In today’s tight economy, with college tuition and student unemployment at record highs, it is no surprise that the number of students who have defaulted on their federal education loans has increased. According to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, the overall default rate in 2010 on student loans, 8.8 percent, is the highest since 1997.
It is especially troubling that students at for-profit colleges make up nearly half of those defaults, even though the students comprise just one-tenth of all undergraduates. Unlike other schools, for-profit colleges tend to attract older, poorer students, many of whom are members of racial minorities. These are the students who stand to gain the most from a college education. What makes their defaults, and the low credit score that will follow them for years, so disheartening is that so many could have been prevented.
A new program, in place since 2009, allows college borrowers who fall on hard times to apply for an income-based repayment program. Under the program, the federal government will forgive a debt balance once the borrower has paid 15 percent of his or her discretionary income toward the debt each year for 25 years. Less time is required of public service employees. If students lose their job during that period, they can report their discretionary income while unemployed as zero. This allows them to forgo payment temporarily and prevents defaults.
So far the program is undersubscribed. For-profit colleges in particular should inform their students about these loans and also about the options students have if changed circumstances make payments impossible. Paying what one owes and doing all one can to prevent default should be part of every college education.
Google’s Name Game
By now most people are familiar with Google Suggest. Type a name into Google’s search engine and it will “suggest” (in a drop-down menu) what you may be looking for. The suggestions are generated by an algorithm based on the most recent popular search terms. For example, if you enter “Vatican,” Google is likely to suggest “Vatican City.” Key in “pope” and chances are you will see “Pope John Paul II.”
How do other church figures fare? A recent test produced disappointing results. The search term “Benedict” turned up Benedict Cumberbatch, the latest actor to play Sherlock Holmes on television. Google’s second pick: Benedict Arnold. The pontiff did not even make the top four. To be fair, John Paul, minus his papal title, did not perform well either; he was outranked by John Paul Jones. If that seems ludicrous, then consider this: the John Paul in question is the former bassist for the rock band Led Zeppelin, not the naval war hero.
It comes as no surprise that musicians and film stars hold pride of place in our culture. Still, it is startling to see that reality represented so starkly on screen. On the Internet, Matthew (Lewis), Mark (Zuckerberg), Luke (Bryan) and John (Jay) are far more popular than the Evangelists. But take heart: some church figures still manage to rise to the top. Until some singer takes his name, Augustine is likely to remain a favorite on Google Suggest. And Ireneaus has little to fear from pop culture poseurs. This, too, is a source of comfort: there is no confusion when you type in the name of Our Lord. Even on the Web, Jesus abides.
These days, high-speed access to the Internet is available just about anywhere, including on phones, in airplanes and in coffee shops. But despite its apparent ubiquity, 40 percent of Americans do not have high-speed Internet in their homes, and 30 percent still have no Internet access at all at home. For some, the choice is intentional. Approximately 38 percent of those without home access to the Internet say they do not need or are not interested in it. For others, however, the lack of digital connection is not a choice. In urban areas, 27.6 percent cited the high cost as a deterrent, 19 percent cited a lack of computer or lack of an adequate computer, and 3.2 percent cited a lack of computer skills.
A recent push by Comcast is aimed at reducing these barriers. The company has begun offering high-speed Internet for $9.95 a month to families with children that qualify for free school lunches. In addition, Comcast is offering vouchers for $150 computers, as well as information packets that will help families learn how to use e-mail or set up security controls on a Web browser.
As unemployment rates and college tuition costs rise, access to the Internet can be crucial for families whose members are seeking jobs or applying to colleges or for scholarships. Of course, helping these groups was not Comcast’s only interest. Creating this deal was a requirement for receiving approval for its merger with NBC Universal. Still, the offers are meant to be permanent, and they help provide an affordable path to digital literacy for families who otherwise may not have easy access to such resources.