Monday, June 20, 2016

Administration Policies Aren’t Fixing Student Loan Crisis

Current federal policies in place to alleviate the burden of student loans aren’t working because they don’t focus on the root cause of the problem, which is the high dropout rates at many postsecondary institutions, according to a recent Manhattan Institute report.

The report, entitled Is There a Student Debt Crisis? answers that question by stating that the real problem is not “ballooning monthly payments” for college graduates, but rather the debt that non-graduates carry without the ability to generate the income a college degree provides. 

“Most graduates who borrowed to attend a four-year university face no debt crisis,” writes Max Eden, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “It is students who attended, but often did not complete, lower-quality for-profit and two-year public institutions who are facing financial hardship.”

An October 2015 Federal Reserve study showed a link between failing to graduate and being late on student loan repayments.

Borrowers with no degree owe an average of $12,542, compared to $24,133 owed by bachelor degree holders. However, the non-graduates were late on their loan payments 43.5 percent of the time, as opposed to 11.1 percent of graduates who earned a bachelor’s degree. 

Even borrowers who graduated from for-profit institutions were delinquent 26.5 percent of the time, compared to 16.6 percent from public two-year schools, 11.6 percent from private nonprofit, four-year colleges, and 10.3 percent from public, four-year institutions.

Eden points out that the Federal Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program allows borrowers to make monthly payments equaling 10 percent of their discretionary income (15 percent if they were not a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014).

If they have not repaid the full loan at the end of 20 years (25 if they were not a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014), the debt is forgiven.

However, non-graduates who “need the IBR plan the most” often do not use it because of an “information and administrative bottleneck,” says Eden.

“Even as participation in IBR among non-graduates has floundered, the Obama administration modified the terms of the program to enable borrowers with graduate degrees to receive significant federal loan forgiveness,” he pointed out, even though only 2 percent of post-graduate borrowers default within two years, compared to 20 percent of non-graduates and 8 percent of undergraduate borrowers who earn a bachelor’s degree.

In an interview with CNSNews, Eden explained that the “bureaucratic complexity” of the IBR program is an issue.

“You have to proactively navigate the regulatory paperwork process,” he said. “It’s a much easier thing to do for folks who have gone through college or graduate school than for folks who have dropped out.”

“It shouldn’t necessarily be that hard, but to really fix it, you would need legislative action,” he added.

Moreover, he claims in the report that forgiving the debts of graduates with good job prospects ignores college dropouts who cannot find work.

Students “are consistently told that they need to go to college” to achieve success, leading to “a lot of unprepared students these institutions have no particular reason to vet or support,” Eden told CNSNews.

Colleges and universities would be incentivized to improve their programs if they were responsible for paying back part of their students’ unpaid loans, he pointed out.

“Even a small amount of risk would give postsecondary institutions a reason to contain their costs and offer a better education,” he wrote.

And if low-income students do manage to pay back their loans, Eden thinks their schools should be eligible to receive a bonus.

According to a report from Cleveland Federal Reserve economist Joel Elvery, only a quarter of borrowers make monthly payments of more than $400, while half pay $203 or less.

A Brookings Institute study found that the rise in loan defaults is associated with students who borrow to attend for-profit, two-year and other non-selective colleges which tend to have low graduation rates.

The number of these “non-traditional” borrowers – who are also the ones most likely to struggle to repay their student loans - swelled to half of all student borrowers during and directly after the Great Recession, according to another Brookings study that Eden references.

Eden told CNSNews that for-profit colleges “have no particular institutional incentive to make sure that students graduate” because the dropout rate “doesn’t affect their bottom line”.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 26.5 percent of students at for-profit institutions who started in 2008 graduated within six years.


College Coeds and Sexual Assault

When a preposterously lenient penalty was handed down to the “all-American” swimmer at Stanford University who had raped an incapacitated woman behind a garbage dumpster, most people rightly experienced revulsion and anger at this injustice. That revulsion is amplified among Stanford alumni.

While there may have been extenuating circumstances known only to the judge, it is difficult to conceive what how any such circumstances would result in such leniency.

Those who have never been the victim of a sexual assault can’t comprehend the humiliation and personal violation. We can weep for the victim, love the victim, and pray for the victim, but we can never take away the lifetime of pain and anguish that they bear.

Some assaults, as in the Stanford case, clearly fit the definition of “rape.” Unfortunately, for every case where rape is clear, there are thousands of sexual encounters between college coeds which might be classified as assault but could never produce a conviction because both parties were impaired by drugs — the most common drug being alcohol. For this reason, few assaults are reported, and of those that are, most result in plea bargains or refusals to prosecute.

Further, some of the most “celebrated” cases of sexual assault, those which have become media sensations, such as gang rape charges against the Duke lacrosse team and the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia, prove to be unfounded. The MSM may have increase their market share advertising by promoting sensational cases, but when those cases have been proven unfounded, they tend to undermine legitimate charges.

The best defense against most instances of sexual assault begins with personal responsibility. First, if you are a parent, and your coed is not committed to abstain from sex and alcohol use, make sure your sons and daughters understand what constitutes “consensual sex.” Second, no matter what their attitudes about sex might be, they must avoid making poor choices that increase their exposure to predatory sexual encounters — which on college campuses most often begin with alcohol/drug impairment.

It is likely that everyone reading these words is, or knows someone who made poor choices about alcohol/drug consumption in the wrong company and, as a consequence, had a sexual encounter they regretted. Few of those encounters rise to the level of the assault in the Stanford case, but many do involve predatory sex, even if both parties are impaired.

Some have suggested — or worked to pass laws requiring — “sexual consent contracts,” which may seem laughable but…

It is unfortunate that within 24 hours of sentencing, the Stanford assault case became fodder for race-bait memes, which appeared across social media platforms. Those memes compared sentencing between white and black offenders, which, again, is an unfortunate diversion from the subject at hand.

And on the subject of alcohol/drug impairment and sentencing, consider that if a drunk driver kills another motorist, few states have minimum sentencing standards that exceed one year. Our home state of Tennessee has the most stringent sentencing requirements in the nation: eight to 60 years. But in Maryland this week, a drunk driver who killed two passengers in his car was sentenced to just four years in prison, which according to The Washington Post “was more than two years longer than [his] attorney had sought but eight years shorter than what prosecutors wanted.” He is eligible for parole in one year.

Sound familiar? A mitigating factor was that the other three occupants in the car were also impaired. Now don’t get us wrong — the sentencing in both cases seems grossly lenient, but the Maryland judge said he would not punish the driver for “the sins of a society that has made teenagers think it is okay to drink and do drugs.”

Finally, on a related note about sentencing for sexual assault, for those who have so quickly politicized the Stanford case, we draw your attention to another case when a lawyer got a child rapist off in a plea bargain for “time served in the county jail” — two months. One Hillary Rodham agreed to defend the rapist “as a personal favor” before becoming that state’s first lady.

In her defense of Thomas Alfred Taylor, Hillary impugned the character of his 12-year-old victim, alleging she “sought out older men” and was “emotionally unstable.”

In a recent interview, the victim in that case had a few words for Clinton: “[She] took me through Hell. … I realize the truth now, the heart of what you’ve done to me. And you are supposed to be for women?”


The Stanford petitioners want revenge, not justice

The campaign to sack Brock Turner's judge undermines the rule of law

Outrage has continued to grow over the sentencing of Stanford college student Brock Turner. Turner was given a six-month custodial sentence by Judge Aaron Persky following his conviction of felony sexual assault. Turner was found by two graduate students behind a dumpster outside a fraternity party. He was thrusting on top of his victim who, according to the witnesses, was not moving. The two students intervened and held Turner down until the police arrived. As well as his six-month jail sentence, Turner will spend the rest of his life on the sex offenders’ register and will serve three years on probation following his release.

Following the sentencing, the victim’s statement detailing the assault was published. It quickly went viral, with many commentators suggesting it was the ‘most powerful thing’ written on rape they had ever read. After its publication on Buzzfeed, it was read out almost in its entirety on CNN.

After the publication of the statement, a petition was circulated on to have the judge removed from practice. At the time of writing, the petition has received over one million signatures. Stanford law professor Michelle Dauber, who spearheaded the campaign, said that Turner’s lenient sentence was ‘dangerous’ because ‘fewer survivors will report if they think sexual assault will not be taken seriously’. Turner’s father has also been the target of internet rage for suggesting that his son’s crime amounted to ‘20 minutes of action’, which campaigners say reduces the significance of his crime. When Turner’s childhood friend wrote a letter in support of Turner, another campaign was launched to have music venues boycott her band.

I am not going to hold a candle for Turner. The evidence against him appears to be strong. The two students who found him and his victim both testified that the victim was not moving as Turner was thrusting on top of her. When the two students found Turner’s victim she was entirely unresponsive. There were suggestions that he had taken photographs of the girl passed out and had posted them on a group message. He has also failed to take responsibility for his actions. In his own letter to the court, Turner blamed campus drinking culture and ‘sexual promiscuity’ for what happened at the party.

So Turner deserved a conviction. But the internet anger around this case has little to do with the specifics of what took place. Instead, the case has been held up as an example of ‘rape culture’, in which sexual offences are not taken seriously and rapists are able to walk away from the justice system apparently unscathed. One website claimed that the case was part of a ‘rape epidemic’, citing research that one in four campus athletes had admitted to ‘coercing’ women into having sex. Many online feminists have also described the case as symptomatic of societal disregard for the suffering of rape victims.

It is important to note that the sentence appears to be commensurate with what Turner was convicted of. And given that very few people were actually present in court, it seems unlikely that there are many people more qualified to pass sentence than the judge. Perhaps later decisions will find that Turner’s sentence was too lenient, although it is important to note that the head of the Santa Clara public defendants’ office has defended the sentence as fair. In any case, the idea that a judge should be sacked for passing a sentence that online campaigners disagree with makes a mockery of the rule of law.

It is draconian to demand that the powers of sentencing be used to ‘send a message’ to victims about the justice system. The only message that complainants in these cases should receive is that their complaints will be taken seriously and investigated properly. Victims do not have a say in how long their attackers get behind bars, and rightly so. Allowing them to do so would reduce the justice system to a process of enacting revenge rather than justice.

That Turner was prosecuted in these circumstances is testament to how the law has become more attuned to difficult cases. This was a case that, initially, depended entirely on eye-witness testimony. Both the victim and Turner had been drinking, making the case arguably more difficult to investigate. But the victim was taken seriously, the case was investigated, and, as a result, good forensic evidence was found in support of what the victim had alleged. One columnist in the US pointed out that Turner’s prosecution is a sign that trials around difficult cases like these are now more feasible than ever before.

This case has nothing to do with a ‘rape culture’. The only person responsible for the actions of Brock Turner is Brock Turner. Furthermore, his trial and conviction show that the law is capable of catching up with guilty people, even in difficult circumstances. Hounding the judge and members of Turner’s family for their pronouncements on the case does nothing to improve the response of the justice system to rape. Instead, it fuels a climate of misinformation and vigilante justice that undermines society’s ability to deal with these cases fairly.


The war on ‘dead white dudes’

The racist 'decolonise the curriculum' campaign is a threat to universalism

The demand for universities to ‘decolonise’ has become one of the central tenets of the identity-driven student protest movement. It has driven a cleansing of ‘colonial iconography’ in the form of statues, pictures and the names of buildings. It has also turned the spotlight on what is taught in higher education, with the call to ‘decolonise the curriculum’.

The group Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, campaigning for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from campus, aims ‘to challenge the structures of knowledge production that continue to mould a colonial mindset that dominates our present’. The Why is My Curriculum White? movement argues: ‘Universities in the UK have operated under a colonial legacy, perpetuating “whiteness” both structurally and in the confines of knowledge reproduced.’

In the US, students at Yale University are calling for the English department to abandon a course requirement to study authors such as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. They argue: ‘It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors.’ Meanwhile, at Seattle University, Jodi Kelly, the dean of Matteo Ricci College, has been ‘put on leave’ after a group of students staged a sit-in, protesting that the ‘liberal-arts curriculum focused too much on classical Western history and philosophy’. One student claimed, ‘the only thing they’re teaching us is dead white dudes’.

The rhetoric of these campaigns suggests universities are the last bastions of imperialism and that institutions in Britain are adamantly clinging on to an empire long since surrendered. The claim that there are too many ‘dead white dudes’ suggests academics are complicit in promoting a prejudiced view of the world and that the content of degree-level courses has remained unchanged for decades. Above all this sits the image of student campaigners as either valiant warriors tackling a conservative academy or, in much media coverage, as over-privileged ignoramuses.

The reality is very different. It is academics, not students, who have rejected traditional bodies of subject knowledge and have questioned the dominance of dead white men in the curriculum. It is academics who first argued the university is an ‘academic-military-prison-industrial complex’ in need of ‘dismantling’. Today, all British universities are expected to promote ‘global citizenship’ and to ‘internationalise the curriculum’ by ‘providing students with global perspectives of their discipline’.

Despite their bravado and unashamed philistinism, student campaigners are pushing at an open door. Far from clinging on to tradition, the academy has already gone a long way towards replacing ‘dead white dudes’ with the ‘values and skills [needed] to operate in diverse cultural environments’. In the UK, academics who are members of UCU, the lecturers’ union, have welcomed student campaigns to decolonise education – they had already rejected the notion that the university should play a role in preserving, transmitting and developing the intellectual and cultural capital of the nation.

That academics and students in the world’s most elite universities should be so keen to ditch ‘dead white dudes’ in favour of ‘values and skills for diverse cultural environments’ speaks to more than just philistinism. It suggests a self-loathing, a hatred for the values that have built the modern Western world and a desire to replace social and scientific progress (that has produced global benefits) with more modest and relativist goals of respect and recognition. Today, the word ‘university’ serves as an embarrassing reminder of universality; the Latin and Old French origins of the word suggest ‘entire’, not just in reference to all knowledge, or all members of the academic community, but to knowledge that was universally true and of relevance to all humanity.

In the rush to decolonise education, and rid the syllabus of ‘dead white dudes’, campaigners forget that the insights and advances made by these past intellectual giants have had an impact that goes way beyond the specific category of ‘white men’. It makes no sense to talk about introducing ‘diverse cultural perspectives’ into teaching or the pursuit of knowledge. Scientific principles and mathematical equations, for example, are universal; they are only held to be true if the results hold irrespective of time, place or the person doing the testing.

Although, in the past, the majority of scientists were middle-class white men, the knowledge of the world they uncovered transcends their identity group. That the advances made by the likes of Newton, Einstein, Darwin and Faraday are not culturally specific is evidenced by the number of people around the world who daily board airplanes, drive cars, undergo surgery and use computers.

That knowledge can convey universal truths about humanity, and can speak to more than the narrow identity group of the originator, goes beyond science – it holds for art, music, literature and philosophy, too. This idea of people as equal, with shared experiences, emotions and interests, explains the enduring legacy of works by ‘dead white dudes’ such as Shakespeare, Moliere, Mozart, Beethoven, Picasso and Caravaggio. Such an idea also underpins democracy, citizenship and justice. For this reason, the rejection of a ‘white’ intellectual heritage is anything but radical. Works by Immanuel Kant, Thomas Paine and Karl Marx triggered intellectual, social and political upheavals that went to the very heart of contemporary establishment beliefs.

The bizarre rush to decolonise or internationalise education pours scorn on all the major intellectual and social advances of past centuries. Today, works of literature and philosophy are not judged according to their universal relevance, their relationship to truth, or their intellectual worth, but simply on the identity of the author, with those who are most oppressed considered to have greatest insight. Many students have been taught a cheap, ad hominem form of criticism by their lecturers. As such, students’ demands for more black or female writers to be covered on the curriculum have an inevitable logic; their campaigns put into practice what they have picked up in the classroom.

Questioning the content of the curriculum is always a useful exercise, but a philistine rejection of knowledge based on nothing more than the gender or skin colour of the originator drags the university, and society more broadly, backwards. It reinforces an intellectual relativism and prevents any scientific advance, work of literature or musical score being judged as better or more valuable than another.

When academics and students abandon both tradition and universalism, they reject the university. Rather than one ‘community of masters and scholars’, we end up with a multitude of different competing interest groups, all demanding equal recognition and respect. Rather than standing on the shoulders of giants, we end up trapped in a permanent present. The call to ‘decolonise higher education’ epitomises both these trends.


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