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College Talk Blog

Student Debt Consumer Issues

Student financial aid officers are the hardest working people I know. They navigate unimaginable red tape to serve students everyday in a higher education system with prices rising faster than the Consumer Price Index. They are an island on campus surrounded by administrators often clueless to their regulatory constraints and workload, parents sure that pressure will make financial aid officers bend federal regulations for them, students who miss deadlines and now....demonstrators from the Student Debt Collective.

I was surprised to read that attendees at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators were the target of objects thrown at them by the SDC this week in New Orleans. It is a shame that the SDC is targeting the primary group in this country that has been lobbying for decades for student financial aid and loan regulations and procedures that are student-friendly. NASFAA and state financial aid organizations have been student advocates and are not responsible for rising costs or other concerns of this student group. Without NASFAA lobbying on their behalf, the situation would be worse today.

It is interesting to note that the most vocal members are graduates of Corinthian Colleges that have closed due to US Department of Education sanctions. Others were affiliated with for-profit colleges. In the last presidential campaign, some of these for profit college groups were held up as a shining example of private enterprise by one of the presidential candidates. They are innovative at getting consumers to pay more for less education and poorer job outcomes.

Officials of the government and congress have appeared to be afraid to criticize the private sector schools taking advantage of families. Calling these institutions colleges is like calling a payday lender... a bank.

The student debtors affiliated with SDC would do well to consider how they got where they are. They enrolled in colleges with easy entrance requirements and high price tags. These colleges often promised quick degree completion and great job placement outcomes. Their choices fall into the "too good to be true" category of education. Now that it is time to pay for the "quick" programs from which they graduated with income from the high paying jobs they did not get, they are understandably angry. 

Congress and consumer agencies had a duty to protect students and families from these "opportunities". While these schools may have met a need for some segments of society, they have been a burden impeding success for those who could least afford additional barriers to economic achievement. Poor families have too often been the targets of these colleges who made huge profits secure in the knowledge that the government would pay for the defaulted student loans that would occur.

Better targets of their consumer activism are politicians, consumer protection agencies, the colleges that gave them a bad deal at a high price and the US Department of Education. I am all in favor of student activism especially if it is targeted effectively and carried out in a constructive manner so that positive results are possible.

Activist groups raise awareness of known problems that are complex and for which the current rate of progress is unacceptable. SDC and other activists would do well to do their homework, target strategically and be politically active in a constructive way. Financial aid officers do not get nearly enough support, are already student advocates and cannot do anymore than they already do to try to advocate for students.

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