U.S. Education Department must live up to its name

As student loan debt continues to plague graduates, the department that acts a debt collector should also serve as an educator

New college graduates should feel that their opportunities are endless, with expanded career options and a plethora of choices at their fingertips – not burdened by thousands of dollars of loans to pay off.

Students at UB generally have a manageable amount of debt, if any, upon graduation – ranked by U.S. News as 19th nationwide in graduating students with the least debt, UB sends more than half of its students off into the real world without any debt at all.

The average debt owed by UB students upon graduation is $17,440.

That number is significant, to be sure, but pales in comparison with the staggering sums owed by college graduates who attend schools that are less affordable than UB.

Students who head off to pricy private universities and take on life-altering loans in order to pay tuition, which at private non-profit universities averaged over $31,000 this year, often do so unwittingly, without much of an awareness – if any – of the long-term ramifications of the debt they just took on.

And while that scenario is troubling enough, it’s exacerbated for students who now feel that the loans they took out helped fund a worthless degree from a fraudulent program.

Such is the predicament of students who attended for-profit schools run by Corinthian Colleges.

An education company that bought over a dozen vocational and online colleges, Corinthian has now been shut down by the Education Department, after years of accusations regarding false graduation and job placement rates to lure students into enrolling in the pricy programs.

For-profit programs like Corinthian are shady to begin with – students at these institutions end up defaulting on their student loans more often than their compatriots at nonprofit universities.

Almost half of all students who default on their loans come from for-profit schools –

clearly, these types of programs are an option students should immediately dismiss as they debate their college selections.

But many students simply don’t know any better.

With a lack of basic knowledge surrounding finances – as seniors in high school, students haven’t had the chance to learn about how loans work – and surrounded by misleading information provided by universities that want them to enroll, it’s no surprise that so many students end up in desperate financial situations after graduating.

The student loan epidemic shows no signs of faltering, and it’s time for the Education Department to step up.

Students who owe money on their degrees from Corinthian-run universities are rightly demanding that the Education Department offer them loan discharges, essentially erasing their debt.

The department didn’t shut down Corinthian as quickly as it could have, and allowed students to continue enrolling even as it investigated the schools.

Moreover, the Education Department acts as debt collector when students aren’t able to pay back the loans the department offered them in the first place – loans that never should have been made available for fraudulent schools like those under Corinthian’s supervision.

And on a larger scale, unless the Education Department is willing to start considering more widespread loan forgiveness – a doubtful prospect – more must be done to educate students about the risks of taking on debt before they even enroll in their first college course.

The editorial board can be reached at editorial@ubspectrum.com