Beyond Contempt

protest for education

By Heather Hiles

If there is one thing that is truly flummoxing to me, it’s wonton unkindness. I just don’t understand it. And when unkindness fully extends to outright contempt for a fellow or sister human being, I just feel rage.

Such is the unfolding tragedy of the legacy of destructive predatory for-profit colleges, and the crushing student loan debt they’ve saddled average, hard-working Americans.

Exhibit A is United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving for corporate thieves looking to profit from well-intended people trying to get an education, and by extension access to a better life.

For background: upon appointment to the current administration, she suspended an Obama-era program designed to provide relief to student debtors who were lured into fraudulent for-profit education schemes at fake colleges like Corinthian College.

Corinthian was an organization that refined the evil of exploitation to a fine art, awarding Jack Massimino, its chairman and chief executive, $9.6 million over two years and Robert Owen, its chief financial officer, $2.6 million during the same period according to the LA Times

They earned this as a reward for enrolling 113,000 students into worthless programs, siphoning up their student loan money and laughing all the way to the bank.

It was a disgusting ploy and rightfully reckoned with – but the current administration has taken every step it can to prevent relief from reaching those most damaged by it. The DeVos team’s efforts were so egregious, they’ve been slapped with a $100,000 fine and a contempt of court charge.

The cruel irony in all this is that it will be taxpayers who foot the bill, not Ms. DeVos personally (though, given her immense wealth, she could easily pay it), but it gets to the heart of the matter: contempt. Not just contempt for the rule of law, but for basic decency itself. Contempt for the most vulnerable among us who sought only to advance themselves through education for a chance at a better life through a better career. She keeps losing, over and over, to the Project on Predatory Student Lending, but the contempt keeps coming.

But bad actors like DeVos—predators misusing and abusing the free market to defraud not only consumers, but the government itself—have always existed. Which is why we need to put education on a different footing. One that is not vulnerable to bad actors. 

It’s why we need debt-free education, lifelong learning opportunities, and job training and reskilling. 

While we have a lot left to do to fully realize our vision, all of us at Calbright College are at work proving there can be a different way to provide critically-needed job training and placement services to those who need it most. We believe there is a way to apply market-based principles to upskilling underemployed, hard-working people, and introducing them to welcoming employers with new economy jobs.

But even beyond our business model, which we think is pretty innovative and which has been backed by the people of California, we need a nationwide solution for post-secondary education of every kind that does not result in crushing student loan debt. We must help educate and prepare people for present and future opportunities for self-actualization, happy lives, and, yes, meaningful employment. We need to end the cruelty of collection calls, harassment, and wage garnishment against those who are in good faith seeking to better themselves and their families.

Thanks to the leadership of the California Community Colleges and the state of California, we’re doing our small part. It’s time the Betsy DeVoses of the world do theirs. Morally, politically, and ethically: ending contempt for those simply trying to better themselves — for our fellow and sister Americans — is just the right thing to do.