Berea College, Work Colleges, Tax Bills, and Student Loan Ripoffs

Gulfport   Berea College is as close as something comes to a one-of-a-kind, single institution, social change education experiment. Founded 162 years ago by abolitionists in Kentucky to educate freed slaves and lower income white students, to this day the college only admits lower income students. The Times reports that 98% of its classes use federal Pell grants and 64% are first time college students. Amazingly, all four years of college are tuition free for the students. Why don’t we have more college like this!

I’ve followed Berea at a distance with admiration. A former ACORN organizer in New Orleans moved to Berea when he fell for a local woman from there and always spoke of the town and the school with awe. Not being a college guy, I had looked them up back when and wondered why we didn’t recruit organizers there, and why they weren’t trying to get us to take summer interns, provide work study, and teach classes.

All of which surprised me to see Berea in the papers in an article connected to the Republican’s tax bill. Turned out Kentucky’s Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to put in a last minute carveout for Berea that would exempt them from paying the additional tax the bill had put on college endowments valued at over $500,000 per student. The target was the Ivy League schools and other big hitters like Stanford and the like. Turns out little Berea’s big, billion dollar plus endowment puts them at $700,000 per pupil. Anyway, Democrats like Bernie Sanders put a red flag on the item as not being budget related and breaking the rules. Now, Berea is in the middle of a partisan squabble as McConnell tries to put the horns on Sanders, and Sanders retorts that McConnell and the Repubs ought to support his bill making all college tuition free.

Somehow you know Berea is going to get a fix, but in the PT Barnum sense that “any publicity is good publicity,” let’s make the most of their moment in the sun, or storm, or whatever you want to call it. One thing that’s getting some more light as the sparks fly is that Berea is one of seven so-called “work colleges,” which is also interesting. The concept there is that students pledge to study and work throughout their time, arguably making them good-to-go for job skills and discipline when they matriculate, but also helping pay the bills in an equitable fashion without much, if any, student loan debt. Looking at the list of other schools, it’s a hill country kind of phenomena it seems with schools in North Carolina, Kentucky, southern Illinois and southern Missouri and Arkansas, including the College of the Ozarks.

Better to look at these brave few schools than the ones the Republicans really seem to love which are the for-profit college. Secretary of Education and for-profit college investor, Betty DeVos says that she is about to release her plan to renege on canceling the loan debt for students who were ripped off by the for-profit scamsters who made claims that they couldn’t deliver. Obama’s people were going to cancel out 100% of the debt, sticking it to the fraudulent institutions. DeVos wants a formula that exempts students who are making 50% less than others, but makes those making 50% or more of other graduates in their cohort to have to pay some share of the loans.

Let me get this straight. Republicans are claiming they love Berea which is about work, and Republicans also want to penalize students coming from ripoff schools who have taken the lemons, made lemonade, and are working.

Does this add up? You figure?!?

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The Attack on Lower Income College Students is Widespread and Predatory

studentloansLittle Rock       When it comes to looking at the plight and prospects for students from lower income and working families it is not a matter of “no news is good news,” but all the news is bad news!   Let us count just some of the ways….

The Supreme Court kicks affirmative action to the curb and many argue that diversity can be achieved by accelerating the recruitment of students from lower incomes.  The record is not good in this areas.   In 2011, roughly 75% of the students at the 200 most highly rated colleges came from families in the top quartile of income while only 5% from bottom quartile.  That was up from 3% in 1994, but that’s really not much progress in almost 20 years, is it?

No matter.  All of the studies indicate that they’re just passing through anyway while the schools wave them in and process them out.  40% of US students start 4 year colleges and haven’t gotten a degree in 6 years.  Including 2-year schools more than half don’t get a degree, worse than all industrial countries but Hungary.  A lot has to do with income.  One-quarter in the bottom half of income won’t have a degree at 24, but 90% in top quarter of family income will finish.   Exciting work at the University of Texas indicates that a lot of the failure is rooted in the callousness of administrators, just turn stiling.  When an administrator put students from more challenged backgrounds in different, smaller classes, being taught the same exact material by the same professors, they did equally as well as the others without the fear of failure and disregard.

Not that many of the administrators were paying attention to that kind of thing.  In an Institute for Policy Studies report, they found that student debt and the number of adjunct professors both grew faster than average at 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents.  Topping the list were Ohio State, Penn State, University of Michigan and University of Washington.

Meanwhile for their trouble and dreams, many will mainly just get deeper in debt.  Between one-third and one-quarter of student loan borrowers are late on their very first payment.  The feds estimate 35% under 30 years old are more than 90-days delinquent.  Half of all 25 year olds will have credit reports reflecting student loan problems.  And of course the amount of debt can be staggering, as we all know.

It’s hard to tell the predators except by degree, since neither are giving degrees.  The Obama administration are cracking back at some of the more predatory for-profit education and training mills that rely on federal student aid for up to 90% of their income by limiting loan payments to no more than 20% of income after expenses or 8% of total earnings.  Even those rules seem grossly inadequate according to the Institute for College Access and Success that found 114 of the for-profits had higher loan default rates than graduation rates.

Politicians of all stripes can preach the platitudes of erasing inequalities with education, but the present state of higher educational enterprise seems to be a come-on for low-and-moderate income students for a dream pushing, pocket pilfering shakedown.

The daughter of the founder of Gore-Tex, now heading a rightwing think-less tank, was quoted as saying “I don’t think government should have anything to do with education.”  Wow!  Governments created public education, mandate attendance, and fund it from pre-K to past college degrees, so they are all over education.  Maybe if they would finally force accountability and programs that protect and advance students rather than making them simply grist for the mill and prey for feasting, we would finally have the educational opportunity so often touted and never delivered.

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