By Summer Boggs, Student Supporter of Young Invincibles' Campaign for For-Profit College Accountability
I feel trapped. I feel hopeless. And I feel angry that I was so misled.
I have $170,000 in student loan debt from what’s known as a for-profit college. Schools like mine bill themselves as “career” colleges. But after borrowing mind-numbing sums to attend Florida Coastal School of Law, I’m drowning in debt, and working at a non-profit making $30,000 a year. Not a lawyer’s salary, barely enough to make ends meet, and nothing extra to keep up with my massive monthly payments.
I bet on the American Dream: invest in your own education and work hard, and you can rise. Now’s it’s a nightmare--one that’s drained my will to live a few times in ways I’d rather not even describe.
My school did a heck of a sales pitch, with great-looking promotional materials, and really persistent recruiters who called around-the-clock. I was led to believe that I’d land a high-demand career in the legal field, earning a six-figure salary in just a few years.
At first, I was relieved that the school wouldn’t let me to have a job as a student. Focusing on my studies would be a lot easier, I thought. But that meant I had to keep piling on the financial aid -- not just for tuition, but for books and basic living expenses.
It turns out that nearly half of all borrowers who defaulted on their debt attended a for-profit college. That’s a devastating rate, particularly when you consider that one in ten higher education students attend a for-profit school.
Florida Coastal grades on a bell curve quota. No matter how much we demonstrated knowledge, a specific number of us had to earn Cs, Ds, and Fs. That cycle of failure, deserved or not, meant we had to retake classes. More classes required more loans.
I stopped rolling the dice about 30 credits shy of a degree, because $150,000 in debt was the stomach-churning outer limit of what I was willing to gamble.
I apparently didn’t know enough after my six semesters of law school to get a job that would enable me to pay back my student loans. But I do now know this: for-profit schools’ primary source of income is typically federal student financial aid.
I have to squint my eyes a little to make it out. But I’m sure of it now. It’s an asterisk on my school’s Web site, where, really, a number should be.
The number would represent the percentage of my fellow alumni from Florida Coastal School of Law who got jobs after graduating. But on the Web site, the answer to the question “what are my chances of getting a job when I graduate?” is just an asterisk that refers to tiny fine print: “This institution is not currently required to calculate a job placement rate for program completers.”
If your degree or training is so sub-par that you can’t even get hired into the field you studied, well, odds are you won’t be able to pay that loan back.
Someone should fix this. Right now, the U.S. Department of Education is inviting public comment as it revises rules for for-profit schools and certain other career programs. Until May 27th, people like me can tell our stories and maybe convince the Obama administration to require the asterisks on the Web site get filled in with much more impressive outcomes.
But we’re not the only ones able to comment. Some of the fattest cat lobbyists in Washington work for the for-profit college industry, and their campaign contributions, ad campaigns, and artfully spun testimony are what we’re up against. Right now, the lobbyists are encouraging comments from people who apparently believe we’re picking on for-profit colleges. Poor things.
I’m not a lawyer. But I do know how to make a case. I’m working with a group called Young Invincibles that is helping me share my story far and wide. They represent young adults in the public debate. And to make sure Washington hears us on the rules for so-called “gainful employment” — since that’s what you should be able to get after hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt – I urge you to share your concern, too. Like me, you can add your comment here – http://www.regulations.gov/-- by May 27.
Let’s help the Administration hear our voices above those of the corporate colleges — and understand that a good deal for us is a good deal for American taxpayers.