If universities are supposed to be stepping stones leading toward adulthood, the government needs to stop treating college students like children.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, state universities and banks that back student loans are on the radar of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Congress. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo even sued a lender for deceptive business practices while also announcing “an investigation of at least 60 schools for accepting ‘kickbacks,’ a percentage of loan proceeds or other services in return for a listing by the school as a preferred lender.”
It’s those preferred lender lists that are at the heart of the controversy. Under the federal Higher Education Act of 1965, banks are prohibited from offering universities “incentives” to secure loans. Universities – which presumably act in the best interests of students through their preferred lender lists – cannot be salespeople for lenders they receive money from through those same lists.
For instance, Sallie Mae, one of the largest providers of student loan funds, gave Florida State University $36 million with which to fund student loans in 2004, an arrangement that will profit FSU an estimated $1 million per year, according to FSU’s own officials. If Sallie Mae then appears on FSU’s “preferred lender” list (it does), there’s an appearance of impropriety – especially if other loan companies offer lower rates. Karen Fooks, director of financial aid at the University of Florida, said, “It could be argued that (universities) are encouraging students to borrow who otherwise would not.”
As to whether that’s deceptive is a matter for law enforcement. After all, it depends on how one defines “preferred:” If schools aren’t claiming the lenders they place on “preferred” lists offer the best rates, there doesn’t seem to be any deception whatever.
But granting the fact that most financial aid schools around the nation would likely prefer to believe they are in business to help students – not profit from them – preferred lender lists should be discontinued, lest a University’s mission to help students be sullied by its own financial interests. Brian Greenberg, an accountant and certified college-planning specialist in Marlton, New Jersey, told Bloomberg, a financial news wire, “Colleges won’t tell you that you can get a loan down the street and save money … Anything is negotiable. You can get money anywhere.”
However, students shouldn’t be treated like children. Students are required to take several steps to obtain educational debt, such as filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid and undergoing financial aid orientation. No one is forcing students to take money. Even if universities encouraged those students to go into debt, that debt is ultimately the responsibility of the student – not the university.