Saturday, July 18, 2009

Obama's Community College Initiative gives hope but needs change

Gabriel Arana at The American Prospect gets what's wrong with the community college system:
Obama’s plan for community colleges is not broad enough in scope to address all these concerns, but it can still be designed so it does not perpetuate the problem. Washington, D.C.-based higher education expert Ben Miller suggests limiting what portion of the federal grants to community colleges can go to administrative costs; the fact that the money is dispersed through program-specific grants as opposed to blanket, TARP-like disbursements, he also points out, will prevent the sort of waste and lack of transparency we have seen with the economic stimulus. But this initiative is a drop in the bucket: a lot more needs to be done to stop the corporatizing trend that has steadily transformed our colleges and universities.

One piece of the solution lies in adjunct and faculty unionization. Non-unionized adjuncts do most of the instructional work in higher education, yet they generally have little job security, rarely receive health and retirement benefits, and are paid about a quarter as much per course as tenured faculty. Many dart from campus to campus to try to earn a living. But those at schools with an adjunct union fare much better: adjuncts at NYU, who unionized in 2004, have been able to negotiate some of the highest salaries for adjuncts and contracts that guarantee continued teaching assignments.
His solution of more unionization is great, but legislation is required to end the worst abuses of adjunct faculty. Such legislation should include:
  • every college or university have at least three-fourths of their faculty members be full time, tenure track
  • that part time faculty get the same pay per class as their full time peers with the same qualifications and length of service
  • that part time non-tenure track faculty be offered at least proportionate benefits compared to their full time tenure track peers
These are necessary not only for the welfare of the faculty but of students. Faculty who are racing around from campus to campus to make ends meet are less likely to be available to students outside of class.

Further, while unions are the best way to raise workers' income, no one should have to negotiate their way out of discrimination and unequal compensation. That should be a matter of law. It is also difficult to negotiate when two classes of workers have been created because the employer can always say that giving to one takes away from another.

Here's my comment I posted on Arana's article:
Thanks for mentioning the abuse of adjunct faculty.

It's ironic that for all our society's bluster about valuing education, we treat those who dedicate their lives to providing it as fools and patsies.

I have to patch together two community college teaching jobs to make a living, and worked eight years before one of my schools offered me health insurance. It took about as long before I could make payments on the student loans for the degrees required to do the job. And my story is not unique.

It is time for this system of abuse to change.

The author's point on the corporatizing of higher ed is also dead on. Wall Street just came close to destroying the world economy--why exactly should we apply that not just failed but deadly toxic model to higher education?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Obama expands student loan forgiveness to ALL educators

The Obama administration has expanded the student loan forgiveness program, which previously only went to educators in high risk communities, to all educators and in fact, all public servants.

If you make payments for ten years, the rest of your debt is forgiven.

This is coupled with another program, Income Based Repayment (IBR) that will dramatically reduce payments for most borrowers and forgive their loans after 25 years. PLUS loans are not eligible.

The Department of Education has put up an IBR calculator (this link is dead, see update below), so you can see how much your payments will go down. I owe a little over $100,000, and my monthly payments are about $729. I originally only owed about $50,000, but it was so difficult to make the payments regularly until the last couple of years that my debt doubled.

Running my numbers through the IBR calculator, my payments dropped to $450, so I'll end up paying $54,000 more. Under the old system, I would have paid $218,000 more, so I'll save three-fourths. I've already paid $18,000, so I'll still end paying a more than my original debt--but not four times more.

This will definitely have a "trickle up" effect in my case. I'll be able to make a down payment on a house that much sooner, and others will likely do the same or get a new car or appliance sooner than they otherwise would have, which will help get the economy moving again.

For more information, read the Department of Education press release.

Here's the application for IBR if you're repaying your loans directly to the Department of Education. If you have a federally guaranteed loan you're repaying to a bank, contact your lender.

The application for loan forgiveness hasn't been posted yet.

Here's the actual regulation change for forgiveness.

PS: I would like to take credit for this since I wrote a letter asking the Obama administration to do it, but when I read the reg, the change was in the pipe before that.

March 7, 2014:

Obama has proposed a cap on the amount of student loans that can be forgiven after ten years of payments for public employees.

They claim they're worried about schools and grad students "gaming" the system by piling on debt they know will be forgiven after ten years of payments.

Since I teach at public community colleges and didn't have health insurance or make enough to make regular payments on my student loans (that were more than my rent) for the first ten years I taught, so my original debt doubled through interest, from $50K to over $100K. I have probably paid more in interest than my original debt. If that's gaming the system, I student loan borrowers are the stupidest con men in history.

Please take a second to sign this petition.
MAY 9, 2013:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren bill would lower student loan interest rate to what Wall Street gets from Federal Reserve, 0.75%

Sign White House petition and write your senators and congressional rep and tell them to support it.

On March 8,2012 Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) introduced H.R. 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012
Here's the part that should be of interest to all faculty and our students:Improving Public Service Loan Forgiveness: The act would also provide for Public Service Loan Forgiveness after 60 monthly payments instead of 120. It is impossible for us to overstate how much this would help borrowers who have committed to careers at relatively low-paying public interest jobs, who could actually start saving for their kids' education and perhaps owning their own home half a decade earlier than they anticipated. 
Read the details of the other improvements here. 
If you are reading this, you need to contact your congressmember and senators and tell them to support his bill. It doesn't have to be a long, fancy letter, just say 
I am your constituent, and I want you to actively support and vote for HR 4170, the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012. 
Even if you don't know who represents you in Congress, if you know your own zip code, you can find their contact information here. 
You could even call 202 225-3121, or these numbers and if you know where you live, they can connect you to your representatives. 

UPDATE 8/31/14: The original IBR calculator link doesn't work, but I found this one that may not be a government site, but when I ran my numbers through came pretty close to what I'm actually paying.  Use at your own risk.