories, or prospective consumers, they thrive or struggle regardless of whether the Tony's of the world decide to throw them a scrap. It's the thriving part that is almost always left out of the equation.

dawn said...

if we did not have this $17,000 loan, that is now $60,000, to which we have paid unknown amounts of money on (they won't give figures even though it has been a federal loan since the beginning). . . we would be foster parents.

our future has been on hold for over 20 yrs. we have been told for over 20 yrs you will never own a house.

for years our defaulted debt was handled by collectors and lawyers threatening and demanding huge sums of money we did not have.

it was not until almost 20 yrs after we defaulted did anyone address us in a civil non confrontational, non insulting manner and they (direct loans) signed us up for debt consolidation by promising us we could reduce our interest and maybe eliminate some of the fees.. ..than once the paperwork was signed. . .it all goes to principle and no more mr. nice government.

is this what america is about?. . .

hand outs for the banks but the poor and working class wait quietly for the only relief they will get. . .death.

John in Boston said...

Anonymous/9:25AM speaks eloquently for me as well as himself. I'm 47 but feel the same way. Also, like Dawn, I've watched my loan balance balloon for lack of the sort of return on investment that was supposed to be part of the equation when I borrowed to earn a top-5 MBA and MPP.

I graduated straight into the recession of 1991. In fact, during my graduate studies, from 1989 to 1991, a sea change occurred in the white collar workplace - this was exactly the interval in which the hope and expectation of single-employer careers gave way to job churn (a well-documented and often-commented-on phenomenon).

Now nearly 20 years and a career change later (into the notoriously low-paying field of teaching, for lack of a viable white collar business economy), I am burdened by what is effectively a mortgage without an underlying asset. I have no property and don't know if I'll ever own my own home.

Meanwhile, Sallie Mae seeks payments on a schedule that is supposed to terminate in six years - when my monthly $1000 payment (out of $3000 net monthly salary) is almost totally interest, not even $50 on principal.

A student loan bailout would be wonderful - but you know, what I REALLY want is simply the ability to renegotiate my current education debt to extend my payment horizon and get a lower rate than the 9.5% I'm stuck at in this economy.

I don't deny that I am responsible for my own decision to borrow - but why do I have to be broken for it?

Anonymous said...

My life is basically all over because I got a degree. I'm well into six-figure debt with private loans, and monthly payments well exceeding what I pay for rent. I needed to take the loans out because I come from a working-class family, and went to an expensive college. I truly am an educated indentured servant working a menial job in a horrible economy. For some strange reason, private student loans are the only form of debt not covered (at least since legislation in the 90's) by consumer bankruptcy protections. If I had six figure credit card debt, I could have a chance at a life and a new start. For now, I have no chance of ever buying a car, a home, or contributing to anyone in our society except for private student loan shark companies. Realistically, I won't even be able to have a family. This is America? Congress needs to restore consumer bankruptcy protections for private student loans immediately. This is a silent and serious crisis looming in our country that urgently needs to be addressed.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is "wow". I have no words to express the extreme sadness and futility I feel, however, many of the previous statements have expressed what I have not been able to. I too have a life on hold. I too have loans that have become a nightmare. I will probably never know the feeling of having my own home because of the school loans I owe. I get threatening phone calls, letters, etc. and yet when I try to work out an agreement with these people, it is always unacceptable. My purpose in life is nothing more than paying off those school loans. I cannot afford to help my children with their college tuition and consequently they may never go to college after seeing what I have been going through and what our government has done for people in my position. How can I possibly explain to my children the necessity of education in today's economy when it's nearly impossible to get that education? The bailouts that businesses have receieved are a slap in the face. An insult to the hard work and dedication that I put into my future.I am one of thousands of people who struggle to repay these loans with no future in sight of them ever being paid off. John in Boston has made statements that I agree with 100%. I want to pay back my loans, but when they base unreasonable payments on your gross salary (who lives on that?)how do you make that happen? I used to be proud of my college education but now I realize that it will be the death of me. I wanted to better myself and be able to provide for my family. What do I have to show for it? Yes, I have that pretty piece of paper that says I spent five years of my life reaching a goal that will take the rest of my life to pay back. I wound up selling my soul without even knowing that I had done so. I cannot stomach watching as corporations are getting bailouts while I have to pray that I don't get sick because I cannot afford health care. I hope my car lasts until I retire in 12 years because I cannot afford another one, not that I would be able to. One look at my credit report and that huge amount owed and I'm practically shown to the door. I just want to be able to live that "American Dream". I don't mind working for it, but like a gerbil on a wheel, I can work harder and faster and longer and never get an inch ahead. As Dawn mentioned, the only relief from this indentured state I live in will be my death. I voted for a President I believed would bring change. For the first time in my adult life I have regretted voting in an election. Discussions with friends have left us with a "why bother to vote" attitude. Vote for what? Change that will never happen? I don't recall voting for huge corporate bailouts. Perhaps if I had the resources to "contribute" to a Presidential election, I too may have receieved my bailout. Do you hear any of us Mr. President? Why aren't you listening? A student loan bailout will help the economy so much. That's extra revenue that we as indentured graduates will be able to put back into the economy. Were you sincere Mr. President about stimulating the economy? How do you propose to do that by bailing out several huge corporations that have put themselves in financial ruin instead of bailing out thousands upon thousands of your citizens that could in fact stimulate the economy without giving ourselves those million-dollar bonuses? Mr. President, I had faith in you. I might as well as believe in the tooth fairy. The resulting indentured student financial crisis would apparently have the same outcome.

Anonymous said...

When I lost my job after 10 years of "excellent service", I was faced with the prospect of losing my home as well due to foreclosure. I sought legal advice and was advised to file for bankruptcy. My credit is ruined, I lost my home and since I didn't have any credit cards the debt that was eliminated was minimal. I was however fortunate enough to maintain a huge student loan debt that I have a slim chance of ever fully repaying. I don't know if I'll live long enough to see that day. I should have applied for those credit cards and put my student loans on those. I don't have the "fresh start" that I was told to expect. I too am an indentured graduate. I want to pay my bills and live my life in peace while contributing to society. How am I supposed to do that Mr. President when the country I help to support has turned its back on me and those like me? Yes, this is a serious crisis. Very serious. You're ignoring thousands of people who are drowning in student debt. I would have had a better chance on the Titanic.

Anonymous said...

With all of us knowing so much about the hardships we face with college... why would we want to continue to put our children through this ring of fire? They need to help us-we are the future to. I am only 22 years old and DEEP in student debt with no degree.

I was on the phone with sallie mae today like every other day. (hehe) And he told me he wanted to help me, but without money he can do nothing. I am 11 weeks pregnant-looking at ruined credit for the next 7 years. Let me file for bankruptcy and give me 3 more years please... I just want relief !! They will hear our ROAR!!! We cannot give up!

Tell your story and spread the word. "We are the people of the United States of America!"