Tuesday, October 25, 2016

College Debt List of Shame

By Professor Doom

     The student loan scam is crushing our future, or at least the future of many of our kids. The average student loan debt for a new graduate in 2014 was around $33,000.  The average student loan debt in 2015 was around $35,000, and in 2016, we’re looking at an average of $37,712, and that’s what the trend has been like for the last decade, laughable government claims of “1.5% inflation” notwithstanding. 

      Trust a statistician when he tells you the “average” can be very misleading. We could have 9 students with a debt of $10,000, and one student with a debt of $260,000, and the “average” would be $35,000. Price of tuition varies wildly from school to school, even for the same courses, so we can do much to help the average just by getting rid of the schools that are causing the most debt.

      The recent closures of Corinthian and ITT Tech, combined with the massive loss of students at University of Phoenix, should do something about this debt problem. The huge for-profit schools were very expensive, and, like community colleges, specialized in targeting the most vulnerable: students who came from families with no knowledge of how a college should work.

      These students didn’t know better, and just assumed sitting in classes, any classes, would get them a great job, provided they kept paying tuition. The schools naturally helped secure the loans for the tuition.

      While many people know about the scammy schools, it’s surprising to learn what schools indebt their graduates the most:

1.     National University: $52,986
2. Grambling State University: $51,887
3. Charlotte Christian College and Theological Seminary: $50,033
4. Wesleyan College (Georgia): $48,460
5. Stevens Institute of Technology: $48,244 

     I imagine most of my readers have never heard of most of these schools, so I want to talk a little about them.

      The top school, National University, is a private non-profit school. It has about 24,000 students; a school this large really should be able to use economy of scale to reduce prices. The school has been around 45 years. Why is it even expensive? I mean, surely they’ve paid off much of the loans they took out to buy the land and construct buildings, and their endowment is around half a billion dollars. If an accredited, non profit university can get by with tuition of around $1,000 a year, it seems like National could squeak by with a bit less money flowing in, right? The $52,986 is just the debt, tuition is quite a bit more than that, I’m sure. As a non-profit school, I can’t help but wonder if this place is basically going the route of NYU, plundering students while using “non profit” as a shield from scrutiny. In any event, this seems a place to avoid: there’s nothing here that can’t be found elsewhere, at a much lower price.

      Grambling State University is a surprise on several levels. It’s a state school, why doesn’t taxpayer support do something here? It’s a historically black institution, in a state (Louisiana) that is hardly known for wealth. Wouldn’t they be interested in protecting their students from crushing debt, and wouldn’t they be well situated to make it so? It also has a renowned sportsball program; we’re often told that a school with a successful sportsball team makes enough money to help students…this is, of course, well known as crap to anyone in higher education, and the fact that Grambling buries its students in this kind of debt is all one needs to know about going here. Again, I have to suspect the school is taking advantage of its students…Louisiana just isn’t the kind of state that provides the kind of jobs that would help pay off gigantic student loans, except in engineering…and Grambling doesn’t offer those kinds of degrees.

     Charlotte Christian College is the classic example of why accreditation is a joke. I have nothing against religious schools, they can easily be legit, but the flags here are high and colorful. The school was founded in 1996—the “new” schools really have a marked tendency to be scammers. They have, seriously, 110 students. According to wiki, they only have 3 administrative staff, and about a dozen faculty. Do the math here, assuming that the debt is all tuition: this tiny school rakes in over $5.5 million for each graduating class. Assuming all faculty/staff are paid $50k a year each on average, we’re talking around $2.5 million in profit for each cohort of students, basically two classrooms full. Is it ok to ask some questions about what’s going on at this school? The degree programs are all religious based…again, nothing wrong with that, but why is it so expensive? Avoid, avoid, avoid.

     Wesleyan is a reasonably famous private liberal arts college and an old school (est 1831), with a few thousand students.

According to National Science Foundation (NSF) research and data, the University ranks first nationally among liberal arts colleges in federal funding for research in the sciences and mathematics…

      Wow, the school ranks highly in pulling that federal research money (that’s big money, I promise you)…it’s a shame none of it does the students any good. Yes, it’s an old school, and fairly prestigious, and very selective (unlike the other schools in this list).

      So, despite being on this list of shame, I’m going to give Wesleyan something of a pass: people are clearly dying to get in here, and why I don’t see why it’s crushing the students so, but being a very selective school means this place is probably on the up-and-up. That said, if you’re a good enough scholar that you could get into this school, you almost certainly can get a better deal elsewhere. If you want to see what kind of indoctrination Wesleyan students get, here's a nice YouTube video of a Wesleyan grad.

     Stevens Institute of Technology is another private, old school that seems to put the screws to its students. The endowment is only a few hundred million, admittedly not so much considering the 6,000 students the place has…but it’s curious such an esteemed school with a long history can’t do more for its students than be on this list. Stevens is an engineering school, and is probably the only school on this list where taking on such debt isn’t financial suicide. Recall, the only reason to take on debt is to get something that will help you pay off the debt. A degree from Stevens is probably going to be a money-maker, and they have real job placement programs and the connections that only a 100 year old school can have. They are, of course, selective, which again is a hint that we’re looking at a real school, and not just a tuition scammer. It’s possible to be both, unfortunately.

     One school was on the list, then removed:

Three campuses at Everglades University were also in the top ten, and also said they submitted incorrect data. Everglades University did not submit new data and asked to be removed from the list entirely.

     Now this is a flag: when a school puts effort into being below the radar on a list of shame like this, it only draws more attention from people like me.

      Everglades University? I was born and raised in south Florida and have spent a lifetime in academia, never heard of the place. Wiki is helpful, as always. Let me count the flags marking this school as suspicious:

·        85% acceptance rate. They take most everyone, that’s a real hint that they’re in it for the money, not for education.

·        Established 1998. This is when the student loan scam really hit its stride, and I have to be worried here.

·        There are as many “academic staff” as “administrative staff.” They don’t even call them faculty, because they obfuscate the numbers. One of the cute tricks many schools use is they double-classify their administrators and staff as “faculty.” For example, all the librarians are faculty, as are quite a few deans, even if they never actually teach any courses. The fact that this school doesn’t even have faculty, just “academic staff,” and still has more administrators than staff, is a flag that there’s something wrong here.

      Following the trail of ownership here is amazing. 

Arthur and Belinda Keiser - the owners of Keiser University - purchased American Flyers College (American Flyers, Inc.), then changed the name to Everglades College
In 2011, Everglades University purchased Keiser University, a Florida-based for-profit chain[11] which then became a nonprofit college.[9]

     So, the Keisers, owners of Keiser University, buy Everglades, and then a few years later Everglades buys Keiser University. Accreditation rules prevent conflicts of interest, but such rules (heck, all rules) are waived as long as accreditation dues are paid…it sure looks like there’s something fishy here.

     Bottom line, “for profit” schools have such a scummy reputation that it just makes more sense to call the school “non profit” and then use accounting legerdemain to still reap huge profits even if the school, theoretically, isn’t trying to make a profit. This is, obviously, what’s happening here, and I would run, run, away from this place.

      We really need to start following our schools more carefully. The student loan scam, along with minimal accreditation procedures, has made it far too profitable to open a school, charge whatever it wants for tuition, and create huge profits. Years later, the students graduate with mountains of debt, and don’t even have a clue what happened.

     I doubt even a single one of these large-debt schools could survive one year without the student loan scam. Without the loans, these places would be forced to charge far more reasonable tuition, and cut back many non-education related staff/admin.

     Only the owners and administrators of these schools are benefiting from the student loan scam, and, once again, it’s clear we need to stop the easy student loan system.

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