Many college students find themselves receiving more than a diploma when they graduate. They're often presented with a bill for their student loans, in many instances a debt in the five-figure range that can take years to pay off.
There are those who say that's part of the cost of getting an education, but starting a career in debt remains a sobering prospect for a young person in their early 20s. Most work hard to retire their obligation over the years, but others fall behind or simply ignore the debt, defaulting on what they owe.
The Ohio Attorney General's office has a statutory obligation to collect student loan debt on behalf of public universities since state funds are involved.
A recent investigation by The Columbus Dispatch revealed that Ohio students have been wrongfully sued or charged exorbitant collection fees by debt collectors working on behalf of the attorney general. In one instance, according to the Dispatch, a former student who had paid down a loan to just $23 after 21 years ended up being sued by the attorney general's office for $968 because of collection fees and compounding interest. Some former students were unaware they had been sued, resulting in default judgments that enabled bank accounts to be seized and wages to be garnished.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has appointed a 15-member advisory panel to review student debt collection practices, including an examination of possible abuses of the process. The panel includes students, lawyers, representatives from colleges and financial institutions, state legislators and other public officeholders.
DeWine said that the Dispatch's discoveries were "certainly disturbing," adding, "We need to really take a full look at the student-loan situation." He's right, and to his credit, he's taking a step to examine the problem and rectify it.
The panel ought to come up with guidelines to rectify the abuses the Dispatch documented. These should include safeguards in terms of notification of debtors, a reasonable collection process and a close look at collection fees and accrued interest. Some cases examined by the Dispatch found that the amount of money owed by students was five times what they originally had borrowed. That is unconscionable.
Student debtors shouldn't be viewed as cash cows or targets for state-sanctioned usury. It's one thing to owe money to the state -- and, again, most who take out student loans do their best to meet their obligations -- it's another to be taken for a proverbial ride years afterward.