Thursday, April 26, 2012

To Pay Off Loans, Grads Put Off Marriage, Children

Between the ages of 18 and 22, Jodi Romine took out $74,000 in student loans to help finance her business-management degree at Kent State University in Ohio. What seemed like a good investment will delay her career, her marriage and decision to have children.

Ms. Romine's $900-a-month loan payments eat up 60% of the paycheck she earns as a bank teller in Beaufort, S.C., the best job she could get after graduating in 2008. Her fianc‚ Dean Hawkins, 31, spends 40% of his paycheck on student loans. They each work more than 60 hours a week. He teaches as well as coaches high-school baseball and football teams, studies in a full-time master's degree program, and moonlights weekends as a server at a restaurant. Ms. Romine, now 26, also works a second job, as a waitress. She is making all her loan payments on time.

They can't buy a house, visit their families in Ohio as often as they would like or spend money on dates. Plans to marry or have children are on hold, says Ms. Romine. "I'm just looking for some way to manage my finances."

High school's Class of 2012 is getting ready for college, with students in their late teens and early 20s facing one of the biggest financial decisions they will ever make.

Total U.S. student-loan debt outstanding topped $1 trillion last year, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it continues to rise as current students borrow more and past students fall behind on payments. Moody's Investors Service says borrowers with private student loans are defaulting or falling behind on payments at twice prerecession rates.

Most students get little help from colleges in choosing loans or calculating payments. Most pre-loan counseling for government loans is done online, and many students pay only fleeting attention to documents from private lenders. Many borrowers "are very confused, and don't have a good sense of what they've taken on," says Deanne Loonin, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center in Boston and head of its Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.

Danielle Jokela will have paid $211,000 for $79,000 in student loans by the time the debt is paid off in 25 years.

More than half of student borrowers fail to max out government loans before taking out riskier private loans, according to research by the nonprofit Project on Student Debt. In 2006, Barnard College, in New York, started one-on-one counseling for students applying for private loans. Students borrowing from private lenders dropped 74% the next year, says Nanette DiLauro, director of financial aid. In 2007, Mount Holyoke College started a similar program, and half the students who received counseling changed their borrowing plans, says Gail W. Holt, a financial-services official at the Massachusetts school. San Diego State University started counseling and tracking student borrowers in 2010 and has seen private loans decline.

The implications last a lifetime. A recent survey by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys says members are seeing a big increase in people whose student loans are forcing them to delay major purchases or starting families.

Looking back, Ms. Romine wishes she had taken only "a bare minimum" of student loans. She paid some of her costs during college by working part time as a waitress. Now, she wishes she had worked even more. Given a second chance, "I would never have touched a private loan-ever," she says.

Ms. Romine hopes to solve the problem by advancing her career. At the bank where she works, a former supervisor says she is a hard working, highly capable employee. "Jodi is doing the best she can," says Michael Matthews, a Beaufort, S.C., bankruptcy attorney who is familiar with Ms. Romine's situation. "But she will be behind the eight-ball for years."

Private student loans often carry uncapped, variable interest rates and aren't required to include flexible repayment options. In contrast, government loans offer fixed interest rates and flexible options, such as income-based repayment and deferral for hardship or public service.

Steep increases in college costs are to blame for the student-loan debt burden, and most student loans are now made by the government, says Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, a private lenders' industry group.

Many private lenders encourage students to plan ahead on how to finance college, so "your eyes are open on what it's going to cost you and how you will manage that," says a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae, a Reston, Va., student-loan concern. Federal rules implemented in 2009 require lenders to make a series of disclosures to borrowers, so that "you are made aware multiple times before the loan is disbursed" of various lending options, the spokeswoman says.

Both private and government loans, however, lack "the most fundamental protections we take for granted with every other type of loan," says Alan Collinge, founder of, an advocacy group. When borrowers default, collection agencies can hound them for life, because unlike other kinds of debt, there is no statute of limitations on collections. And while other kinds of debt can be discharged in bankruptcy, student loans must still be paid barring "undue hardship," a legal test that most courts have interpreted very narrowly.

Deferring payments to avoid default is costly, too. Danielle Jokela of Chicago earned a two-year degree and worked for a while to build savings before deciding to pursue a dream by enrolling at age 25 at a private, for-profit college in Chicago to study interior design. The college's staff helped her fill out applications for $79,000 in government and private loans. "I had no clue" about likely future earnings or the size of future payments, which ballooned by her 2008 graduation to more than $100,000 after interest and fees.

She couldn't find a job as an interior designer and twice had to ask lenders to defer payments for a few months. After interest plus forbearance fees that were added to the loans, she still owes $98,000, even after making payments for most of five years, says Ms. Jokela, 32, who is working as an independent contractor doing administrative tasks for a construction company.

By the time she pays off the loans 25 years from now, she will have paid $211,000. In an attempt to build savings, she and her husband, Mike, 32, a customer-service specialist, are selling their condo. Renting an apartment will save $600 a month. Ms. Jokela has given up on her hopes of getting an M.B.A., starting her own interior-design firm or having children. "How could I consider having children if I can barely support myself?" she says.


The Delaware education civil war ... complete with victims

There are too many "sides" in Delaware public education.

Part of the reason is that there is no consensus surrounding exactly what the mission of public education in  Delaware was, is, or will be.  Are we creating entry-level employees for our corporations?  Prepared college freshmen?  Better American citizens?  Literate individuals?  Are we using the schools to lift up an entire generation of the downtrodden children and their families.  There is no consensus, and all too many people willing to say, "Yes.  All of the above."

Part of the reason is that we have tied ourselves in knots for two decades trying to figure out how to measure our success in doing . . . whatever it is we are doing (if we only agreed).  Performance Assessment.  Authentic Assessment.  Assessment drives instruction.  High-stakes testing.  DSTP.  NAEP. DCAS.  DPAS.  DPAS 2.  NCLB.  RTTT.  Teacher work samples.  Data coaches.  Teachers drive instruction.  Data drives instruction.  The General Assembly wants to mandate CPR and the History of Labor Unions.  Charter schools.  Magnet Schools.  School choice.  Neighborhood schools.  Vo-Tech schools.  Rodel.  Vision 2012 2015.  Delaware PTA.  Chamber of Commerce.  DSEA and associated PACs.  NEA.  Bloggers.  The News Journal.  University of Delaware.  School board elections.  State School Board.

I feel like I am doing some awful reprise of Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire."

You will notice that somewhere in there how we measure our success got mixed up with "who is in charge" and "who pays."

But that's not as bad as the other distinction we have drawn between us:  the idea that people on the wrong "side" [whatever that is] are enemies of children, God, and chocolate desserts, rather than people who want to do what's right for education as they define it.

Thus we engage in naming, shaming hyperbole, coarsened dialogue, and ludicrous allegations.  [I should know:  as a blogger I have done all of the above.]

Yet what has gotten completely ridiculous is the emphasis on the "sides"

On the one side, I'm told, we have the "ed reformists." who want nothing less than to make corporate profits from public education, who want to impose assessments on students and teachers, and to undermine local control in favor of some cabal run by the Federal Department of Education, Wireless Generation, Goldman Sachs, Arne Duncan, and Josef Stalin.  This group includes the Vision 2015 Network, Rodel, the DE PTA, the Delaware Department of Education, the Federal Department of Education, Governor Jack Markell, and a bucket of crabs (which will be used to resegregate the schools).  Oh, and this group sometimes includes the NEA and DSEA when the mood strikes them, there are deals to be struck, and there are rewards for the compliant.

On the other side, I've been lead to believe, are "the teachers" and "the bloggers" and the great silent majority of parents who haven't been asked for their very valuable opinion since 1972 when Richard Nixon bugged their phones to hear what was on their collective mind.  These folks want local control, teacher control, union control, Federal intervention (when they don't agree with something the various "other" locals did), research-based solutions, a monopoly on the support of candidates for school board or General Assembly [everybody else's money is tainted and should be sent back], and the right to sit seriously at the table with the people they have called racists and lampooned as wearing knee-pads to give blowjobs to their supposed Federal and corporate masters.  Oh, and this group sometimes includes the very politicians who are supposed to be kneeling for perverted sex acts, people who have actually attended Vision 2015 meetings, and PTA members/officers if they bring the proper notes to get in.

What these two groups have in common is money and organization.

The "ed reformists" have money to throw at charter schools, money to gain from offering data coaches, money to spend in political campaigns, and access to some really nice meeting rooms at UD that come equipped with sound systems and chilled, bottled water.

The "teacher/blogger/silent majority types" also have money, principally union money (DSEA, NEA, AFL-CIO, and others) that they throw into election campaigns by the hundreds of thousands of dollars every year through an interlocking network of nearly unaccountable and untraceable PACS, while screaming at the top of their chiefly blogger-inflated lungs that "the other side" is trying to buy the election.

Both sides claim to be advocating for children, which is intriguing, because the kids have no money (many of their parents don't either, right now) and fewer voices, and seem to be floundering no matter what we try.

The truly crazy part about this fratricidal education war in Delaware is just talking to people on "the other side" makes you suspect, and allowing somebody from "the other side" to support a political campaign, or visit a school, or show up at the General Assembly appears tantamount to becoming a terrorist who molest children before he blows up their schools.

Yet neither side actually knows (a) what works or (b) what we're all trying to do.

They just know the other side is wrong.  Deeply, dangerously wrong.

There have been too many arrows launched, too many attacks made, and two many apparently unforgiveable sins committed for everybody to sit down again at the table and start fresh.

And besides, the war is too much fun.  Who gives a rat's ass if fighting it is killing public education and too many children's chances?

The choice is not Wall Street vs the teacher's union, it's our children v our colossal crusading egos.

Parents, teachers, and children--even some educational administrators, corporate types, and union leaders--are getting pretty damn sick of it.

Unfortunately, those non-aligned parents and teachers are the ones without the money to throw into the fray, and without the time to devote to backbiting and mudslinging.

They're just trying to raise and educate kids, whether they know quite why or not, and whether the research supports them or not.

Because many of the people on both "sides" have forgotten them, and have forgotten the idea that we are (or should be) a small enough state for everybody to sit at the table.


Good teaching `stops pupils going off rails': British government minister praises power of traditional subjects

Teaching children traditional subjects makes them less likely to indulge in `risky behaviour', Michael Gove declared yesterday.

The Education Secretary claimed that a good grounding in core academic disciplines was more effective than teaching life skills `in minutiae'.

His comments to MPs came amid growing controversy over lurid sex education materials used in some schools.  They include a film for nine-year-olds produced by BBC Active that features computer-generated images of genitalia and a couple having sex.  Sex education is typically covered in personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons, which remain optional.

Labour tried to make PSHE compulsory from September last year, which would have required all schools to provide sex education to pupils as young as five.

The Coalition ditched these plans and instead launched a review of PSHE.

It also began ranking schools according to how many pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate - good grades in traditional subjects including maths, English, science and a language.

Giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee, Mr Gove said he wanted to make a `deliberately controversial point'.

`I am all in favour of good sex and relationships education, and our investigation into PSHE is an attempt to find which schools do it best because we want to learn from them,' he said.

`However, if you look at the way in which we can encourage students not to indulge in risky behaviour, one of the best ways we can do that is by educating them so well in a particular range of subjects that they have hope in the future.  `There is a direct correlation between how well students are doing overall academically and their propensity to fall into risky behaviour.'

Instilling character, resilience and intelligence in pupils was more important than `for example, teaching someone in minutiae how to wash their hands,' he said.

Last year, the Daily Mail highlighted a disturbing dossier containing a wide range of graphic resources recommended for use in primary schools, which include explicit images.  Yesterday Damian Hinds, MP for East Hampshire, highlighted concerns over some of the material making its way into schools.  `Some of the BBC stuff and Channel 4 stuff is quite startling,' he said.


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