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WEBSITE BOOK PREVIEW
Ten Summers: The Story of www.dorothyswebsite.org
Those who have been with the site since at least last year know that after celebrating the site's 10th Anniversary summer in 2012 I began working on a book
about the site. The working copy of the book, called "Ten Summers: The Story of www.dorothyswebsite.org," was finished in May. This page has been posted to let visitors know a bit about the book, why it was written, and
provide a brief excerpt.
Why call the book "Ten Summers?" The site began as a computer exercise in the summer of 2003. Originally it was something that was supposed to last
for only about a month. Over ten summers, the site evolved into the web entity visitors see today. One half of the story describes the history of www.dorothyswebsite.org plus how and why it came to have its present format. In
addition to the history, the book includes 25+ poems which have appeared on the site, pictures and descriptions of each of the summer themes which began in 2006, a section of photographs from the "Attitude" collection and more, including a
guide to the cards which have been handed out at the concerts over the years.
But that is only half the story. Since the reason the site exists is tied directly to Dorothy's experiences within the student loan system,
the other half of the book weaves that story in and out of the text. Anyone who has ever glanced through the Essay Archives section of the site has probably seen that the very first essay to be included concerned
the student loan system. Creating a forum through which to express my concerns about the student loan system was probably the most important reason information was posted to the internet to begin with.
Several years before creating the site I began seeing periodic anecdotes in the press about problems being encountered by those who had taken out
student loans. The stories would appear, then go away; appear, then go away. Anecdotes are just that - singular, personal accounts, but the number and frequency of the appearances of the stories, taken together with my own
experiences, made me wonder if they were symptomatic of greater problems brewing within the system. If there was one common factor which I noticed about the stories over the years, it was that a majority of the stories were
about women. Since 2003, and especially within the last couple of years, those stories have involved ever-increasing outstanding debt, not only students but their relatives being pursued for repayment of the debt, and
even people in their 60s still making payments on student loans. But again, those are just anecdotes. What is fact is that in 2010 total student loan debt in the U.S. exceeded outstanding revolving credit debt (the most of which
is credit card debt) for the first time. Today outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. stands at about one trillion dollars, with no end in sight. The trend over the last few years especially has been for increased
borrowing - and a higher number of loans slipping in to default.
Before navigating away from the page if you think this has nothing to do with you, please think again and read the brief excerpt below. If the system continues
on its current trajectory, there is no telling what it might mean for students, their families and even this country. The excerpt below is from the "Conclusion" section of the book.
This story, the story of www.dorothyswebsite.org, has been two separate tales wrapped up in one. The
first, a very specific one, is about the site itself. The second, a more general one, is about student loans and the student loan system in this country. Both have clear starting points and ending points which are undefined. While conclusions
may be drawn about the site, it is possible for me only to raise questions about the student loan system.
It was said in the introduction that the telling of this story may bring about the end of the site, and maybe it will. If it does, then the site will have been one small blip in the
history of a medium which has come to play an important part of most people's lives. The site that began as a computer exercise grew over ten years in tandem with the more widespread use of the
It is possible to point to anything which has been accomplished through the site, any value which has been created? In a small way, yes. For those who enjoy music, the site has
grown to be a steady source of information for concert listings and to a lesser extent for other free products, services or events. Finding that information has given visitors access to everything from family-friendly activities to free birthday
meals. Whether indirectly or directly, the site also has helped create jobs for musicians, support various aspects of the arts, provide information on a variety of science and technology topics in a manner which (hopefully) was easy to understand, and
give others, particularly musicians and artists, the chance to let people know more about themselves and their work . . .
. . . The website may have grown to be something far bigger than originally intended, but has the student loan system as well? In the site's initial 2003 essay on student loans, the student loan
program's origin in the Higher Education Act of 1965 was discussed. As outlined in the Act, the "Guaranteed Reduced Interest Loans to Students" program, of the Guaranteed Student Loan Program (as it has come to be known), began as a way to offer
students the fullest possible educational opportunity, and perhaps more importantly, as A FINAL LINE OF FINANCIAL DEFENSE for students and their families. As a final line of financial defense, it would be reasonable to expect that a certain percentage of students
would need to make use of the loans. That percentage has changed dramatically, however, especially from 2004 - 2012 (almost the same period in which the site has been in existence). During that period outstanding student debt tripled, from about
$340 billion in 2004 to $966 billion at the end of the fourth quarter of 2012 [footnote for figures included in book text]. At the same time there has been a 70 percent increase in the number of borrowers and a 70 percent increase in the average balance
per person. In other words, the trend has been for college students to increasingly borrow more to finance their education, and when they do borrow, to borrow greater amounts. One recent white paper on the debt says of student loans that they "have become a fact
of life" - probably much more than what they were originally intended to be when the program was established in 1965 . . .
Here are some of the most recent basic facts about student loans from a 2013 report by Donghoon Lee, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York . . .
- Total outstanding student loan debt almost tripled between 2004 and 2012, from about $340 billion in 2004 to $966 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012.
- In that same period there has been a 70 percent increase in the number of borrowers and a 70 percent increase in the average balance per person.
- About 40 percent of borrowers have outstanding balances of less than $10,000, about 56 percent have outstanding balances between $10,000 and $100,000 and about four
percent have outstanding balances over $100,000
- The share of 25-year-olds with student debt has risen from about 27 percent in 2004 to about 43 percent in 2012
- Seventeen percent of all borrowers currently in repayment, or 6.7 million people, are 90+ days delinquent on their payments. Those in the 30 - 49 year old age group have the highest delinquency rate at
slightly over 20%
- However, about 44 percent of borrowers are not in repayment yet due to deferments or forbearances (due to the fact that they are still in school, etc.). When this group not yet in repayment is subtracted from the total, leaving only borrowers currently
in repayment, the overall 90+ day delinquency rate rises to about 31 percent. Among borrowers under the age of 30 in repayment, the delinquency rate is about 35 percent.
- The transition rate of borrowers in repayment from current to delinquent has been rising since 2008 from around six percent to nearly nine percent . . .
. . . Students whose loans are in default are not making payments on those loans. Due to a program which took effect in 2009, the number of students making no repayments on their
loans maybe even higher, separated only by a matter of semantics and legal terminology and perhaps masking even greater problems within the system . . .
. . . Writers for the Liberty Street Economics blog, economists working at the intersection of research and Fed policymaking, also say that "student loans support the education of millions
of students nationwide, yet much is unknown about the student loan market." This all perhaps begs the question, "How can a nation have close to one trillion dollars outstanding in what basically amounts to taxpayer money and yet know so little about
that debt?" There is a huge difference between a single loan as an arm's length commercial market transaction and a trillion dollar's worth of federal government funded/guaranteed loans, which taken as
a whole, have a potential for "systemic change" swaying the economic course of an entire generation or generations. And is it true, as one economist says, that "the calculus of power and the calculus of dollars are not so different at all?"
One of the quotes used in the introduction to a 2007 website essay on technological change was " . . . No development is inevitable." The quote was taken from the 1940s book The Road to Serfdom by
economist Friedrich A.von Hayek. Hayek was an economist of the belief that "each step away from the market system and toward social reforms of the welfare state is inevitably a journey that must end in a totalitarian state with neither efficiency nor liberty." But when
it comes to the longer term effect of student loans, how are we as a nation to know what is possible, probable - or even inevitable - if we know so little about those loans? . . .
To this excerpt I would add one note. Although several new options for repayment for students have been added in the last few years, student debt is the only debt not
dismissable through regular bankruptcy proceedings. Everyone always hopes things will go well in their lives, but what happens if they don't? With one exception, once a person takes out a student loan it stays with that person for life until it is paid off.
The story in "Ten Summers" recounts some of the most exasperating situations I personally encountered
within the student loan system and how that led to the founding of the site. In addition to the many portions of the book for those long-time site fans who have visited for so many years, my hope is that my personal "anecdote" will lead to many others coming forward with
their own stories as well. Possible final formats for publication are still being reviewed, and information will be posted here when the entire book becomes available to all. Thank you for taking the time to visit this page. Have a story to share
about student loans or know someone who does? Send an e-mail to the site. If you don't want to include your full name, that's fine, but please include some type of contact information. Send the e-mail to: email@example.com.
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