Monday, September 13, 2010

Student Loans and Private For-Profit Colleges

I know someone, let's call him Mike, who has attended a number of for-profit colleges, mostly on-line.  They've promised him all sorts of things and helped him get student loans from the government. 

Charter College Graduation - Faculty
After he graduated from high school - a questionable achievement from a small rural school where a relative was involved in deciding who graduated - he applied to University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA).  They told him, after he took some tests,  he had to take a number of remedial courses.  This seemed like a hassle so he looked around online and quickly found schools eager to enroll him for online classes, and they would help him get federal student loans.  The tuition at all these private colleges was MUCH higher than at UAA.

I'm writing about this because of a NY Times editorial  today about new regulations for colleges regarding student loans.

The Obama administration has proposed tough and much-needed regulations for lucrative for-profit colleges. Industry is predictably pushing back hard, with legions of high-priced lobbyists and organized letter-writing campaigns. The administration must hold its ground.
The final rules, due out in November, must be strong enough to rein in businesses that have made an art of enrolling students who have no chance of graduating and stripping them of state and federal grants and loans. Besides ending such abuses of students, the regulations are needed to protect taxpayers, who foot the bill for waste and abuse in the college aid program.
Lt. Gov Campbell - Grad Speaker

Mike has never finished a program, but has huge debts now that likely will never be paid.  The money goes from the government loan program to the college.  Then the student owes the money.  If he doesn't pass his classes or pay his debt, the college still has the money and he has the debt. This is someone with developmental problems.  He can do many things well and seems normal, sort of. He's a good person, but there are serious gaps in his cognitive abilities. 

He's been taking classes at Charter College and recently went through graduation, though he hasn't completed all his coursework yet.  We were invited and attended at the Atwood Center in the Performing Arts Center downtown.  

I've been wondering how to address this event and this seems like a reasonable context.  I don't know how good the classes are.  Mike told me that basically you just have to go to class and pay your bills.  But that's just one person's story.  I'm sure that you can learn things.  I'm sure he's learning something.  But can you get a degree without learning much?  It sounds like the answer is yes.  And they charge a lot more than UAA and it seems there is a big incentive to get the student loan money that is available. 

In Lobby after Grad Ceremony
After hearing Mike's tales of woe, and how he talks about his $40,000 student debt which - has resulted, almost, in an AA degree - I tend to think that some sort of legislation cracking down on these private colleges (and public colleges that have large numbers of defaulting loans from students) needs to be passed and enforced. 

Of course, there's a much larger context to discuss - what is the purpose of a college degree?  What kind of jobs really require one?  Should everyone go to college?  What sort of status does a college degree confer?  There are complex issues, but they'll have to wait for a different post.


  1. When I was young it was possible to work full time and go to college and graduate without loans to pay off. Even I did this which took me a while with my health problems. With the cost of tuition now students can't work a minimum wage job and do this. I knew some students who during the summers would get a couple of full time jobs and work their butts off so they would not have to work or only had to work a few hours a week during the school year. It was possible to get an education then without any grants, scholarships, or help from parents, now even with all those things many have to give up the dream of a college degree. Thanks for bringing this up, it is important to realize that without regulations there is always someone who will take advantage.

  2. Also in the news today, a question about the benefits of college education in general.

    And the WSJ points out that big company recruiters are targeting state schools over the Ivy Leage

  3. So true. It's happening across the country. Some of the bigger schools have a telemarketing campaign. They call people and tell them they can get money to go to school. They don't make it really clear, that some of that money will have to be paid back, weather they finish the program or not.

  4. I believe the failure of the UA Board of Regents and the UA administration to protect and support the community college mission, which is more that open admissions, which should include zero tuition for DEV courses and a very low tuition ($50/credit) for 100 & 200 level courses at the rural campuses, forces students to either take loans that are unmanageable or to consider the University of Alaska not one of their options.
    Not anonymous.
    Joli Morgan

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