Woodstock Institute’s 2015 Community Investment Awards honored community leaders and explored the growing problem of student debt. Guests networked during the reception before gathering to recognize the honorees. Heartland Alliance, Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and The Resurrection Project (TRP) received awards for their outstanding work and leadership in the areas of retirement security advocacy, consumer empowerment and protection, and community development. A large audience of community advocates, bankers, and other colleagues appreciated the words of acceptance and inspiration offered by Amy Rynell of Heartland, Raul Raymundo of TRP, and Mr. Chopra.
The event also featured a panel on student debt and its impact on for-profit college students, featuring Katie Buitrago of Woodstock Institute, Rohit Chopra of CFPB, Samuel Levine of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, Eve Rips of Young Invincibles, and Hannah Moore, a graduate of the for-profit Harrington College of Design. Ms. Moore shared her experiences with accumulating and paying down high levels of student debt. Woodstock research shows that students at two-year for-profit colleges were 50 percent more likely to take out loans than their peers at other types of institutions and took out over $1,300 more on average. The panelists provided examples of how for-profit colleges lure students in with deceptive promises and how advocates and policymakers are responding to the problems.
Ms. Moore graduated from Harrington with over $90,000 in private and $30,000 in federal student loan debt, and struggled to find a job in her field after graduation. Moore worked multiple jobs to manage her debt. Her father had to come out of retirement and her mother worked through serious illnesses to help repay the student loans they co-signed. Despite the efforts of Moore and her family, the debt continued to grow as interest accumulated on the unpaid balance. Only recently was Moore able to find a job in her desired field, approximately seven years after graduation. Her student loan payments now make up about 40 percent of her monthly earnings, a figure that will likely grow as the payment plans on her private student loans expire. After paying over $80,000, Moore still has over $120,000 in outstanding student loans, eight years after graduation.
While the CFPB, Attorneys General, and others are scrutinizing for-profit colleges for their deceptive business practices, millions of for-profit college students like Ms. Moore struggle to manage sometimes crippling amounts of debt. Woodstock plans to conduct additional research and policy advocacy on student debt.
In recognizing the efforts of Heartland Alliance, the CFPB, and TRP, Woodstock Institute hopes to encourage other community leaders to take action to address the financial barriers and challenges that prevent individuals and communities from achieving economic security and community prosperity.