Tag Archives: student loans

Deliberate Governmental Opaqueness and Obfuscation

New Orleans       It’s one thing to feel powerless in the face of government like the Chinese ophthalmologist who died of the coronavirus after being reprimanded for warning colleagues in his hospital.  Poignantly, he said, “every country needs more than one voice.”  This is why we build organizations to confront power and create change.  What do we do when governments don’t show their hands so clearly, but hide from citizens in opaqueness and obfuscation?

I thought about this reading about the deliberate way that the Department of Education under billionaire rightwing conservative Betsy DeVos is going out of its way to hide any resolution for the thousands of students who in good faith dedicated years to valuable nonprofit, public service believing in the government’s promise that they would forgive their student loans in exchange.  They were lied to by countless loan servicers and told that their particular work and service qualified, only to find later that for specious reasons DOE was rejecting their service.  Normal appeals were caught in a Catch22 with 99% rejected.

Lo and behold, it turns out that in fact there was an effective resolution mechanism, but you had to be able to stumble onto it by finding a needle in the website haystack.  A student harmed should file a complaint through the Federal Student Aid office’s feedback system on the StudentAid.gov website that routes complaints to the agency’s Ombudsman Group which will try to resolve the situation.  Once you are in the hands of the ombudsman, the success rate for resolution for the few, lucky seekers is very good.  They confirm that the promise was made and the student deceived and credit the loan as paid.  DeVos has made it clear as an investor in for profit educational scams and corporate education that she doesn’t want to forgive student loans under any condition, so this small department is the answer only if you play hide-and-seek.  Amazing!

The Department of Education certainly isn’t alone.  If you ever try to resolve a question with the Internal Revenue Service, DOE looks like rookies comparatively.  Recently, trying to sort various things out I had the opportunity to deal with one of their agents.  The rules are byzantine for any communications.  They aren’t in the 21st century, but more like a cross between the 19th and now. They will not email or answer email.  They will not respond to correspondence.  They will only accept documentation via facsimile machine.  They will not answer phone messages or return phone calls, but will blame you if and when they eventually call your cellphone, and you do not have voicemail set up as an excuse to issue penalties and more warnings by mail, even if they had not responded to your voice mail or correspondence to them – sent by fax.  They will not credit payments or explain why they will not.  They are the “Service,” as they call themselves, so shut up and pay.  At least, that’s how their lack of transparency and obfuscation feels on the receiving or query end of the process.  Don’t get me started on the difficulties of puzzling out the Federal Communications Commission and their websites for station filings, but at least they have a help line that tries to give you answers.

This isn’t “deep state,” but neither are these kinds of deliberately unresponsive and citizen-hostile bureaucratic methods and procedures worthy of a democratic country.

It also doesn’t have to be this way.  If you want a surprise, then deal with the Social Security Administration.  The website is clear and responsive.  The answers are virtually immediate.

Maybe they should run the country?  Just saying.


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?!?