State universities rolling out red carpet for Illinois high-schoolers

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Several state universities are partnering on new efforts to keep talented Illinois high school seniors in the state for college — and combat declining enrollment at some campuses — most recently at a high-profile recruiting event for top students in southern Illinois.

The University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University co-sponsored the first “Salute to Illinois Scholars” on Tuesday at Mount Vernon’s Doubletree Hilton for more than 170 college-bound students from the region.

Students at the college fair connected with more than 100 admissions and academic staff from Eastern, the UI’s three campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield; and Southern’s campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville.

All three university presidents also took part in a panel discussion with students from their schools to give future applicants a first-hand perspective on college life.

The fair drew students from 34 counties south of Interstate 70 and the Metro-East area who are “college ready,” with a B average or above and qualifying ACT score, officials said.

They were encouraged to apply to each of the six participating schools, which agreed to waive their application fees for those who attended.

The hope is to stem the migration of Illinois high school students to colleges in other states and, for the UI, improve its recruiting in southern Illinois.

Illinois is second only to New Jersey in the net number of students lost to colleges in other states, with 16,000, officials said. In 2015, 45 percent of college-bound high school graduates in Illinois enrolled out of state, up from 29 percent in 2002. UI President Tim Killeen said studies show that most college graduates stay in the state where they earn their degrees.

Going out of state is the right option for some students, but in other cases, families just don’t have enough information about the opportunities at Illinois public universities, said Barbara Wilson, executive vice president and VP for academic affairs for the UI system.

The fair was designed to counter the perception that “you need to go outside because things are bad here,” she said.

Both Eastern and Southern have also seen steep enrollment declines over the past few years, blamed mostly on the state’s budget crisis. Southern’s fall enrollment is down 8.96 percent from 2016, to 14,554 students. At Eastern, enrollment dropped 5 percent to 7,030 students, though it was the smallest decline in six years.

The UI system’s enrollment grew by nearly 3 percent this year, including a 2.4 percent increase in undergraduates from Illinois, and the Urbana campus hit a new record high. But the UI Springfield’s enrollment fell.

And while 80 percent of the UI system’s students are from Illinois, the number of in-state freshmen dropped slightly at the Urbana campus, even though it admitted 400 more Illinois applicants than last year.

Killeen said the southern Illinois event is important for the UI because the region includes several counties with relatively low student enrollment at the university’s three campuses.

“Our goal is to enhance our outreach to the southern part of the state,” Wilson said.

Twelve counties south of Interstate 70, and nine more in western or northwestern Illinois, sent no freshmen to the Urbana campus this year. A sizable majority of the freshman class — more than 4,400 students — hail from Chicago or its suburbs.

Wilson said there are only two counties with no undergraduates at the UI, but “we don’t get the applications we might like.” She’s hoping to see an uptick after this year’s event in Mount Vernon, and the UI plans to repeat it next year, perhaps in a different southern Illinois city.

The UI has long hosted a similar event in Chicago every year for all three of its campuses, but wasn’t “embracing southern Illinois the way we needed to,” Wilson said.

The UI invited other schools that recruit from the region to co-sponsor the fair so they could work in partnership rather than compete, she said. At the college fair, students were able to talk to six campuses of “different sizes, different focus areas,” she said.

Killeen said he wants to strengthen connections with the state’s brightest students and its “best-in-class” universities.

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State universities rolling out red carpet for Illinois high-schoolers

State universities rolling out red carpet for Illinois high-schoolers

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Several state universities are partnering on new efforts to keep talented Illinois high school seniors in the state for college — and combat declining enrollment at some campuses — most recently at a high-profile recruiting event for top students in southern Illinois.

The University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University co-sponsored the first “Salute to Illinois Scholars” on Tuesday at Mount Vernon’s Doubletree Hilton for more than 170 college-bound students from the region.

Students at the college fair connected with more than 100 admissions and academic staff from Eastern, the UI’s three campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield; and Southern’s campuses in Carbondale and Edwardsville.

All three university presidents also took part in a panel discussion with students from their schools to give future applicants a first-hand perspective on college life.

The fair drew students from 34 counties south of Interstate 70 and the Metro-East area who are “college ready,” with a B average or above and qualifying ACT score, officials said.

They were encouraged to apply to each of the six participating schools, which agreed to waive their application fees for those who attended.

The hope is to stem the migration of Illinois high school students to colleges in other states and, for the UI, improve its recruiting in southern Illinois.

Illinois is second only to New Jersey in the net number of students lost to colleges in other states, with 16,000, officials said. In 2015, 45 percent of college-bound high school graduates in Illinois enrolled out of state, up from 29 percent in 2002. UI President Tim Killeen said studies show that most college graduates stay in the state where they earn their degrees.

Going out of state is the right option for some students, but in other cases, families just don’t have enough information about the opportunities at Illinois public universities, said Barbara Wilson, executive vice president and VP for academic affairs for the UI system.

The fair was designed to counter the perception that “you need to go outside because things are bad here,” she said.

Both Eastern and Southern have also seen steep enrollment declines over the past few years, blamed mostly on the state’s budget crisis. Southern’s fall enrollment is down 8.96 percent from 2016, to 14,554 students. At Eastern, enrollment dropped 5 percent to 7,030 students, though it was the smallest decline in six years.

The UI system’s enrollment grew by nearly 3 percent this year, including a 2.4 percent increase in undergraduates from Illinois, and the Urbana campus hit a new record high. But the UI Springfield’s enrollment fell.

And while 80 percent of the UI system’s students are from Illinois, the number of in-state freshmen dropped slightly at the Urbana campus, even though it admitted 400 more Illinois applicants than last year.

Killeen said the southern Illinois event is important for the UI because the region includes several counties with relatively low student enrollment at the university’s three campuses.

“Our goal is to enhance our outreach to the southern part of the state,” Wilson said.

Twelve counties south of Interstate 70, and nine more in western or northwestern Illinois, sent no freshmen to the Urbana campus this year. A sizable majority of the freshman class — more than 4,400 students — hail from Chicago or its suburbs.

Wilson said there are only two counties with no undergraduates at the UI, but “we don’t get the applications we might like.” She’s hoping to see an uptick after this year’s event in Mount Vernon, and the UI plans to repeat it next year, perhaps in a different southern Illinois city.

The UI has long hosted a similar event in Chicago every year for all three of its campuses, but wasn’t “embracing southern Illinois the way we needed to,” Wilson said.

The UI invited other schools that recruit from the region to co-sponsor the fair so they could work in partnership rather than compete, she said. At the college fair, students were able to talk to six campuses of “different sizes, different focus areas,” she said.

Killeen said he wants to strengthen connections with the state’s brightest students and its “best-in-class” universities.

State universities rolling out red carpet for Illinois high-schoolers

Illinois Is Still Losing People—Especially College Students

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The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability recently published a good piece on why Illinois is losing residents (and it’s losing a lot). But “losing” suggests that people leaving Illinois is the problem.

And that’s what the CTBA post clarifies. Compared to other states, Illinois is in the middle of the pack in terms of the number of people leaving, or out-migration. It’s in-migration that’s the problem, where Illinois is third from the bottom. While 27 people per thousand left in 2015, only 22 people per thousand moved in.

The problem’s gotten worse throughout the state as well. Cook County has had net out-migration every year since 1990; downstate hovered around zero from 1990 to 2007; the collar counties had high in-migration until 2006. Beginning around 2006, net migration in all three areas regressed to near zero, as the Great Recession made it harder and less appealing to move at all, whether in or out.

Since the economy’s recovered, all three areas, including the former growth region of the collar counties, have declined.

What’s going on? CTBA goes through a number of causes, but one in particular caught my eye: migration trends downstate where there are public universities.

While typically these college-adjacent areas (the blue line in the graph) are more immune to population loss than those without nearby public universities (the orange line), both have fallen quite low in the last seven years. 

Chicago has covered this trend before. In January, well into the budget crisis, Judith Crown covered the out-migration of Illinois high schoolers to neighboring states, finding that a problem which predated the crisis had gotten worse.

At the root of all this are cuts in state funding that have forced Illinois schools to raise base tuition and fees. At Urbana, in-state rates rose 59 percent over the past 10 years, to a minimum of $15,700 and a maximum of $20,700 (not including room and board), depending on the major. At the same time, financial aid through the state’s Monetary Award Program, which provides need-based grants to residents, doesn’t go as far as it used to. It’s not even clear from term to term whether funds will be available: In a survey released in December by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, 47 percent of Illinois schools said they couldn’t guarantee that students would continue to receive in the spring semester awards they got in the fall.

Meanwhile, schools like the University of Iowa and the University of Missouri were making their schools just as or more affordable to attend for Illinois residents, wiping out the most obvious and easiest-to-control advantage one state has over another in terms of retaining its high-school graduates.

The results aren’t particularly surprising, as I wrote not long after. State university enrollment has declined in Illinois while it’s increased for our neighbors.

The problem seems to have gotten worse. The Illinois Economic Policy Institute recently released an overview of enrollment trends and the economic impact of the state’s higher-ed contraction (h/t Capitol Fax), finding that Illinois colleges and universities lost 72,000 students during the budget impasse. That includes community-college students, a population much greater than the four-year student population, but it’s still about a nine-percent decline; 4,900 direct jobs were lost, about a six percent cut.

Put together, it’s a lot of students gone, and a lot of jobs lost that could also impact local populations. Smaller schools were the hardest hit. NEIU, Governor’s State, and the two SIU campuses increased their tuition over nine percent from 2015-2017; UIUC, an internationally regarded, well-endowed flagship, raised its tuition just two percent. It also added about 2,500 students from 2011 to 2016.

This issue long predates the budget impasse. Back in 2008, the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at UIUC sounded the alarm: In the previous decade, state support of universities declined 18 percent, while tuition and fees at UIUC itself had increased from about 12 percent of the state median income to 16 percent. In 1988, MAP grants covered about 65 percent of public-university tuition; in 2008, about 40 percent.

The budget crisis simply accelerated this decline. To get out of it, the state can look to its neighbors—and why our high-school graduates are moving there.

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Illinois Is Still Losing People—Especially College Students

Regulators, consumers target student debt servicer Navient

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Fanny Sampson co-signed student loans for three of her four children, so when one of her daughters got a letter in May from student debt servicer Navient saying it would no longer accept credit card payments, the Northbrook resident stepped up with her checking account number.

Not long after, Sampson, her daughter and even her son, whose name isn’t on the loan, started getting calls saying the loan was delinquent. Sampson, who estimates that her children are on the hook for nearly $100,000 in combined student debt, said she wasn’t notified about an increase in the loan’s variable interest rate. As a result, the automatic payments deducted from her checking account no longer covered the entire balance due.

“I said, ‘You call me three times a day to tell me that I’m delinquent, but why didn’t you have a courtesy call telling me that my interest rate was going up?'” Sampson recalled. Other aggravations she’s encountered include inconsistent service from call center representatives and requests to speak to supervisors that go unmet.

Sampson is far from alone in experiencing frustrations dealing with Navient, which services $300 billion in student debt — about a quarter of all federal and private loans nationally.

The company is facing lawsuits in Illinois and elsewhere from federal and state regulators, as well as consumers, over a range of business practices, including allegedly making unauthorized robocalls, doing a poor job of tracking payment processing errors, steering borrowers into costlier repayment options and misapplying payments. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Navient earlier this year in federal court in Pennsylvania, accusing the company in a news release of “systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment.”

Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers sent Gov. Bruce Rauner a bill earlier this summer that would create new rights for customers of Navient and other student debt servicers. Among other measures, the proposed law would require the companies to give borrowers clear information about how they can pay their loans and the amount of payments, including fees assessed, the total amount due for each loan, payment due dates and interest accrued during billing cycles. Rauner has until early next week to sign or veto the bill, which has the backing of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office filed its own lawsuit against Navient earlier this year.

Navient has denied the state and federal allegations against it and is fighting them in court, arguing that the company follows the law and goes above and beyond disclosure requirements.

Consumer complaints about student debt servicers — whose responsibilities include processing payments, explaining repayment options to borrowers, and collecting on delinquent and defaulted loans — aren’t limited to Navient.

A recent report from the CFPB found that borrowers say their servicers often provide them with information on hardship forbearance or deferment — which pause payments but not interest on outstanding debt — instead of “potentially more beneficial” options like income-driven repayment plans. Borrowers also complained about lost documents and inaccurate accounting that muddied their good names. Some reported being contacted by collection companies for accounts that had been paid in full.

The CFPB echoes other consumer advocates, who say the U.S. Department of Education is stalling on critical protections for borrowers.

“For too many years, the Department of Education and private lenders have failed to conduct active oversight of the loan servicers they use to collect payments, leaving borrowers to fend for themselves,” said Suzanne Martindale, a Consumers Union lawyer whose areas of focus include student loans.

While complaints about the student debt servicing industry are widespread, Navient in particular has become a focal point for regulators and consumers.

“Navient is one of the worst offenders in Illinois and around the country, steering borrowers toward forbearances that increase loan costs and applying repayments inaccurately,” said Erin Steva, Midwest director for Young Invincibles, an advocacy group for adults ages 18 to 34.

The CFPB received more complaints about Navient in a recent three-month period than it did about any other company in any industry. From November through January, the CFPB received an average of 1,439 complaints against Navient per month, according to an April report from the agency. The student debt company with the next-highest average was American Education Services, with 149.

Year to date, about 300 complaints from Illinoisans have been filed against Navient at the federal agency, more than double the number that piled up in all of 2016. Virtually all of the complaints lodged by Illinois consumers with the federal bureau received a timely response from Navient, agency records show.

The CFPB isn’t the only federal agency fielding complaints about Navient.

In June, a half-dozen consumer groups asked the Federal Communications Commission to take action against the company, accusing it of harassing borrowers with automated phone calls. And an Illinois man filed a federal lawsuit against the company in May seeking class-action status over robocalls.

Navient, meanwhile, is aggressively defending itself against the allegations brought by consumers and regulators, asking courts to toss out the state and federal lawsuits.

Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Pantle held a hearing last month on Navient’s motion to dismiss Madigan’s lawsuit, which the judge is now weighing.

Madigan’s lawsuit, filed in January, alleges some borrowers must contact Navient monthly to “fix the same errors on their accounts,” including how payments are spread across multiple loans or applied to unpaid interest, fees or principal.

“Sometimes the payment was intended to pay off a specific loan, but Navient allocated the payment to all of the loans,” the lawsuit alleges. Decisions on allocating and applying payments could lead to higher interest charges and negative information sent to credit agencies, the suit says.

Assistant Attorney General Michele Casey told Pantle at the July hearing that Navient assured struggling borrowers it would give tailored advice, including whether income-based repayment plans or forbearancewould be most suitable.

In reality, Casey alleged, Navient workers were compensated partly by keeping phone calls to under six minutes and therefore steered most borrowers into “one-size-fits-all” forbearance because it got them “off the phone fast.” Casey said that saves Navient money even as its training materials say forbearance should be a “last resort.”

“That was an unfair and deceptive practice under the Consumer Fraud Act,” she said.

Navient’s lawyer, however, told the judge the federal Higher Education and Truth in Lending acts already impose disclosure requirements. The Illinois attorney general wants to retroactively impose new disclosure requirements, Navient said.

“What they’re doing is adding disclosure requirements that exceed the ones that Congress set,” Michael Shumsky, a lawyer representing Navient, told the judge.

“There’s no allegation that when somebody called Navient and said, ‘I’m struggling to make my payments. Is there something that you can do for me?’ that Navient said, ‘Go away. We’re not interested in helping you,'” Shumsky said.

As for allegations that payments were misapplied, Navient said an internal analysis of customer complaints shows, in most cases, borrowers didn’t specify how to allocate their payments. The company said it’s a common consumer credit practice to apply payments to outstanding interest before principal.

While Navient’s request to toss out the Illinois lawsuit is under review, a federal judge in Pennsylvania earlier this month rejected the company’s motion to dismiss the CFPB’s lawsuit.

Navient takes issue with many of the complaints that have been filed against the company with regulators.

For example, Navient spokeswoman Patricia Nash Christel said the company’s analysis shows most of the complaints lodged against it through the CFPB’s portal are related to loan policies — including disagreements about loan terms set at the time they were made — not servicing errors.

The more than 1,400 complaints per month Navient saw from November to January represent a tiny fraction of the 12 million customers whose loans it services. The company says it has 750 million interactions a year with borrowers, including through letters and phone calls, and processes more than 90 million payments annually.

In response to complaints about robocalls, Navient told the FCC in June that student loan servicers “are different from telemarketers offering a free cruise.”

“Calls and text messages from student loan servicers are proven methods that help millions of Americans,” Navient said in a 64-page letter to the FCC. “Live contact with borrowers is key to helping them navigate the multitude of options and the complexity of the repayment system.”

Nine times out of 10, federal student loan borrowers who default haven’t responded to Navient’s outreach or contact in the preceding year of missed payments, Christel said.

Navient has said it tried “telephone contact” in 2015 with 1.2 million borrowers who weren’t enrolled in income-driven repayment plans, but they “never responded to our outreach.” The company said some borrowers choose forbearance even when offered enrollment in alternative repayment plans.

The company’s arguments on its behalf are of little comfort to Sampson, the Northbrook mother who co-signed her kids’ loans.

Navient said it couldn’t discuss Sampson’s situation unless she signed a waiver granting permission, which she declined to do.

Her children have bachelor’s degrees from DePaul University, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin and Loyola University. One has a political science degree, another a liberal arts degree, and two have bachelor’s degrees in business. Her 23-year-old son has a steady job, but he lives at home, and much of his pay is going to repay his student loans. She said he was briefly in a forbearance program.

“He said, ‘Mom, I got a breather,'” Sampson recalled. “I said, ‘You have to be careful because it’s not that they’re pardoning what you owe.'”

byerak@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @beckyyerak

Regulators, consumers target student debt servicer Navient

Regulators, consumers target student debt servicer Navient

http://ift.tt/2wFpMCC

Fanny Sampson co-signed student loans for three of her four children, so when one of her daughters got a letter in May from student debt servicer Navient saying it would no longer accept credit card payments, the Northbrook resident stepped up with her checking account number.

Not long after, Sampson, her daughter and even her son, whose name isn’t on the loan, started getting calls saying the loan was delinquent. Sampson, who estimates that her children are on the hook for nearly $100,000 in combined student debt, said she wasn’t notified about an increase in the loan’s variable interest rate. As a result, the automatic payments deducted from her checking account no longer covered the entire balance due.

“I said, ‘You call me three times a day to tell me that I’m delinquent, but why didn’t you have a courtesy call telling me that my interest rate was going up?'” Sampson recalled. Other aggravations she’s encountered include inconsistent service from call center representatives and requests to speak to supervisors that go unmet.

Sampson is far from alone in experiencing frustrations dealing with Navient, which services $300 billion in student debt — about a quarter of all federal and private loans nationally.

The company is facing lawsuits in Illinois and elsewhere from federal and state regulators, as well as consumers, over a range of business practices, including allegedly making unauthorized robocalls, doing a poor job of tracking payment processing errors, steering borrowers into costlier repayment options and misapplying payments. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Navient earlier this year in federal court in Pennsylvania, accusing the company in a news release of “systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment.”

Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers sent Gov. Bruce Rauner a bill earlier this summer that would create new rights for customers of Navient and other student debt servicers. Among other measures, the proposed law would require the companies to give borrowers clear information about how they can pay their loans and the amount of payments, including fees assessed, the total amount due for each loan, payment due dates and interest accrued during billing cycles. Rauner has until early next week to sign or veto the bill, which has the backing of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office filed its own lawsuit against Navient earlier this year.

Navient has denied the state and federal allegations against it and is fighting them in court, arguing that the company follows the law and goes above and beyond disclosure requirements.

Consumer complaints about student debt servicers — whose responsibilities include processing payments, explaining repayment options to borrowers, and collecting on delinquent and defaulted loans — aren’t limited to Navient.

A recent report from the CFPB found that borrowers say their servicers often provide them with information on hardship forbearance or deferment — which pause payments but not interest on outstanding debt — instead of “potentially more beneficial” options like income-driven repayment plans. Borrowers also complained about lost documents and inaccurate accounting that muddied their good names. Some reported being contacted by collection companies for accounts that had been paid in full.

The CFPB echoes other consumer advocates, who say the U.S. Department of Education is stalling on critical protections for borrowers.

“For too many years, the Department of Education and private lenders have failed to conduct active oversight of the loan servicers they use to collect payments, leaving borrowers to fend for themselves,” said Suzanne Martindale, a Consumers Union lawyer whose areas of focus include student loans.

While complaints about the student debt servicing industry are widespread, Navient in particular has become a focal point for regulators and consumers.

“Navient is one of the worst offenders in Illinois and around the country, steering borrowers toward forbearances that increase loan costs and applying repayments inaccurately,” said Erin Steva, Midwest director for Young Invincibles, an advocacy group for adults ages 18 to 34.

The CFPB received more complaints about Navient in a recent three-month period than it did about any other company in any industry. From November through January, the CFPB received an average of 1,439 complaints against Navient per month, according to an April report from the agency. The student debt company with the next-highest average was American Education Services, with 149.

Year to date, about 300 complaints from Illinoisans have been filed against Navient at the federal agency, more than double the number that piled up in all of 2016. Virtually all of the complaints lodged by Illinois consumers with the federal bureau received a timely response from Navient, agency records show.

The CFPB isn’t the only federal agency fielding complaints about Navient.

In June, a half-dozen consumer groups asked the Federal Communications Commission to take action against the company, accusing it of harassing borrowers with automated phone calls. And an Illinois man filed a federal lawsuit against the company in May seeking class-action status over robocalls.

Navient, meanwhile, is aggressively defending itself against the allegations brought by consumers and regulators, asking courts to toss out the state and federal lawsuits.

Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Pantle held a hearing last month on Navient’s motion to dismiss Madigan’s lawsuit, which the judge is now weighing.

Madigan’s lawsuit, filed in January, alleges some borrowers must contact Navient monthly to “fix the same errors on their accounts,” including how payments are spread across multiple loans or applied to unpaid interest, fees or principal.

“Sometimes the payment was intended to pay off a specific loan, but Navient allocated the payment to all of the loans,” the lawsuit alleges. Decisions on allocating and applying payments could lead to higher interest charges and negative information sent to credit agencies, the suit says.

Assistant Attorney General Michele Casey told Pantle at the July hearing that Navient assured struggling borrowers it would give tailored advice, including whether income-based repayment plans or forbearancewould be most suitable.

In reality, Casey alleged, Navient workers were compensated partly by keeping phone calls to under six minutes and therefore steered most borrowers into “one-size-fits-all” forbearance because it got them “off the phone fast.” Casey said that saves Navient money even as its training materials say forbearance should be a “last resort.”

“That was an unfair and deceptive practice under the Consumer Fraud Act,” she said.

Navient’s lawyer, however, told the judge the federal Higher Education and Truth in Lending acts already impose disclosure requirements. The Illinois attorney general wants to retroactively impose new disclosure requirements, Navient said.

“What they’re doing is adding disclosure requirements that exceed the ones that Congress set,” Michael Shumsky, a lawyer representing Navient, told the judge.

“There’s no allegation that when somebody called Navient and said, ‘I’m struggling to make my payments. Is there something that you can do for me?’ that Navient said, ‘Go away. We’re not interested in helping you,'” Shumsky said.

As for allegations that payments were misapplied, Navient said an internal analysis of customer complaints shows, in most cases, borrowers didn’t specify how to allocate their payments. The company said it’s a common consumer credit practice to apply payments to outstanding interest before principal.

While Navient’s request to toss out the Illinois lawsuit is under review, a federal judge in Pennsylvania earlier this month rejected the company’s motion to dismiss the CFPB’s lawsuit.

Navient takes issue with many of the complaints that have been filed against the company with regulators.

For example, Navient spokeswoman Patricia Nash Christel said the company’s analysis shows most of the complaints lodged against it through the CFPB’s portal are related to loan policies — including disagreements about loan terms set at the time they were made — not servicing errors.

The more than 1,400 complaints per month Navient saw from November to January represent a tiny fraction of the 12 million customers whose loans it services. The company says it has 750 million interactions a year with borrowers, including through letters and phone calls, and processes more than 90 million payments annually.

In response to complaints about robocalls, Navient told the FCC in June that student loan servicers “are different from telemarketers offering a free cruise.”

“Calls and text messages from student loan servicers are proven methods that help millions of Americans,” Navient said in a 64-page letter to the FCC. “Live contact with borrowers is key to helping them navigate the multitude of options and the complexity of the repayment system.”

Nine times out of 10, federal student loan borrowers who default haven’t responded to Navient’s outreach or contact in the preceding year of missed payments, Christel said.

Navient has said it tried “telephone contact” in 2015 with 1.2 million borrowers who weren’t enrolled in income-driven repayment plans, but they “never responded to our outreach.” The company said some borrowers choose forbearance even when offered enrollment in alternative repayment plans.

The company’s arguments on its behalf are of little comfort to Sampson, the Northbrook mother who co-signed her kids’ loans.

Navient said it couldn’t discuss Sampson’s situation unless she signed a waiver granting permission, which she declined to do.

Her children have bachelor’s degrees from DePaul University, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin and Loyola University. One has a political science degree, another a liberal arts degree, and two have bachelor’s degrees in business. Her 23-year-old son has a steady job, but he lives at home, and much of his pay is going to repay his student loans. She said he was briefly in a forbearance program.

“He said, ‘Mom, I got a breather,'” Sampson recalled. “I said, ‘You have to be careful because it’s not that they’re pardoning what you owe.'”

byerak@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @beckyyerak

Regulators, consumers target student debt servicer Navient

This Illinois Republican faced a choice: Vote for a tax increase or ‘let it burn.’ | Reading Eagle – AP

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(c) 2017, The Washington Post.

CHARLESTON, Ill. – Reggie Phillips had all the right qualifications to get elected to the state House from this rural community about 200 miles and a world away from Chicago. The silver-haired businessman was successful and self-made, a born-again Christian with a deeply conservative, low-tax message.

But that was in 2014. A two-year partisan standoff over the budget rattled his district, leaving the university that is its economic engine struggling for survival. So a few months into his second term as a member of the Illinois House, Phillips broke with most of the state’s other Republicans and voted for a budget that raised the state income tax 32 percent.

“My choices were, let it burn or come back and fight another day,” recalled Phillips, 64, sitting low in his chair in the dining room of a hotel he owns here. “I’m really not interested in seeing my state burn.”

Phillips is not alone. Across the country, Republicans who had long adhered to anti-tax approaches are defying party orthodoxy and voting to raise taxes, bending in the face of dire financial problems plaguing their state budgets and pressure from constituents.

In South Carolina, Indiana and Tennessee, Republicans voted to increase gas taxes. In Alaska, some Republicans proposed reinstating the income tax to fill a gaping hole in the budget caused by low oil prices. In Michigan, a dozen Republicans joined with Democrats in the legislature to sink a proposal to reduce the income tax.

Kansas most famously became a cautionary tale this year after the Republican-controlled legislature rolled back a series of dramatic tax cuts that did not turbocharge the economy – as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback had promised – but rather left the state in debt and schools underfunded.

The fight also is playing out in Washington, where Republicans who control Congress could take up tax reform as their next priority. President Trump has promised to enact the a huge tax cut, but he is expected to face resistance from moderates within his party.

The resistance is mounting within a faction of the GOP because Republicans are finding that the low-tax dogma they espouse either doesn’t work or isn’t favored by voters, said Bruce Bartlett, an economist who served in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

“There are massive and growing pressures to spend money on things that people want government to spend money on, and there just isn’t any way of doing that without raising revenue,” Bartlett said. “If you view tax cuts and spending increases as opposites, the trend has moved in the direction of spending, and that has changed the political calculation that raising taxes is a viable option.”

But to hard-liners in the GOP, the actions of Republican defectors like Phillips amount to a betrayal of fundamental party values.

“What’s been exposed is . . . there is this contingent within the GOP of big-government Republicans,” said Dan Proft, an influential Republican strategist and conservative talk show host in Illinois. “They’re afraid to reduce, reshape, rescind benefits that have been conferred even if we can’t afford them.”

Proft is chairman of Liberty Principles, a powerful political action committee allied with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican. The PAC endorsed Phillips in 2014 and 2016, but Proft said it will not do so in 2018. “I like Reggie personally, he’s a good guy and a decent legislator, but I think he should retire,” Proft said.

Phillips has not said whether he will run for reelection. Of the 16 Illinois Republicans who voted for the budget compromise last month, six have announced plans to retire, Proft said. Days after the vote, Jeremy Yost, a Charleston businessman and Navy veteran, announced his intention to seek Phillips’s seat, deriding the incumbent as a “taxer and spender” – an attack usually reserved for Democrats.

Phillips, a longtime Republican, said the criticism from the “extreme right” has been infuriating. The son of a factory worker, he supported himself through college doing construction work and now owns a hotel, a number of rental properties and a chain of assisted-living facilities.

In 2014, he decided to seek a seat in the state legislature with the notion that he could make the body run more like a business. He pledged to firmly oppose any tax increase unless it was accompanied by reforms favored by the governor, whose “turnaround agenda” includes spending cuts, reform of workers’ compensation and pensions, and a weakening of labor unions.

Upon taking office, Phillips said, he quickly realized that many of his aspirations were just fantasies while Democrats controlled the legislature. And that even within the Republican Party, it can be hard to be heard when you are a little-known junior House member from a rural district on the Indiana border.

“I suppose I was naive,” Phillips said.

It’s not his only change of heart. Phillips campaigned on a promise to serve only two terms. But now he thinks terms should be limited to three or four so that members have time to gain influence and leadership positions.

The vote to pass the budget in Illinois came amid uniquely bleak circumstances. The Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature had failed for more than two years to agree on a plan to address a gap in revenue and spending, with Rauner focusing on his reform agenda and Democrats insisting on a tax increase.

The impasse left the state $15 billion in debt and on the verge of seeing its credit rating downgraded to junk status. The state had no mechanism to pay what it owed to state agencies and social-service nonprofits, forcing them to take out loans or cut services. Universities, already suffering from plummeting enrollment, shed employees and shaved programs. Dentists all but stopped getting paid by the insurance plan that covers state employees; Illinois owed some of them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

With the help of the Republican defectors, the legislature passed a budget last month that included the tax increase but lacked some of Rauner’s reforms, leading the governor to veto it. Then, 11 of those defectors – among them Phillips – helped Democrats override Rauner’s veto.

“If I decide to press my button to override the governor, it doesn’t make me any less a conservative Republican than the rest of the people that stand in here,” Phillips said on the floor before casting his veto override vote, according to a transcript by the Effingham Daily News. Ultimately, one “has to vote for his district.”

The stalemate had particularly squeezed rural communities like Charleston, where many residents are state workers. The town, which has a population of 21,000, was starting to see the trickle-down effect of the woes of its centerpiece, Eastern Illinois University – particularly the layoffs, which numbered more than 300, according to union figures.

Phillips said he held out as long as he could but finally decided to support the budget plan, in large part to rescue the university.

While many constituents thanked him for his vote, the blowback from conservatives was fierce.

Facebook began filling up with angry comments from friends and neighbors, calling him a traitor. In one particularly painful episode, a farmer whose daughter had dated Phillips’s son for four years used crude language to suggest that he was beholden to the Democratic House speaker, Michael J. Madigan.

At the same time, many of those who pressured Phillips to support the budget were less than celebratory.

Jerri Boughan, a dentist from Lawrenceville, had pleaded with Phillips to support the budget. Because a number of her patients are state employees, she said, the government owes her about $120,000. More concerning, she said, was the fact that many of those patients were so embarrassed that their bills were going unpaid that they put off necessary visits.

Despite the budget’s passage, the state has not said how it will reimburse her and other dentists. Yet her employees have already suffered the results of the tax increase.

“I understand why Reggie went across party lines and tried to agree with someone to do something, because we were at a stalemate for three years. Someone had to give,” she said. At the same time, “I hate it for my employees that July 1, wham-bam, thank you, ma’am, they got an automatic 2 percent taken out of their paychecks.”

Kai Hung, a biology professor and faculty union official at Eastern Illinois, said he is grateful that the impasse is over.

On the first floor of the life sciences building, which he said was constructed in 1964, he pointed up at a ceiling of exposed pipes and sagging electrical wires. That, he said, was the result of a modernization project that abruptly stopped when the state budget impasse struck.

“I appreciate their vote,” Hung said of Phillips and other Republican defectors. “But I am not going to forget that for two years before that, they voted knowing . . . the kind of damage they are doing to their communities.”

Today, the legislature is embroiled in another stalemate, this time over schools.

While the July budget authorized funding for K-12 education, lawmakers put off an acrimonious debate about how to divvy up that money across the state. Democrats in the Chicago area are seeking what they view as their students’ fair share, while the governor and Republicans accuse them of seeking a bailout because of the district’s poor handling of the pension system.

This time, Phillips said, he is 100 percent behind the governor and has no plans to cross party lines.

illinois

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Keywords: Illinois, Illinois budget, Illinois income tax, Illinois tax increase, Republicans, Republicans voting for taxes, taxes, taxation, Reggie Phillips, Sam Brownback

This Illinois Republican faced a choice: Vote for a tax increase or ‘let it burn.’ | Reading Eagle – AP

Acting NIU President Says Employee Raises Are A Priority

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Northern Illinois University’s Acting President said it’s time to repair the damage done by the state budget impasse.  That includes addressing employee compensation.

After more than 700 days without, Illinois has a budget and Northern Illinois University has funding for a full year.  Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman said the school must now work to make up ground that was lost during the budget impasse.

“We need to make sure that we take care of things that have been neglected during that period,” Freeman said, “and that includes employee compensation, it includes our physical plant and our infrastructure.”

Freeman said that, even though the school’s current state allocation is smaller than in past budgets, at least there is now funding to go toward those necessary items.  In the wake of the impasse, many urgently need action.

“But to me, personally,” Freeman said, “the priority is making sure that our employees who are dedicated and committed to the university can see some raises as soon as we possibly do it.”

Freeman says that will take some work to figure out, but she has a team on it and hopes to be able to say more on the subject soon.

In the two years since Illinois last had a budget, colleges and universities have been living hand-to-mouth, trying to keep afloat by laying off employees, deferring maintenance and other cost-cutting measures.  

Freeman also said, regardless of the level of state support, the school will continue efforts to attract and retain students. She says that’s must if NIU is to be healthy in the long run. 

Acting NIU President Says Employee Raises Are A Priority