Friday, June 01, 2012

Response to an email; an article on student loans

This morning, I received an email from two Union Institute and University people involved in a complaint.  I can't quite place the name of one person, so my reference to that person is vague.  It makes little difference, however, as I have removed the real names for the purpose of this post.  

Note, though, I have not removed the names of the administrators and one faculty member.  And I have not removed my own name.

I want the world to know what happened to me, in hopes it will not happen to anyone else.  I want the world to see just how corrupt our post-secondary educational system has become.  

Below is my response to the email. Below that is a relevant article they sent with a request to post.


Jane, your name sounds familiar.  Were you on the Learner Council when I was enrolled?  Someone offered to act as my advocate during that horrible time.  Was it you?  If so, I want to thank you for offering to stand with me.  And I hope you understood why I would not and could not go to Ohio at UIU's request (read, "demand").

Joe, the back story here is that UIU wouldn't allow me to change my first core (Mary Sheerin, probably deceased by now), even though she was the one standing in my way of signing my learning agreement and progressing.  This was the core who snow-birded between the Keys and New England, during which time, she was unavailable.  She also refused to communicate through email.  This core was the one who said (and I will never forget this) that the student loan benchmark for receiving funding--Satisfactory Academic Progress--was "an artifact of external pressure."  During this time, "Dean" (a-hole) Greene grilled me on speaker phone in front of a lawyer whom he did not tell me was present on the call until I heard something in the background and confronted him.  Greene and cronies then said I needed to come to Ohio to meet with them.  I would not and could not, and I told them why.

First, I brought up the fact that I had started my program at their D.C. site (which was not licensed, which was why UIU dismissed me--because I had such a big mouth about it), so I should have the meeting in D.C.  Obviously, though they would never admit it, UIU would not do that because they were not licensed to do business in D.C.  Nor would they meet me in Virginia, where I live, for the same reason.  It is a wonder my loans are even valid, given I signed them at my D.C. colloquium.

On this call, I also told these scumbags (I was more polite than that, by the way, though they hardly deserved the consideration) I had a pre-schooler and a toddler and was going through a custody battle, so there was no way I could leave my children, which is why I had chosen UIU in the first place--because they supposedly had a site nearby.  Instead of heading out my way, they administratively withdrew me from their program, leaving me with a heap of debt and insanity. I was left with the feeling that, not only were they trying to get rid of me, they were discriminating against me because I was an under-the-poverty-line mother of two young children, not the typical student they enrolled.

This Council member (Jane?) found out and was not happy I wasn't offered Council representation and that UIU actually discouraged such representation.  The cards were clearly stacked against me.  I am forever grateful to this person (Jane?) who dared confront these administrators at her own risk. Most people were too afraid to do that while enrolled because they feared they would not be allowed to finish their program and lose everything as I had.  Their fears were valid. 

UIU never had intentions to rectify their administrative, academic and financial problems, as indicated in their faculty letter which referred to state and federal pressure put on since 2002.  Basically, UIU was told to change, and they had not. I am not saying I was the only one raising hell, but I do think it's more than a coincidence that 2002 was the year I was booted.  During this time, also, President Sturnick abruptly left, leaving UIU in the hands of Roger Sublett, former Dean, who knew everything about my case (I was known for cc'ing the world) and corrupt as corrupt can get. 

Even if this doesn't get resolved, I am grateful I made some kind of difference, and so long as that program and UIU are operating, I will continue to publish my experiences in hopes others will learn from it and be more careful.  Just because a school is "regionally accredited," supposedly the mark of academic integrity, doesn't mean the school is any good.  Just because a school is "nationally accredited" doesn't mean it offers a useful program (as you can see from the article below).  Accreditors are a bunch of academics who sip coffee and agree to approve each others' schools.  Some call accreditors a guild.  I call them organized criminals.

Ironically, (and this is off topic, kind of), just before I began my fight with UIU, I was working for Gibbs College in Vienna, VA.  Gibbs bought a well-established mom and pop that truly offered beginners a chance to turn their lives around without leaving them stranded in debt.  Katharine Gibbs schools were once known for turning out highly trained administrative assistants (known as secretaries, back then).  Career Education Corporation ruined that name, the schools and the students who got sucked into those programs.  I watched Gibbs recruit the poorest of the poor (mostly African Americans from inner cities), students with learning and psychological disabilities, students with language problems, students who had to take hours of public transportation and walk the rest of the way to school.  I had one severely learning disabled student trying to drive her dilapidated car from Culpepper to Vienna, a 90 minute+ commute each way.  When the car broke down, she had no money or job.  She had to drop out.

The admissions people were paid to make quotas (basically, a legal way to pay per admission, which is illegal).  One of my students was enrolled by an admissions rep who promised her rides to school.  Another rep sucked students into the program by saying we had a "law library," which was actually a bookshelf with dusty legal volumes from the 1960's-80's.  I am not exaggerating.  Everyone heard him do it.  Eventually he was fired (or asked to resign), but he had already enrolled dozens of students who were not only misled but, in many cases, unable to complete the program, leaving them in extreme debt.  The Controller (Jill something or other--a real winner) used to pull people from class for not paying their bills or the private loans they took out from Career Education Corp., loans that can never be discharged in bankruptcy even though the school closed. 

If anyone wants to know why people end up in cycles of welfare and poverty, just take a look at this system.  My students were motivated, hard workers.  They were preyed upon.  It was absolutely disgusting.  They wanted to know what to do.  I explained the system hierarchy and gave them addresses to write to, but even if these students were capable of comprehending and communicating (which was rare), they received banal answers from accreditors and the Department of Education who refused to take responsibility.  And let's not even bother discussing the lenders and their sham ombudsmen. 

Sorry to be so long winded about this, but there are just so many examples of injustice in the student loan and educational systems, from the schools themselves up through the Department of Education.  These people are white collar criminals.

I've got dozens of postings about this stuff if you have time and interest (which you probably don't), but this one post relates to the industries, organizations and individual involved:

Here, I've posted some UIU documentation:

In re-reading this email, I find I might have to post it.  I will leave your names out, however.  The world needs to know about this.

Joe and Jane, thank you for all your efforts, and sorry you've had to endure your own hells.  In spite of everything, I believe we can make a difference, even if it's saving just one person from financial and personal ruin.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Community Writer for News and Messenger


Subject: student loan article - please post for others to read

Dail Posted 1:05PM 05/31/12Posted under: PeopleDebt

Even as total outstanding student debt rises to $1 trillion, lawmakers have 
yet to allow loans to be discharged in bankruptcy. Without an escape 
clause, these loans can strangle a person.

Take 36-year-old Nick Keith, who remains $142,000 eight years after graduating from 
culinary school. He's featured in a new film, "Default: The Student Loan Documentary," 
in which several college graduates expose the pitfalls of the private student loan industry.

"I want to educate the public about the facts," Keith told Your Money. "My life has become 
a daily swim in a tar pit with very little hope of ever getting out."

Without Family Support, Turning to Culinary School

Keith's father only agreed to co-sign a student loan if he stuck with an engineering 
degree at Iowa State University, but even with decent grades, he knew it wasn't a right fit.

He dropped out sophomore year and later turned to the California Culinary Academy -- 
without his dad as a safety net -- hoping to put his love for healthy eating to use.

"The culinary academy commercials were on the Food Network every 15 minutes," 
he said, and only required 12 months of study with a three month externship.

He fell for their sales pitch hook, line and sinker.

"I should have seen all the signs. [The campus tour guide] had a used car salesman 
answer for everything," Keith recalls. The magic answer was always "99 percent" 
-- whether Keith asked how many enrolled students graduated or how many 
graduates scored jobs afterward.

Feeling confident, Keith took out $46,000 in private loans.

He then took out another $14,000 in federal loans to cover his rent, since the
 school's fees didn't include room and board. But "I was lied to about the terms 
of the private student loan," Keith says. "And after completing the program, 
my first job in the culinary field (working on a meal assembly line) paid $10 per hour."

Not the First to Be Duped

In September, the California Culinary Academy agreed to pay $40 million back to 

thousands of students in a class action suit claiming they were misled about the 
program. The school allegedly boasted a "48 percent to 100 percent" success 
rate for graduates looking for work, but students claimed the calculation included 
jobs that didn't require a culinary education at all.

With just a part-time job, it took Keith three months to make the first loan 
payment of $1,300.

He was also paying a 19% variable interest rate – nearly triple the capped 
interest rate on federal unsubsidized loans.

"I spoke to (private loan issuer) Sallie Mae. I wrote to Sallie Mae. But Sallie Mae 
would not refinance my debt with a reasonable interest rate or reasonable payments," 
he says. "I could not afford to make a student loan payment because my choice 
each month was to either pay my rent or make a student loan payment."

Sallie Mae's best offer? A $50 to $100 reduction in his monthly payments.

Bankruptcy Wasn't an Option

No matter how deep borrowers find themselves buried in student loan debt, 
federal law prevents them from discharging it in bankruptcy court -- 
unless they can prove "undue hardship."

"Most bankruptcy attorneys do not pursue a discharge of student loans 
 because the undue hardship restriction is such a harsh standard," according to 
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of

With no hope of meeting his monthly payments, Keith threw his hands up and 
basically let the debt collectors have at him.

"They call every day, a couple times a day," he says. "I send their numbers 
straight to voicemail."

Eventually he stopped making loan payments altogether

Keith sought advice from a bankruptcy attorney as well as a couple of CPAs 
on how to handle his loans. Both gave him the same advice: Stop paying.

They reasoned that with so many students in Keith's position, Congress would 
eventually revamp its personal bankruptcy laws to allow loans to be forgiven.

Nearly a decade since he took out the original loan, his balance has ballooned 
to $142,000 with a 17% interest rate -- and the law hasn't budged.

And the Blows Just Kept Coming

"Just as I was getting close to getting my financial house in order, I was injured 
at work and became permanently disabled," Keith says.

Six years later, Keith's only source of income is a $1,200 monthly disability check, 
going so far as to collect cans and bottles for extra pocket money.

"I get groceries at the local food bank," he said. "I have sold or lost 99 percent of 
everything I ever owned."
The outlook remains pretty grim.

Keith's expecting about $16,000 from the $40 million CCA settlement in July, 
but that's only if the school doesn't file another appeal.

In the meantime, his credit score has fallen below 550, he's had trouble securing 
even auto insurance, and finding work is a struggle–not to mention the fact that 
none of his CCA credits will transfer if he decides to go back to school.

"Any employer that checks my credit history will surely have to raise questions 
as to why my credit shows only defaulted or charged-off accounts," he says. "All of
 my good credit that showed I paid everything in full and on time is now past seven 
years old and has fallen off my credit report."

For the time being, he's living out of his van.

Keith camped out in his dad's heated garage for the better part of 2011, hoping
 he'd be able to either find a job or sell enough of his belongings to afford to move 
back West for work.

When we caught up with him in late May, Keith said things with his father turned sour 
and he used the $2,500 or so he raised on hotel stays instead. As of last week, 
with the rest of his savings dried up, Keith officially joined the ranks of the homeless.

He's living out of an aged minivan, taking advantage of Salvation Army for meals 
and groceries. At night, he crashes at highway truck stops, where he says he's rarely bothered.

"All that I, and the rest of the folks in this mess, are asking for is that Congress 
simply return the "Truth in Lending" policies and procedures to all student loans 
(both federal and private)," he said. "As well as return the ability to discharge student loan 
debt through bankruptcy."
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