Let’s Fix This Fraud With More Fraud. WTF?

Alan J. Yeck

Tossing out any dollar amount in student debt relief with no other action is just another form of fraud committed by our government against its people – again! It’s a fraud sandwich and we’re the protein.

$10,000 – 50,000 paid by the government, to the dirty government collection contractors (Navient, et al), will then be directed back to the political PACs, Super PACs, and student loan industry lobbying firms. Everybody in on the con, wins! But that’s not us, my friend. “It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son.”

There is a reason the politicians, including the attorneys general, are not listening about implementing the foundational reforms that must happen in the student loan industry to remove the corruption, provide relief to existing victims, and prevent this crisis from happening again.

The elected elite are either: 1) listening only to the lobbyists who work for the student loan industry to keep their money train scam rolling along; 2) are part of the corruption/kickbacks themselves; 3) have their heads up their asses.

While I can understand the skill of misinformation of number 1, and can personally relate to number 3, I have a feeling their lack of addressing the real issues that caused this crisis comes down to number 2. It’s gone on too long, over both blue and red administrations, for them to claim ignorance. 

We the people, are the least of their concerns. 

To end this problem today – 

  1. Recalculate loan balances at zero interest (the government should not profit off of educating its people). With this formula we’ll save millions who have already paid back their original principal and are being held hostage by interest (10 times the original loan amount. I know you don’t understand how that can happen but it does).
  2. Restoration of unconditional, full bankruptcy rights for student loans. Bankruptcy isn’t a free pass at all, is it? Millions of borrowers, through the racketeering of collections agencies are in true, lifelong, debtors’ prison today. When Congress began to tamper with this right in the early 1970s the loan default rate was less than 1%. Today it’s over 20% and growing. Removing bankruptcy protection is the foundation of today’s crisis which all the student loan industry corruption was built upon. 
  3. Hold higher education accountable for the costs of their programs. Until this is done, they will just continue to raise their costs. Higher education is a financial black hole that will suck in every penny and then start going through your couch cushions to find more. Degree costs have risen 400%, above inflation, in the last generation. Policies have to be put in place that restrict loans going to any institution that cannot demonstrate fiscal responsibility and the return on investment for completing their programs.
  4. Immediately end the practice of the loan servicers from garnishing wages, tax returns, and social security. 
  5. Restructure the loan payback formulas to reflect the cost of life. Currently calculations from the loan servicers do not consider that you have to pay rent/mortgage. Car payments, insurance, healthcare, food, electricity, maintenance, emergency funds…they let the government get their taxes then they swoop in to steal the rest. The current formulas almost guarantee to force defaults, which in turn interest builds, added to the principal and interest applied on that new amount. 
  6. Increase Pell and Perkins Grants including for the trades and apprentice programs, again holding the educational institutions accountable. 

The current system and the currently discussed solutions are all just part of the con, the scam. It’s Three Card Monty with Uncle Sam not only dealing but telling you how much you have to bet, knowing you’ll lose every hand. Fixing fraud with more fraud. WTF?

Defiance. We Must Fight!

An excerpt from The Killing of American Education, Part 1

By Alan J. Yeck, Founder

I went back to school in 40’s to get a better job. I got an Associate,Bachelors and a Masters. Almost 9 yrs later I don’t have a better job but I have almost $80,000 of debt. No matter how much I pay the balance doesn’t go down. I am at my wits end. I don’t know what to do. I barely have gas money to get to work to pay this bill.   LaDean Mitchell   March 14, 2019  Phillipsburg  (https://studentdebtcrisis.org/read-student-debt-stories/)

I cannot keep up with all the lawsuits filed in the last several years against the student loan industry including the (self) servicing agencies, Department of Education, Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and their new leader Kathy Kraninger. What I want you to understand is that the status quo of the system is completely and utterly broken and in complete chaos driven by unprecedented greed and corruption. Below is by no means a complete list –

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed against Navient in 2017 (when Seth Frothman was still there fighting for American consumers) for “systematically and illegally failed borrowers at every stage of the repayment by”

  • steering borrowers toward more expensive forbearance instead of affordable repayment plans;
  • misleading borrowers about the options available;
  • payments processed incorrectly.

Attorneys General of California, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington as well as the Securities Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have launched investigations and/or filed lawsuits against this industry for fraud and unfair practices.  

I was denied Public Student Loan Forgiveness and Temporary Public Student Loan Forgiveness after working at an eligible nonprofit for the 10 required years (2007-2017). I still work there, but hate that I was denied forgiveness twice. I feel like I was lied to by the federal government and it angers me. I am even angrier that so many people like me were denied as well.   Kelly Ascheman   February 14, 2019  Blaine (https://studentdebtcrisis.org/read-student-debt-stories/)

New York state sued the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), aka American Education Services. New York Attorney General Letitia James said they “failed miserably” in their servicing of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. 

I previously mentioned Seth Frothman who resigned from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as its chief ombudsman over student loans. In his resignation letter to the than acting director Mick Mulvaney, Frothman stated the administration “has turned its back on young people and their financial futures…unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting…instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

What is a PLA? And Why Does It Help?

By Dr. Christiane Warren

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) which awards college credits for work/military/life experience learning is a proven avenue to support adult learners, increase enrollment, retention, and graduation, and offer greater career stability. Short-term credentials and badges can also provide short-term success and possibly serve as an entry point for additional training. Community colleges would be the most ideally situated institutions to fully implement these strategies. Under President Obama, a taskforce existed to do just that, by connecting ACE with selected community colleges and Military education. In New Jersey, Thomas Edison State University (TESU) offers a state-wide network, the NJ PLAN, for PLA credits in collaboration with NJ colleges. The process for community colleges to join is not complicated and Gov. Christie in a comprehensive report on NJ Higher Education in 2016 advocated for increased emphasis on PLA and non-traditional learners. Why then has not every community college joined?

In New Jersey alone, a number of community colleges have PLA policies on file that are either not fully implemented or so narrowly defined, leading to students being generally unaware of their existence or getting lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth required for claiming PLA credits. The data is clear:

PLA credits reduce drop-out rates, increase enrollment and retention, and improve graduation rates, along with shortening completion time frames. And contrary to common objections, PLA credit policies do not reduce revenue, rather their existence increases revenue. Most students obtain 3-9 credits through PLA, some more towards 9-15 credits. Only a small group obtain the maximum number of PLA credits available. Yet, despite these relatively small numbers of actual credits earned through PLA, the indirect benefit to both the student and the institution is significant.

Students see their learning and expertise as being valued by their college. They also appreciate the savings in both time and money. Thus, they feel motivated to study and develop a strong sense of loyalty to the institution.

Colleges who award PLA credits in a comprehensive, up-front and significant manner, acquire dedicated students who will be successful and serve as alumni as well as promote the institution among their social and professional networks. The marketing campaigns that can easily be structured around PLA further serve to increase enrollment.

Given all of these positives, one has to ask why not more community colleges adopt strong PLA processes. In NJ, with its high percentage of diverse students, professional, military and 1st generation college students, it borders on fiscal and pedagogical negligence for any community college not to join the NJ PLAN.

Having led a campus-wide, inter-departmental taskforce at an urban community college in Northern NJ in 2015/16 which resulted in the successful adoption of a shared governance resolution to be signed into effect by the College President, I am closely familiar with the challenges and solutions institutions face when addressing PLA. Our efforts spanned over 18 months, our team included several division deans, faculty, registrar, bursar, academic affairs, and veterans’ affairs. We traversed through all of the internal committees and were victorious in getting the governance resolution approved to join the NJ PLAN in March 2017. To date, the policy has not been enacted. In the face of the current crises, this seems inexplicable.

This is not the only example. At other colleges, CBE as well as PLA credits are so narrowly defined and key personnel who are tasked with their review are largely unaware of the procedures. One small community college in Southern NJ, spearheaded the program years ago, but only applies it to 1 degree in Technical Studies.

PLA is not new. Four-year institutions have developed significant structures for their acceptance, such as Fairleigh Dickinson University/Petrocelli Campus, Saint Peter’s University/Professional Studies, William Paterson University and of course Thomas Edison State University.

One community college stands out as an innovative leader: Warren County Community College/VIPER Program. WCCC pioneered a program directed specifically towards veterans and active-duty military students, who can earn PLA credits for their military expertise and transfer directly to TESU.

One has to ask then, what are the reasons for the inertia, the overall lack of enthusiasm towards PLA?

It can be found in outdated governance structures and the intrenchment of senior tenured faculty who came to their careers in the 1990’s and continue to strive for community colleges to serve primarily as liberal arts transfer institutions, although the full-time graduation rates tend to hover between 11- 17 %. Their approach to higher education is faculty-centered and expects students to approach their education as an exercise in intellectual discovery. While such notions are admirable, they do not accurately reflect the majority of today’s community college students.

Other aspects are lack of understanding on the complex nature of the PLA policy implementation by leadership who see only the short-term loss of tuition revenue but fail to see the long-term benefits.

With the end of the Obama era grant and its incumbent advocacy for PLA, including the ACE project, institutions are often without external support and unless an internal advocate persists, quickly have lost focus on this issue.

Yet, it is time to refocus our efforts and implement PLA processes across the board in NJ. They fall within the greater framework of the Guided Pathways initiative and the completion agenda “15 to Finish.” We owe it to our students and also to our beloved community colleges which are currently buckling under steeply declining enrollment numbers and ever-more volatile calls from legislators and the public to create effective and affordable new pathways to tangible employment opportunities.

More About the Author

Guest author, Dr. Christiane Warren, Senior Consultant atAnna J Cooper Education AdvocacyRecognized for producing growth and cultivating success in the career and education space, Dr. Warren has served as tenured faculty, department chair and academic dean for entire divisions and in the Academic Affairs office at both 2-and-4 year institutions in NJ and NY. Read more about Dr. Warren here.

Failure Is Not An Option

Alan Yeck, Founder of AltRaged.com

Prior to COVID-19, technology wasn’t widespread enough for online education to even be an option for any health-related closures until, at the earliest, the swine flu pandemic of 2009. Prior to that, any schools whose campuses couldn’t stay open just closed. We might have been able to go on  for a few days to a few weeks, but nothing can compare to our current situation of campus closures and needing to switch entirely to online teaching and learning.

We moved to online education very rapidly for two distinct, and not entirely opposing, reasons . One is a conscious, self-defined clean perspective, full of laurels and intellectual collegial banter about moving teaching and learning forward despite our current circumstances. Damn the torpedoes, we care about the students’ learning, and this virus cannot defeat the sanctity of post-secondary education. The academic high ground.  The other reason we moved to online education at breakneck speed for the money, not the student. It’s an ugly reality for many schools today: enrollments are down, finances are critical, and they’re already cut to the bone. Remove an entire term’s tuition from a budget established last year and more than a few school doors will shut for good with others crippled for the foreseeable future. Please understand I’m not arguing this point but using it to highlight the importance of what has to happen next for our students.  No one taking an online class this term should receive a failing grade.

Having earned my entire MBA at Walden University online, at a time in my life when any other way would have been impossible, I am a huge proponent of online education–an evangelist for it.  I was taught online, I’ve taught online, and I believe as technology continues to progress, what we call online will become the standard medium for education around the world. We’re not there yet, but we’re not far off either. Numerous studies over the years have shown that online education can be as academically rigorous as that done in the classroom, if not more so. Of course, there are institutions, courses and teachers that have given online education a bad reputation within the industry, but those same institutions, courses and teachers also likely deliver poor classroom instruction. They are consistent. The delivery medium is arguably the least important factor in determining the quality of instruction. Internet or in-person, are the students engaged?

Online education is comprised of four elements: teacher, student, curriculum and technology. When all of those elements are fully functional, learning will take place. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that’s the case. We’ve taken students who initially enrolled for a classroom course and thrust them into the online world with little to no preparation. We’ve done the same to faculty who taught classroom courses. We’ve taken courses designed for the classroom and quickly “adapted” them for online delivery. Three of the four basic elements required for successful online education are somewhat questionable, not to mention other challenges like students who do not have Internet access where they live (could be financial or lack of service). Everyone has done their best, above and beyond the call of duty, to get everything up to speed for online education. You’ve done an amazing job–-truly commendable. Thank you. My point is what all our points should be about–the students.

For advanced learners, online classes are terrific. They performed well before this nightmare, and I’m sure those students are doing great right now. They aren’t the ones we need to worry about. Studies at Harvard and Stanford have shown that struggling students are more likely to do poorly in online classes than their peers with higher GPAs. In their most current model, online courses can be tough, especially for the students who have not had adequate preparation. These students’ outcomes are worse than they would have been had these same students taken in-person courses. After failing a class, these students are much likelier  to withdraw from college.

We have to recognize and address:

1) Not all courses lend themselves to online education.

2) Not every course that was “adapted” for online instruction would meet best practices under normal circumstances

3) The level of instruction for new online teachers probably didn’t follow the same non-COVID-19 process of thoroughly learning the technology and more importantly the pedagogy for online instruction

4) Some of our students would struggle with online learning regardless if everything else was perfect.

Academically challenged students need a classroom and face-to-face interaction with their teachers (not one through Zoom). Of course, there are exceptions to both groups, but policies should never be established around the exceptions. The educational authorities have given us tremendous flexibility to respond to the crisis, and we need to do the same now with our students. Any student who had enrolled in a classroom class, who does poorly online, should be given an Incomplete “I” at the very least to be made-up when they have the option to return to the classroom.

When the nation moved to online teaching overnight, our institutions, state and federal educational agencies, and the accrediting bodies all made it known that they were going to become as flexible as possible to help us accomplish this never-before-attempted high-wire act (no net). The missing part to this flexibility is a unified decision about awarding “I” for any failing grades this term. Another conversation going around is to not award any failing grades, period, this term–-all students pass. Radical? We’re in radical times. If there is going to be an error on our part, it should be on the behalf of fighting for our students. Anything less and we fail them.

Do not fail a student who didn’t sign up for an online class, taught by a teacher who didn’t sign up to teach that class online, when it wasn’t designed to be an online class in the first place. To hold them to the same grading process we’ve always done would be an unacceptable, arrogant, unethical, indefensible and unforgivable position to take. Either an “I” or “P” option must be given to all.