Welcome to the War on Free College

Melissa Byrne

So because all of the excellent work a whole host of organizations are doing to normalize free college, there is a now full on assault on the idea of free college — either in debt-free or tuition-free form. These very serious people aren’t being dumb and saying “stop free college”, instead these very serious people are arguing there really isn’t a crisis. This is going to be their rallying cry for the 2016 cycle to cut into the success of debt free/ tuition free. And we need every one ready to say a loud “NO”.

The centrists over at Brookings released a problematic study this week arguing that default is really only a problem at for-profits, and a few community colleges. They combined dollar amounts of undergrad and grad education to create a chart showing that traditional colleges aren’t a huge problem, and combine populations of students to present a false sense of both the higher ed universe and the debt problem. Lumping together the struggle of students who attend for-profit colleges with students who attend traditional schools serves only to divide a whole population at risk of exploitation.

Repeat after me: It’s wrong that students who attended for-profits schools end up in default. It’s wrong that students who attended community colleges end up in default. It’s wrong that students who attended four-year schools — both non-profit and public end up in default. It’s not a competition to see who has it worse. We all have it bad — in different ways — but we can join together to work for structural change.

(And it’s wrong that so many families have to struggle to put their children through college. It’s wrong that those families on the edge have to choose between retirement security and their children’s future. And it’s wrong that wealthy people get to buy their children a tax-free education. Why? BECAUSE COLLEGE SHOULD BE FREE FOR ALL!!!)

And what Brookings in all the centrist wisdom misses — even if someone isn’t defaulting, its still doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, and the growing debt loads under IBR which ease the pressure on making ends meet is going to cause R’s to fight to end that program.

And today, it was announced that the Department of Eduction via the US Date Service collaborated with a student loan servicer’s (ECMC who bought Corinthian College in a sweet deal) project College Abacus on their new College Scorecard. I mean seriously- ECMC is one hundred percent committed to loan based higher education. They are one hundred percent committed to pseudo for-profit colleges. These are the bad ones. They are not the allies of folks struggling to attend college.

The College Scorecard is a big data, ed reformer dream that again emphasizes that “THE PROBLEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION” is the lack transparency and that the consumer just needs to be educated on the sticker value of each college they want to attend because ROI, duh. It’s not that the problem is Ronald Reagan pushing college off as the responsibility of the parent. You can have the all data in the world but it doesn’t solve the fact that wages are down, savings are down, and the parents just can’t pay for college. But of course, the elites at College Abacus and other banks aren’t interested solving that problem cause the solution is free college and them being out of the higher education space.

NOTE: It’s wonderful that we have a US Digital Service. I am glad they are working on Dept of ED issues. Next time, don’t collaborate with a student loan servicer who ED is responsible for regulating. Work on making the website easier to use for borrowers.

Sure, it’s good that data is out — but it’s being presented to prop up the idea of “personal responsibility” for paying for college. The scorecard is focusing on “return on investment” ROI not that college is RIGHT not a gift from parents to children. I know I’m repeating myself. But we have to focus on this point over and over again: College is a right, not a gift from parents to children.

Feel free to tweet: .@usedgov why did you partner with loan servicer ECMC via @CollegeAbacus @ECMClab for #collegescorecard?

Additionally, the President’s new efforts on free community college sadly have two student loan banks on the board: JPMorganChase and GreatLakes. Again while the banks may reluctantly have to support free community college, they are not going to give up the entire college market. They want to be able to sell loans for the 3rd and 4th years, and then loans at the non-community colleges. Why should a bank that crashed the economy be at the table for fixing higher education? Why should someone who profits from hard working student loan borrowers have power over the future?

The more ground we win on free college and debt cancellation, the more these awful pro-student loan debt, pro-parents paying for college folks will continue to fight really hard. And they are smart. They are charming. They are well funded.

The banks will not go gentle into that good night. They will rage, rage against the dawn of free college.

Melissa Byrne

Written by

I’m an organizer by calling.

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