EDITORIAL: College students need more loan watchdogs, not fewer


As Sen. Dick Durbin tweeted, there’s now one less cop on the beat.

The cop is Seth Frotman, and he’s the latest casualty in the Trump administration’s war to make it easier for shady lenders and for-profit schools to rip off college students with predatory loans and worthless degrees.

Frotman resigned last week as the student loan ombudsman for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, leaving the 44 million Americans saddled with a record $1.5 trillion in student loan debt without a top government advocate to look out for their interests.


It’s just another sign that this administration’s agenda doesn’t include the financial well-being of kids and parents who need reasonable loans to afford a credible college education.

“When student loan borrowers mail their payment checks in each month, they should bear in mind that the Trump administration is turning its back on ensuring their rights are protected,” said Christopher Peterson, director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America.

Frotman sent his Trump-appointed boss, acting bureau director Mick Mulvaney, a caustic 2½ page resignation letter. Media and top elected officials got copies too. Frotman pulled no punches, accusing Mulvaney of “undercutting” and “undermining” his work and “shielding bad actors from scrutiny.”

None of this was a bombshell, frankly. Mulvaney, who also heads the Office of Management and Budget, has been contemptuous of the financial protection bureau from Day 1. He has called it “a joke,” worked to sabotage it and gutted Frotman’s office.

Mulvaney has done this despite indisputable accomplishments by Frotman, such as returning $750 million to students who were harmed by predatory lenders and uncovering evidence that some of the nation’s biggest banks have been defrauding students with legally dubious account fees.

Mulvaney opted to keep the public in the dark about which big banks were involved and how much fraud took place, quashing Frotman’s plan to publish a report.

Millions of young people — and parents — drowning in five- and six-figure student debt need protection from more “cops on the beat” like Frotman, not fewer.

Meanwhile, overwhelming debt and shady for-profit schools work in tandem to hurt ambitious kids. Just 9 percent of college students attend for-profit schools, but those students account for 30 percent of student loan defaults. Then there’s a recent analysis by The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, that found 99 percent of applications for loan relief — or “borrower defense claims” filed by students who say they were misled or defrauded by their schools — are from young people who attended for-profit institutions.

Rules developed under the Obama administration allow for these claims. There is also the “gainful employment” rule, which cuts federal funding to schools that don’t prepare kids for decent jobs that give them a reasonable chance at paying back their loans.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos now wants to “revise” those rules — effectively gutting them, really. That’s no surprise, either. DeVos has been a one-woman employment agency on behalf of for-profit industry cast-offs, and she eliminated an Education Department team that had been investigating for-profit school abuse.

Taxpayers could end up paying the price here: Repealing the gainful employment rule would cost us $5.3 billion over a decade, according to the Education Department’s own analysis.

“The situation has changed dramatically under Secretary Devos,” Durbin told us. “The department has walked away from their responsibilities.”

Shady lenders and for-profit schools aren’t entirely to blame for our nation’s student debt crisis. Young people also are racking up huge debt at non-profit colleges and universities, both public and private, that have impeccable credentials. Many institutions of higher education routinely hike tuition year after year, making it harder for young people to work their way through college, as so many older Americans did.

Students, too, have to be smart about how much debt they take on. 

But our nation should not allow scam artists posing as educators to lure unsuspecting young person into oceans of debt without honest job prospects.

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Region: Chicago,Editorial,City: Chicago,Opinion

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September 2, 2018 at 06:06AM

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