Federal law enforcement officials and the Education Department's inspector general announced Tuesday that they had indicted 21 people for allegedly defrauding at least 15 colleges in California of at least $770,000 through what department officials have characterized as "fraud rings." Summaries of the seven alleged schemes, which were aimed at community colleges and for-profit institutions, can be found in the department's news release.
Last fall, Occupy Student Debt, an activist group, called on students to stop paying their student loan bills as a form of protest. Now another group has called for burning those bills on Sept. 22, promising a 20-foot high "ceremonial fire" in Hollywood. Hard Block, a group that supports the goals of the Occupy movement and describes itself as a "developer and enabler of the burgeoning protest culture," has organized the event and says that an "elected official" will dump the ashes of the student loan bills on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
It's unclear how successful the protest will be: Occupy Student Debt promised that students would stop repaying their bills if 1 million students signed on. So far, just over 4,000 have.
Tying a college's Pell Grant eligibility to completion rates could undermine college access for poor and minority students, especially at community colleges, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, wrote in an analysis Monday. Rather than focus on completion rates, Kantrowitz argued, more focus should be placed on increasing the number of Americans with college degrees -- a focus that could even cause completion rates to fall if more students enroll and do not all complete college. Focusing solely on completion, as some fear a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported panel that will focus on student aid as an incentive might do, could end up hurting low-income students, Kantrowitz wrote: "One of the easiest ways to increase graduation rates is to exclude high-risk students. So efforts to boost college completion may directly or indirectly shift eligibility for the Pell Grant program from financial need to academic merit, hurting college access by low-income students."
The debt collection industry is benefiting from the large numbers of people in default on their student loans, The New York Times reported. In the last fiscal year, the U.S. Education Department paid collection agencies more than $1.4 billion to try to collect debts. Critics argue that the government should be doing more to help borrowers avoid default, rather than focusing on collecting the debts. The article opens with a column from a collection industry trade publication in which the author describes attending a rally at New York University at which students angry about debt wore T-shirts with their large, personal debt totals on them -- $95,000, $60,000 and so forth. "As I wandered around the crowd of NYU students at their rally protesting student debt at the end of February, I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represented – for our industry," the columnist wrote. "It was lip-smacking."
A study from the MetLife Mature Institute found that 29 percent of grandparents have given their grandchildren financial support for education, spending an average of $8,276 over five years. Of those grandparents who did fund their grandchildren’s education, 32 percent helped with tuition or loan payments, 29 percent donated to a college savings plan, and 7 percent helped pay for graduate school.
“It seems to be a change from earlier generations where we all graduated from college and pretty much felt we were on our own,” said Sandra Timmermann, a gerontologist and the director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Timmermann noted that whereas people used to be concerned about leaving money for their children and grandchildren in their wills, there is now more of a tendency for that money to be given earlier.
When MetLife conducted a similar survey in 2009, it found that 26 percent of all grandparents helped pay for their grandchildren’s education, but of those, the largest proportion, 46 percent, put their money in a college fund. The 2009 survey, however, was administered only to grandparents with grandchildren 25 or younger, while the 2012 iteration surveyed all grandparents.
Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican running for re-election, said in a recent town hall meeting that student loans -- while potentially doing good -- may be unconstitutional, The Washington Post reported. Bartlett said that he had searched the U.S. Constitution and found no justification for a federal role in education, including student loans. "Not that it’s not a good idea to give students loans, it certainly is a good idea to give them loans,” Bartlett said. “But if you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad. You could. There are more people in our, in America today of German ancestry than any other [inaudible]. The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope."
Asked about the statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Bartlett said that he "is also a strong supporter of making college accessible to all Americans, and unlike most politicians he has put his money where his mouth is by donating a substantial portion of his salary to help underprivileged students attend college.”