student loans

Prepare for the Return of Private Law School Loans

That’s what you should be inferring from Charles Lane’s WaPo op-ed, “How student loans help keep expensive schools in business.”

Lane argues that Grad PLUS loans are, “a de facto bailout, enabling many law schools to maintain capacity and delay reforms, or settle for modest ones, while continuing to charge more or less the same high tuition.” The author’s position, to say nothing of his article’s title, largely resembles my early forays into the subject, especially, “How Grad PLUS Loans Sustain Zombie Law Schools.” It’s always nice to see mainstream sources arrive at my conclusions.

It’s not so nice when they don’t fully understand the implications. If Congress gets rid of Grad PLUS loans, or scales graduate lending back dramatically, then some law schools will demand their students substitute the tuition difference with private loans. These loans won’t be easily discharged in bankruptcy, so it will be a strong reason to stay clear of law school, even more prestigious ones.

Before I go, I just wanted to editorialize on Lane’s opening: “Income inequality bedevils the United States, as does debt, of the public and private varieties.”

This is bad writing. One, “income inequality” doesn’t play any role in the editorial, so a good editor would’ve axed it. Two, public debt doesn’t bedevil the U.S. at all. Currently, 10-year treasuries are trading at 2.18%.

10-Year Treasuries

(Source: FRED)

Yes, I’m not the first to recognize that WaPo caters to people who insist public debt is the second evilest thing in the history of evil (no. 1 is inflation), but eliminating Grad PLUS loans won’t close the deficit. Does Lane write editorials against corporate welfare?

Still, there are many correct points in the article, and it suggests that our East Coast media elite are finally beginning to turn on student loans instead of debtors—but not totally.

WSJ More Afraid of IBR Than Student Loan Defaults

I woke up early today—and found that Google Alerts punked me!

Google Alert

Yep. People aren’t signing on to IBR … and they’re “surging” on to IBR.

Okay, the most charitable interpretation is that yes, the WSJ is right that big numerators over small denominators give you big percentages, and at the same time, MainStreet is correct that many more people who are eligible for IBR aren’t on it. MainStreet is referring to the large number of borrowers who are delinquent on their loans. In fact, the New York Fed tells us that as of mid-2015 the 90+-day delinquency rate hasn’t gone down since the age of delinquency began in 2013.

2015-08-21 Percent Balance 90+ Days Delinquent

So when the WSJ writes in its article’s subheader, “Taxpayers face risk of covering loans,” it needn’t scare its readers so much: It’s already happening.

WSJ: Grad Debts That Can’t Be Repaid … Can Be?

Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal does some good reporting in, “Grad-School Loan Binge Fans Debt Worries.” There are, as one should expect, some errors.

One, after interviewing a handful of professionals with high incomes and unpayable debts, he writes:

But a number of recent studies show the benefits [of IBR] are largely going to people who need them the least—doctors and many lawyers who will end up making six-figure salaries. The benefits are less meaningful for undergraduate borrowers, because their average debt burden is roughly $30,000 and income-based repayment plans aren’t likely to lower their bills by much.

This is not true. There is no study that estimates the number of IBR freeloaders out there, otherwise the WSJ would’ve named it and cited the statistic. At best all we have is fear-mongering by the New America Foundation. Nor is there a study that estimates the total number of Grad PLUS loan debtors by course of study, median income, and proportion on an income-sensitive repayment plan. Such a study would probably find that the handful of people gaming the system are outweighed by professionals who aren’t earning much. This is the point of IBR.

Next:

Of the 5,686 hospitals in the U.S., 73% are nonprofits or government owned, according to the American Hospital Association, thus qualifying their employees to have loan balances forgiven after 10 years.

Do we have freeloading doctors? Response: No! It’s not their fault there are so few for-profit hospitals. If you want them to pay, charge them less. (By the way, one reason I like this article is that it doesn’t obsess over the handful of law grads who have spectacular earnings coming out of law school; it’s nice to beat up on the M.D.s for a change.)

I’ll close:

The collection of incentives—passed in separate measures over several years—weren’t intended to work together to help so many grad borrowers.

Very true, but the issue is what the harm is and where it’s coming from. IBR and its like are not the cause, Grad PLUS loans are. Without IBR, there would’ve been widespread graduate debtor defaults (or at best hardship deferments). This is how the WSJ can find real people who can’t repay their loans without IBR but then say there are studies somewhere out there finding that debtors are making cash sacks.

Or, to butcher Michael Hudson: Debts that can’t be repaid, can be.

ABA Task Force Dodges Student Debt Reform

Oh you knew I would not ignore the results of the ABA Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education. It was a long time in coming, but it required a careful read. My review is at The American Lawyer.

I would’ve told y’all sooner, but I just got back from vacation, which got an extension thanks to a thunderstorm in New York grounding planes in Chicago. Grr.

Office of Management and Budget: +$1.4 Trillion in Direct Loans by 2025

Projected Direct Loan Balances (OMB, Billions Current $)

(Source: OMB FY2016 Mid-Session Review (pdf))

…But we all knew it was going to say that. Also, that number includes other loan programs that aren’t student loans, but those aren’t nearly as big.

The good news, though, is that the actual amount of direct loans keeps coming in below the projections. Here’re the estimates from the mid-session reviews since FY2010 against the actual.

Direct Loan Balance Projections (OMB Billions Current $)

The FY2010 estimate was $161 billion more for 2014 than turned out to be the case. This variance implies that the government is overestimating future direct lending. It isn’t much, but it’s something to keep track of.

I should add that in general the OMB predicts that direct loan debt will even out at about 9 percent of GDP.

What If The Gainful Employment Rule Were Applied to All Law Schools?

[UPDATE 2015-07-17: Because this post received so much traffic since I first ran it, I’ve updated the Gainful Employment Rule table to only show the total incomes law schools’ graduates would need to earn for their schools to pass (or not pass) under the rule. It occurred to me that even if the discretionary income result is lower than the total income number, the results the formulas produce are still equivalent. This means I can show you like-by-like comparisons, which are more informative. I’m not editing the rest of the text, so consider this update mutatis mutandis.]

The first draft of my latest article on The American Lawyer about the gainful employment rule asked that question, but I realized that reporting on the for-profits alone was more important. The broader question is much more appropriate for a blog post, and since another federal court upheld the rule, it appears it’ll stick around. So, here you go.

To recap, the Department of Education’s gainful employment rule applies two debt-to-earnings tests to a college’s debtors: one based on their total annual incomes and the other their annual discretionary incomes. The tests create three results: passing, falling “in the zone,” or failing. Passing either test gives the school an overall passing grade for that year, not passing either test but not failing puts them “in the zone,” but failing is failing. Sorry if there’s some equivocation among these terms; I blame the rule.

Failing in a given year won’t kill a school’s access to federal loans, but certainly four years of failing or being in the zone will do the trick.

So:

  • Passing either debt-to-earnings test means debt payments are less than or equal to
    • 8 percent of total annual income, or
    • 20 percent of annual discretionary income.
  • The “zone” means debt payments are greater than
    • 8 percent of total annual income but less than or equal to 12 percent of annual income, or
    • 20 percent of annual discretionary income but less than or equal to 30 percent of discretionary income.
  • Failing occurs when debt payments are greater than
    • 12 percent of total annual income, or
    • 30 percent of annual discretionary income.

Got it? Good. If not, reread the article. I hate explaining this rule.

Rather than giving the numbers for both tests, I’m going to display the class of 2014’s mean debt (weighted with non-debtors (because I’m fair)), the minimum income (discretionary or total) needed to pass either test or at least stay in the zone, and the unemployment rate (“seeking” and “not seeking” employment, but excluding “deferred start dates”). The numbers will differ slightly from what I published in the article last week.

As for which test you’re seeing, since it’s somewhat important, the annual income test is the lesser test until about $43,000. After that, you are seeing the minimum discretionary income graduates need to be earning for the school to pass the test. That means they need to be earning even more money than what’s stated.

CLASS OF 2014 GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT INCOME RULE REQUIREMENTS
SCHOOL WTD AVG DEBT MIN PASS MIN ZONE TOT UNEMP
Howard $23,060 $20,178 $13,452 12.4%
Brigham Young $39,026 $34,148 $22,765 7.2%
Hawaii $39,949 $34,955 $23,304 15.5%
Alabama $45,830 $40,102 $26,734 3.5%
Lewis and Clark $47,014 $41,137 $27,425 15.4%
Arkansas (Fayetteville) $48,927 $42,811 $28,540 7.0%
Nebraska $49,758 $43,538 $29,026 6.0%
North Carolina Central $49,932 $43,691 $29,127 14.1%
District of Columbia $51,954 $45,460 $30,307 25.2%
Tennessee $52,961 $46,341 $30,894 14.6%
Wyoming $52,999 $46,374 $30,916 23.9%
North Dakota $55,743 $48,776 $32,517 13.2%
Connecticut $56,813 $49,711 $33,141 9.1%
Arkansas (Little Rock) $58,407 $51,106 $34,071 12.8%
Missouri (Columbia) $58,541 $51,224 $34,149 8.9%
Georgia State $58,650 $51,319 $34,213 5.6%
Mississippi $59,132 $51,741 $34,494 12.3%
Kentucky $60,629 $53,051 $35,367 5.6%
Wisconsin $61,117 $53,478 $35,652 7.6%
Kansas $61,410 $53,734 $35,822 8.4%
SUNY Buffalo $61,568 $53,872 $35,915 9.9%
New Mexico $61,795 $54,071 $36,047 3.6%
Liberty $63,917 $55,927 $37,285 25.0%
Georgia $63,954 $55,960 $37,307 13.6%
Texas Tech $64,047 $56,041 $37,361 18.8%
Northern Illinois $64,061 $56,053 $37,369 9.1%
Montana $64,094 $56,083 $37,388 11.3%
City University $64,284 $56,248 $37,499 20.7%
Oklahoma $64,613 $56,537 $37,691 7.7%
Florida $65,104 $56,966 $37,977 9.4%
Memphis $66,326 $58,035 $38,690 18.3%
Akron $66,681 $58,346 $38,897 8.7%
Cincinnati $66,697 $58,360 $38,906 10.4%
South Carolina $66,826 $58,473 $38,982 7.4%
Northern Kentucky $67,221 $58,818 $39,212 9.6%
Arizona State $67,227 $58,824 $39,216 1.5%
Florida State $68,319 $59,779 $39,853 6.0%
Wayne State $68,698 $60,110 $40,074 11.2%
Michigan State $69,711 $60,997 $40,665 1.2%
Houston $70,931 $62,065 $41,377 7.4%
South Dakota $71,067 $62,183 $41,456 6.2%
Boston University $71,181 $62,283 $41,522 6.5%
California-Davis $71,993 $62,994 $41,996 10.1%
Temple $72,019 $63,017 $42,011 9.1%
Washburn $72,555 $63,485 $42,323 8.9%
Indiana (Bloomington) $72,726 $63,635 $42,423 6.8%
Southern University $73,214 $64,062 $42,708 23.0%
Louisiana State $73,366 $64,195 $42,797 3.1%
Texas A&M [Wesleyan] $73,485 $64,299 $42,866 18.5%
West Virginia $73,712 $64,498 $42,999 8.5%
Utah $74,002 $64,751 $43,168 8.1%
Duquesne $74,172 $64,901 $43,267 13.5%
Arizona $74,516 $65,201 $43,468 4.9%
Texas $74,642 $65,312 $43,541 6.8%
Boston College $74,695 $65,358 $43,572 6.6%
North Carolina $74,905 $65,542 $43,694 11.9%
Maryland $75,615 $66,163 $44,109 8.8%
Illinois $76,374 $66,827 $44,552 5.9%
Campbell $76,555 $66,986 $44,657 13.6%
Iowa $76,670 $67,086 $44,724 2.3%
Washington University $76,828 $67,225 $44,816 1.2%
Drexel $77,209 $67,558 $45,038 11.3%
William and Mary $77,805 $68,079 $45,386 8.4%
Indiana (Indianapolis) $78,287 $68,501 $45,668 7.9%
Florida International $79,037 $69,158 $46,105 6.5%
Villanova $79,097 $69,209 $46,140 9.5%
Nevada $79,742 $69,775 $46,516 10.1%
Ohio State $80,527 $70,462 $46,974 1.4%
Pittsburgh $80,700 $70,612 $47,075 12.7%
Cleveland State $80,891 $70,780 $47,186 13.9%
Rutgers-Newark $81,451 $71,270 $47,513 8.4%
Idaho $81,604 $71,404 $47,602 8.1%
Louisville $82,077 $71,818 $47,879 7.1%
Baylor $82,833 $72,479 $48,319 11.8%
California-Irvine $83,342 $72,924 $48,616 10.8%
Tulsa $83,416 $72,989 $48,659 5.1%
Washington $83,732 $73,266 $48,844 14.0%
Maine $84,452 $73,895 $49,263 14.7%
Minnesota $84,834 $74,230 $49,486 6.9%
Cardozo, Yeshiva $85,151 $74,507 $49,671 15.3%
Toledo $87,232 $76,328 $50,885 17.9%
St. Thomas (MN) $87,349 $76,430 $50,954 8.4%
Washington and Lee $87,538 $76,595 $51,064 12.6%
Richmond $88,304 $77,266 $51,511 7.4%
Detroit Mercy $88,604 $77,529 $51,686 16.9%
St. John’s $89,567 $78,371 $52,248 8.9%
Yale $90,162 $78,891 $52,594 3.9%
Brooklyn $90,813 $79,461 $52,974 9.9%
Notre Dame $91,274 $79,865 $53,243 3.9%
Oregon $92,133 $80,616 $53,744 14.1%
Chicago-Kent, IIT $92,311 $80,772 $53,848 8.9%
Vanderbilt $92,969 $81,347 $54,232 2.6%
California-Los Angeles $93,221 $81,568 $54,379 6.3%
Emory $93,473 $81,789 $54,526 2.6%
Massachusetts — Dartmouth $93,819 $82,092 $54,728 16.0%
Fordham $94,187 $82,413 $54,942 9.8%
Baltimore $95,222 $83,319 $55,546 11.5%
Wake Forest $95,703 $83,741 $55,827 7.0%
St. Mary’s $95,761 $83,791 $55,861 17.9%
Southern Methodist $95,955 $83,961 $55,974 6.7%
Seton Hall $96,075 $84,066 $56,044 6.3%
Case Western Reserve $96,159 $84,139 $56,092 9.5%
Pennsylvania $96,201 $84,176 $56,118 0.4%
South Texas $96,686 $84,600 $56,400 9.2%
Dayton $97,598 $85,398 $56,932 11.4%
Colorado $97,675 $85,466 $56,977 4.2%
Quinnipiac $99,563 $87,118 $58,079 14.2%
Stanford $99,947 $87,454 $58,302 2.7%
Duke $100,325 $87,784 $58,523 2.8%
Samford $100,526 $87,960 $58,640 13.2%
Oklahoma City $100,825 $88,222 $58,815 5.6%
Mississippi College $101,946 $89,203 $59,469 21.1%
Syracuse $102,107 $89,343 $59,562 11.4%
Drake $102,326 $89,535 $59,690 9.2%
Suffolk $102,844 $89,989 $59,992 14.4%
Southern California $102,872 $90,013 $60,009 5.1%
William Mitchell $102,986 $90,113 $60,075 7.3%
Virginia $103,102 $90,214 $60,143 2.3%
Ohio Northern $104,531 $91,465 $60,976 18.1%
Loyola (LA) $104,924 $91,808 $61,206 19.3%
Pace $105,075 $91,940 $61,294 14.3%
San Diego $105,351 $92,182 $61,455 18.3%
Harvard $105,951 $92,707 $61,805 2.4%
Michigan $105,978 $92,731 $61,821 2.6%
Mercer $106,506 $93,193 $62,128 13.3%
Capital $106,628 $93,299 $62,200 31.3%
Tulane $107,133 $93,742 $62,494 9.7%
Hamline $107,514 $94,075 $62,717 8.7%
George Mason $107,715 $94,250 $62,833 2.7%
Gonzaga $107,940 $94,448 $62,965 16.0%
Chicago $108,521 $94,956 $63,304 1.9%
Penn State (Dickinson) $108,981 $95,358 $63,572 14.8%
New Hampshire $109,322 $95,657 $63,771 10.3%
New York University $109,331 $95,664 $63,776 1.3%
Western State $109,519 $95,829 $63,886 11.6%
DePaul $109,529 $95,838 $63,892 18.9%
George Washington $110,250 $96,469 $64,312 5.3%
Roger Williams $110,547 $96,729 $64,486 17.9%
Pepperdine $110,599 $96,774 $64,516 18.2%
Albany $110,656 $96,824 $64,550 14.2%
St. Louis $110,737 $96,895 $64,597 10.1%
Miami $110,761 $96,916 $64,610 7.7%
California-Berkeley $111,966 $97,970 $65,313 2.4%
Cornell $112,050 $98,044 $65,363 1.0%
Loyola (IL) $113,373 $99,201 $66,134 8.0%
Santa Clara $113,702 $99,489 $66,326 33.0%
Elon $113,902 $99,664 $66,443 27.9%
Denver $114,912 $100,548 $67,032 8.3%
Hofstra $114,917 $100,552 $67,035 7.9%
Ave Maria $115,045 $100,665 $67,110 33.6%
California-Hastings $116,260 $101,728 $67,818 22.1%
Regent $116,397 $101,847 $67,898 12.3%
Creighton $116,459 $101,902 $67,934 9.0%
Columbia $117,098 $102,461 $68,307 2.1%
Chapman $117,259 $102,602 $68,401 19.6%
Nova Southeastern $117,347 $102,679 $68,452 11.1%
Northeastern $117,379 $102,706 $68,471 14.4%
Marquette $118,389 $103,590 $69,060 9.8%
Georgetown $118,918 $104,053 $69,369 5.0%
Western New England $119,714 $104,750 $69,833 20.4%
John Marshall (Chicago) $121,990 $106,742 $71,161 8.8%
Valparaiso $122,769 $107,423 $71,615 20.9%
Catholic $123,026 $107,648 $71,765 13.4%
Stetson $123,167 $107,771 $71,847 7.2%
Widener $123,914 $108,425 $72,283 8.1%
Charleston $124,976 $109,354 $72,903 24.0%
Pacific, McGeorge $125,060 $109,428 $72,952 22.5%
Loyola (CA) $125,546 $109,853 $73,235 17.9%
Seattle $126,157 $110,388 $73,592 18.0%
Willamette $126,572 $110,751 $73,834 13.9%
St. Thomas (FL) $128,135 $112,118 $74,746 17.6%
Golden Gate $128,733 $112,642 $75,095 33.3%
Northwestern $130,452 $114,146 $76,097 7.2%
Touro $131,627 $115,173 $76,782 19.9%
Vermont $131,639 $115,184 $76,789 16.9%
American $132,232 $115,703 $77,135 15.2%
San Francisco $135,802 $118,827 $79,218 32.5%
California Western $137,589 $120,391 $80,260 23.7%
Whittier $137,958 $120,713 $80,475 24.2%
New York Law School $138,296 $121,009 $80,673 13.3%
Barry $141,716 $124,002 $82,668 17.7%
Florida Coastal $151,390 $132,466 $88,311 14.9%
Thomas Jefferson $156,925 $137,309 $91,540 29.0%

Note: Howard almost certainly published its graduates’ annual debt and not their total debts as it was asked, and this table excludes law schools that reported debt levels but not the percent of their graduates with debt.

I reckon that any law school whose graduates would need make $50,000 in discretionary annual income would probably fail the gainful employment rule in short order unless they were elite law schools with low unemployment rates. That’s about $100,000 in mean weighted debt, coincidentally—before interest. That’s at least 50 schools.

Kicking these law schools out of the federal loan program would be in keeping with the Department of Education’s stated goals for crafting the rule—accountability for student outcomes—but Congress won’t let it, which is why I found the comments to the department so galling. Some people claimed that graduate programs should be excluded from the rule because they didn’t face the same “employment challenges and return-on-investment considerations” compared to lower levels of higher education.

Looking at the above table … Right.

(more…)

New Rule Spells Trouble for For-Profit Law Schools

…Is up on The American Lawyer.

Doomed! DOOMED I TELL YOU! Mwahahahaha!

I’d wanted to comment on the ABA Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education’s report, but alas my trusty computer that I’d been working on to write this blog all these years ran its last clock cycle over the weekend. Naturally, everything was backed up and has been transferred to my new machine. The show will continue—albeit with a delay.

In the meantime, here’s some Cloud Cult, which I saw at Minneapolis’ Northern Spark a couple weekends ago.

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