Monday, October 14, 2019

What student debt is doing to a generation of Americans

I inherited nothing but because I was a good saver and invested from early on, I was able to pay for all my son's  education fees without difficulty.  He entered the workforce with zero debt. 

But had I been poorer I would have advised him to learn deeply whatever he was interested in and get a diploma mill degree for documentation purposes.  If you know a field well and can demonstrate it, employers will have little interest in your documentation. 

He spent 8 years learning stuff that he enjoyed but which was no practical use to him but then took a short course in IT.

He entered the workforce in IT and he just had to show his work for lots of people to want to hire him. They hired him on the basis of what he could do rather than any qualifications.  And you can learn programming, which is the basis of IT, in a week.  I did.  Demonstrated ability and usefulness will get you jobs.  Qualifications often will not.

In my working life I several times got jobs that weren't even advertised. See here. I just presented my track record and was grabbed.

So I greatly deplore the poor guidance that most American college students receive.  Most could do well without incurring any debt

In April, 2011, the anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom was sitting in her office at New York University when one of her most promising students appeared at her door, crying. Kimberly had dreamed of life in New York City since she was eight years old. Growing up in a middle-class family just outside Philadelphia, she was regaled with stories about her mother’s short, glamorous-sounding stint waitressing in Times Square. Kimberly’s version of the big-city fantasy was also shaped by reruns of “Felicity,” a late-nineties drama set at a lightly fictionalized version of N.Y.U.

Her dream school did not disappoint. Kimberly was an intrepid, committed student, studying the effects of globalization on urban space; she worked with street vendors and saw their struggles to make ends meet. College opened up a new world to her. But her family had sacrificed to help finance her education, and she had taken out considerable loans. She had looked forward to putting her degree to good use, while chipping away at the debt behind it. But the job she was offered involved outsourcing labor to foreign contractors— exacerbating the inequalities she hoped a future career might help rectify.

Zaloom felt that there was something representative about Kimberly’s story, as more students find themselves struggling with the consequences of college debt. She wanted to learn about the trajectory that had brought Kimberly to her office that day. She visited her at home and listened as her mother, June, talked about how she, too, had fantasized about a life in New York.

But June’s family had needed her back home, in Pennsylvania, where she met Kimberly’s father. They eventually divorced, but they stayed in the same town, raising Kimberly together. June had wanted her daughter to have the experiences she had missed out on. When Kimberly was accepted at N.Y.U., her father urged her to attend a more affordable school in state. June implored him to change his mind, and he eventually agreed. The decision stretched their finances, but June told her daughter, “You’ve got to go.”

It’s easy to dismiss quandaries like Kimberly’s as the stuff of youth, when every question seems freighted with filmic significance. There’s a luxury to putting off practical concerns. But her story gave Zaloom insight into the evolving role of college debt in contemporary American life.

Kimberly’s predicament was put in motion when she first set her sights on attending a college where, today, the annual tuition is more than fifty thousand dollars, in one of the most expensive cities in the world. That her parents risked their financial stability to nurture this dream seemed meaningful. Previous generations might have pushed a college-bound child to fend for herself; Kimberly’s parents prized notions of “potential” and “promise.” Shielding her from the consequences of debt was an expression of love, and of their own forward-looking class identity.

Since 2012, Zaloom has spent a lot of time with families like Kimberly’s. They all fall into America’s middle class—an amorphous category, defined more by sensibility or aspirational identity than by a strict income threshold. (Households with an annual income of anywhere from forty thousand dollars to a quarter of a million dollars view themselves as middle class.)

In “Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost” (Princeton), Zaloom considers how the challenge of paying for college has become one of the organizing forces of middle-class family life. She and her team conducted interviews with a hundred and sixty families across the country, all of whom make too much to qualify for Pell Grants (reserved for households that earn below fifty thousand dollars) but too little to pay for tuition outright.

These families are committed to providing their children with an “open future,” in which passions can be pursued. They have done all the things you’re supposed to, like investing and saving, and not racking up too much debt. Some parents are almost neurotically responsible, passing down a sense of penny-pinching thrift as though it were an heirloom; others prize idealism, encouraging their children to follow their dreams.

What actually unites them, from a military family in Florida to a dual-Ph.D. household in Michigan, is that the children are part of a generation where debt— the financial and psychological state of being indebted—will shadow them for much of their adult lives.

A great deal has changed since Kimberly’s parents attended college. From the late nineteen-eighties to the present, college tuition has increased at a rate four times that of inflation, and eight times that of household income. It has been estimated that forty-five million people in the United States hold educational debt totalling roughly $1.5 trillion—more than what Americans owe on their credit cards and auto loans combined.

Some fear that the student-debt “bubble” will be the next to burst. Wide-scale student-debt forgiveness no longer seems radical. Meanwhile, skeptics question the very purpose of college and its degree system. Maybe what pundits dismiss as the impulsive rage of young college students is actually an expression of powerlessness, as they anticipate a future defined by indebtedness.

Middle-class families might not seem like the most sympathetic characters when we’re discussing the college-finance conundrum. Poor students, working-class students, and students of color face more pronounced disadvantages, from the difficulty of navigating financial-aid applications and loan packages to the lack of a safety net.

But part of Zaloom’s fascination with middle-class families is the larger cultural assumption that they ought to be able to afford higher education. A study conducted in the late nineteen-eighties by Elizabeth Warren, Teresa Sullivan, and Jay Westbrook illuminated the precarity of middle-class life. They found that the Americans filing for bankruptcy rarely lacked education or spent recklessly. Rather, they were often college-educated couples who were unable to recover from random crises along the way, like emergency medical bills.

These days, paying for college poses another potential for crisis. The families in “Indebted” are thoughtful and restrained, like the generically respectable characters conjured during a Presidential debate. Zaloom follows them as they contemplate savings plans, apply for financial aid, and then strategize about how to cover the difference.

Parents and children alike talk about how educational debt hangs over their futures, impinging on both daily choices and long-term ambitions. In the eighties, more than half of American twenty-somethings were financially independent. In the past decade, nearly seventy per cent of young adults in their twenties have received money from their parents. The risk is collective, and the consequences are shared across generations. At times, “Indebted” reads like an ethnography of a dwindling way of life, an elegy for families who still abide by the fantasy that thrift and hard work will be enough to secure the American Dream.

If you are a so-called responsible parent, you might begin stashing away money for college as soon as your child is born. You may want to take advantage of a 529 education-savings plan, a government-administered investment tool that provides tax relief to people who set money aside for a child’s educational expenses. Some states even provide a 529 option to prepay college tuition at today’s rates.

Zaloom writes of Patricia, a schoolteacher in Florida who managed to cover in-state fees for both of her children after five years of working and saving. Patricia resented the fact that preparing for her children’s future left her with so little time and energy to be with them in the present. Her daughter, Maya, was academically gifted and excelled in college. Then, when Patricia’s son, Zachary, was a high-school senior, her husband walked out on the family, leaving them four hundred thousand dollars in debt.

Patricia spent her retirement savings to keep them afloat. Zachary had difficulty coping, and he had never shown a strong inclination toward college, but the money was already earmarked. Zaloom writes, “Her investment in his tuition was an expression of faith in him.” He struggled in college and never graduated. “If I’d had a crystal ball,” Patricia says, “I wouldn’t have gotten in the program for Zachary.”

In Zaloom’s view, Patricia’s decisions all point to a core faith that college is fundamental to middle-class identity. Throughout “Indebted,” parents and children lament the feeling of burdening one another. Parents fear that their financial decisions might limit their children’s potential, even when those children are still in diapers. It’s a fear, Zaloom argues, that loan companies often exploit. “You couldn’t not hear about it,” Patricia recalled of the commercials for Florida’s college-savings account. The existence of 529 plans suggests that paying for college is just a matter of saving a bit of each monthly paycheck.

And yet Patricia is an outlier. Only three per cent of Americans invest in a 529 account or the equivalent, and they have family assets that are, on average, twenty-five times those of the median household. Zaloom disputes the premise that “planning leads to financial stability.” Student debt didn’t become a problem because families refused to save. “In truth, it’s the other way around,” she writes. “Planning requires stability in a family’s fortunes, a stability in both family life and their finances that is uncommon for middle-class families today.”

As an anthropologist, Zaloom is particularly attuned to how institutions teach us to see ourselves. The Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) form, required of all students seeking assistance, consists of a hundred or so questions detailing the financial history of the applicant’s family. Zaloom hears about the difficulty of collecting this information, especially when parents are estranged, or unwilling to help. And the form presumes a lot about how the “family unit” works. One informational graphic poses the question “Who’s my parent when I fill out the FAFSA?”

More HERE 

A School Referred to This Dad’s Daughter as a Boy for Months…Without Telling Him

How would you feel if your school-aged child made a life-altering decision without your input and even without your knowledge?

Jay Keck felt helpless.

Jay’s daughter is on the autistic spectrum. She has difficulty making friends and uses a personalized education program for students with learning disabilities. Jay and his wife did everything they could to help her do well in school and to build a solid relationship with their daughter’s teachers.

That relationship went south one day in April of 2016. That’s when Jay’s daughter—who was then 14-years old—told her parents that she believed she was a boy trapped in the “wrong body.” This was a shock to Jay and his wife because their daughter had never shown any signs that she was uncomfortable as a girl.

But the real bombshell was yet to come.

Jay found out his daughter’s teachers had been affirming his daughter as a boy for months—calling her by male pronouns and a masculine name—all without his knowledge. They did this even though they were fully aware of her mental health history.

Jay and his wife met with school officials to make sure their daughter was called by her legal name. Not only was their request denied, but school officials treated them as if they were abusive parents because they didn’t want their daughter to reject her biological sex.

Jay’s story is angering and horrifying. But unfortunately, he’s not the only one.

Parents across the country are seeing their rights ignored
“Through all of this,” Jay wrote, “I’ve learned that I’m not alone. Many parents just like my wife and me are often afraid to speak out.”

Jay started the group Parents of ROGD Kids. ROGD stands for “Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria,” which is what Jay’s daughter and many other children and teenagers experience. The group is for parents whose children have been encouraged to reject their biological sex—and even given life-altering medical treatment—against their wishes.

Many public schools are already teaching children as young as kindergarteners that it is possible to change your sex. Make no mistake: this isn’t just about using someone’s preferred pronouns and allowing a child to dress as they wish. It’s about setting children on a path toward sex-reassignment surgery and taking cross-sex hormones, which are both dangerous and largely experimental. What’s more, the studies supporting such measures have been widely discredited.

And if parents are not supportive of their children going down such a dangerous path, some school officials treat them as if they are abusive. A social worker even told Jay’s daughter about a halfway house because Jay did not affirm his daughter as the opposite sex.


The Ministry of Love: Ongoing Gender Partisanship in the Department of Education

Orwell’s famous dystopia 1984 is often cited as a parable about the banality of administrative evil. The ever-vigilant bureaucrats of Oceania position themselves not only on the Left side of history, but also at its end. To err from their ideology is treason.

The citizens of Oceania live in a state of self-imposed hypnosis where they have to pretend that even the simplest of words signify their exact opposites. The government agency that specializes in espionage and torture is thus called The Ministry of Love. The Ministry views every sexual act as a potential crime unless proven otherwise via affirmative surveillance.

Imagine a federal agency that has invested itself with the authority to monitor the most private details of citizens to root out sexual heresy. Imagine a federal  agency which once contemplated installing security cameras in every classroom in order to monitor the facial and optical muscles of all students nationwide.

This agency was so devoted to its ideological mission that it never presented its unconstitutional rules to the American public to consult their opinion, considered itself to be a superior alternative to the criminal justice system, granted itself universal jurisdiction, threatened many colleges with financial death unless they punished constitutionally protected speech, sought to abolish the “reasonable person” standard, and created a class of imitative bureaucrats in academic institutions to perpetuate an industry of victimhood.

Impossible, you think? We have just objectively described the record of the Department of Education’s civil rights branch, the Office for Civil Rights.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received bipartisan and professional criticism for its unconstitutional actions during the Obama administration. Formal critics include the Federalist Society, Heritage Foundation, National Association of Scholars, California Governor Jerry Brown, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  American College of Trial Lawyers, and Reason Foundation.

Moreover, courts that have heard cases involving OCR’s Title IX procedures have often strongly denounced them. Examples include condemnatory opinions from the Second Circuit of Appeals and the Sixth Circuit of Appeals. In a recent Seventh Circuit of Appeals opinion, Judge Barrett stated that “Purdue’s process fell short of what even a high school must provide to a student facing a days-long suspension.” Professor KC Johnson has covered the case in greater detail.

Obama’s OCR espoused a particular brand of radical feminism. According to this doctrine, taught across the nation in women’s studies departments, men have brutalized women since the beginning of history. Past oppression must be remedied through government intervention, eliminating the due process principles that are meant to protect every American.

The perils of government tyranny aside, the fundamental assumptions of the “patriarchy theory” cannot survive rational scrutiny. While it is true that women were historically denied various rights, they have also been sheltered from grievous harm (combat, for example). Also, analysis of federal aggregate data from the United States demonstrates that women are as likely to engage in sexual coercion against men as vice versa, which undermines the “patriarchy” narrative.

At any rate, past historical wrongs cannot be rectified by unfair treatment in the present, as the Eighth Circuit stated in this ruling.

OCR’s historical record speaks to its lack of fairness. The agency authored a total of 255 resolution letters (formal decisions in a case) from 2012 to 2019.

The analysis shows that whenever OCR wrote a resolution letter between 2012 and 2019 to adjudicate adversarial proceedings between female and male parties, they sided with the female 216 times but only 9 times with the male. Their extreme partisanship is clear in every aspect of Title IX.

Athletics. The Department’s athletics compliance tests have been rightfully criticized for imposing unconstitutional quotas. The agency sided with female athletes 63 times, but sided with the male only once between 2012 and 2019. The only resolution letter favorable for male athletes is the Temple University Letter.

Grading. The Department sided with female students who alleged discrimination in grading on multiple occasions, while dismissing very similar allegations by male students.

Retaliation. The Department sided with female complainants alleging retaliation on many occasions. There are at least 23 letters in this category, such as the Jacksonville State University Letter where the agency sided with a “falsely accused” woman. There is no clear example of the Department siding with a male student alleging retaliation on the basis of sex, but dismissal letters do exist.

Sexual Harassment. Male students who petitioned the agency to allege bias in sexual harassment disputes (either as the accused, or the accuser) had a success rate of 1.1 percent during 2012-2019 (6/532). The Department was very aggressive when it came to siding with female accusers while consistently dismissing the concerns of accused males. This is despite male students often suffering life-altering consequences, such as expulsion or a permanent notation on their transcript, in addition to severe emotional distress. Some have committed suicide.

Reasonableness. OCR urged schools to get rid of the “reasonable person” standard at least twice:  One letter involved a female student who accused a male teacher of staring at her breasts for 3-4 seconds. Another letter involved a costly systemic review because very young students were playing “National Grab Ass Day” during play time. The agency even sided with a female student whose claims of sexual violence were disproven via DNA evidence.

Due Process. While sending a dismissal letter to an accused male student, OCR argued that “due process” is not covered by Title IX. As long as the accused is a man, that is. Federal bureaucrats aggressively sided with women who were accused of various sexual infractions. On one occasion, the Department condemned a university for allowing a male to file a counter-claim of misconduct against a female student. Another time, the agency threatened a university with loss of federal funding for pressing fraud charges against a woman who made false accusations. There is also an example of OCR using defamation theory to side with a female complainant, even though the agency has never accepted any complaints concerning the damaged reputations of accused men.

Single-Sex Programs. Women are the majority of college students, but many colleges offer dozens of support programs for women only. Whenever male complainants challenge female-only programs, such as women’s centers or STEM camps for girls, the Department has dismissed their complaints on various pretexts. One popular pretext is that these female-only programs cannot be challenged unless men specifically apply to them and receive rejections, thus creating a putative victim. However, OCR has resolved procedural complaints in the absence of any victim on many occasions, as long as the objective was consistent with their agenda.

American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines. OCR dismissed a Title IX complaint challenging the APA guidelines, which sought to classify masculinity as a mental illness factor. This was despite serious public outcry against those guidelines. In the dismissal letter, officials argued that Title IX cannot be applied in a manner that would interfere with curricular materials. That was false. OCR has aggressively interfered with the training materials and the curricular materials of various colleges as long as doing so furthers their gender agenda.

Administrative Closure. OCR has a rule requiring the dismissal of pending complaints if similar allegations have been filed elsewhere. This rule is rigorously applied to male students to dismiss their Title IX complaints. However, when female students file complaints against their institutions, administrative closure is not applied to dismiss their allegations.

Some might assume that OCR has received few meritorious complaints from male students. According to a Freedom of Information Act request, however, the Department received 532 complaints from men in the sexual harassment category alone between 2011 and 2019.

The Department of Education became a hive of identity politics under Obama and there is little evidence of improvement. The modest reforms proposed by Secretary Betsy DeVos have not yet been implemented.

Resolution letters published under the Trump administration perpetuate the Obama doctrines. For example, the Stanford University letter tried to eliminate the reasonable person standard. The Butte-Glenn Community College letter involved a retroactive review of many old complaints, demanding the creation of a complex bureaucracy. The Buffalo State University letter wrongfully claimed that off-campus incidents fall under the jurisdiction of Title IX, despite case law to the contrary.

Unsurprisingly, some politicians want to abolish the entire Department of Education. Representative Thomas Massie has introduced a bill to do just that. While we cannot predict whether the Department will ever be abolished, we must never cease our vigilance against our very own Ministry of Love.


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