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FILE - This April 2017 file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Brianna McGurran, a columnist for personal finance website "Ask Brianna" is a Q&A column for 20-somethings, or anyone else starting out. (NerdWallet via AP, File)

FILE - This April 2017 file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Brianna McGurran, a columnist for personal finance website "Ask Brianna" is a Q&A column for 20-somethings, or anyone else starting out. (NerdWallet via AP, File)

Ask Brianna: When a student debt becomes a lot of trouble



Tuesday, October 2

“Ask Brianna” is a column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to

Stories about student loan borrowers with six-figure debt loads might shock us, intrigue us or appeal to our deep-seated sense of financial schadenfreude. But borrowers with very high balances, for the most part, are not the ones to worry about.

Those who owe less than $5,000 are.

That’s because they’re most likely to fall behind. Almost a third of them who began repayment between August 2011 and August 2012 defaulted within four years, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization. Just 15 percent of borrowers who owed $35,000 or more defaulted on the same timeline.

Borrowers with a small amount of student debt are more likely to have left school without degrees, affecting their employment options, earnings and ability to repay. Attending for-profit schools with poor job placement rates and having other, non-student debt to manage also put borrowers at risk.

Simply keeping your student loan balance low isn’t a defense against default. All your education-related choices — what school you go to, what you study, what you do after graduation — affect whether you’ll get those loans off your back. Here’s how to keep a little debt from turning into a lot of trouble.


Defaulting on student debt means you’ve missed nine months of payments on federal loans — often fewer than that for private loans.

Avoid default at all costs.

It can wreck your credit and, for federal loans, lead to withheld paychecks, Social Security checks and tax refunds. With poor credit, you’ll have a harder time qualifying for a mortgage or auto loan; you may even have to pay a deposit to set up utilities in your home.

One of the biggest steps in achieving the financial stability needed to avoid default is simply to graduate — and your chances of graduating are much worse if you go to a for-profit school. Compared with students at two- and four-year public and private colleges, those at for-profits are the least likely to get a degree within six years, and they earn the least 10 years after starting school, according to an analysis by the now-closed Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment.

Almost half of students who started attending for-profits in 2004 defaulted on their student loans within 12 years, according to a report from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization.

When researching colleges, use resources like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard to view graduation rates and average salary after attending. Steer clear of schools that aren’t forthcoming about whether they’re accredited or licensed to operate, pressure you to enroll, or advise you to take out private student loans or borrow up to the full cost of attendance without sharing other options.


Your chosen major will also affect how much money you earn. Make sure the school and the specific program of study will prepare you for a well-paying job in your industry. Ask students and alumni at the schools you’re considering how much job-search support they received.

Finally, borrow the least amount you can manage while still covering your expenses while in school. Dropping out due to financial stress can also hurt your chances of getting a stable job.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good place to start researching your likely salary after graduation. Use that expected salary to determine how much to borrow. An affordable monthly loan payment is 10 percent or less of your after-tax income once you start working.

Payments you can handle will keep your bills on track — and won’t leave you asking whether college is worth it .

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Brianna McGurran is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: briannamcscribe.


NerdWallet: Is College Worth It?

U.S. Department of Education: College Scorecard

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook

Aid lags, residents fume in decimated Indonesia neighborhood


Associated Press

Tuesday, October 2

PALU, Indonesia (AP) — Home to hundreds of families, the Balaroa section of Indonesia’s Palu city was once a patchwork of asphalted streets and tidy houses dominated by a golden domed mosque. Now it looks as if it was picked up and thrown back to earth with vicious force.

Four days after a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Palu and other parts of Sulawesi island, killing more than 1,200 people, the devastated community of Balaroa has received no government help and anger is simmering among its residents.

A handful of disaster personnel arrived in the neighborhood Tuesday morning to survey the damage. A lone backhoe began clearing a path into the jumble of twisted buildings. An official visiting from another part of Indonesia that has migrants in Balaroa said the neighborhood looked like it had been put in a blender.

What were once streets looked like rolling hills. Cars sat meters (yards) above the ground, perched on eruptions of asphalt and concrete. Other vehicles stood upright, half buried. Photos, books, clothing and other belongings were strewn everywhere. Surreally, surrounding neighborhoods were largely intact.

Residents said their shattered houses had moved by tens of meters. Some of them worked under a boiling sun with sledgehammers and shovels to break up rubble covering victims. In another corner of the neighborhood, a religious group said it had recovered 29 bodies in the past three days.

Abdullah Sidik, limping with an injured leg, said he was heading for evening prayers when the magnitude 7.5 quake struck just after 6 p.m. Friday and rushed back home to find his wife and daughters.

“The earth was pushing everything up,” he said. “In that moment, I was flailing around and was hit from behind by a concrete wall. Then I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move and I lost my wife and daughters.”

“I hope we can get aid from the government. Please pay attention to us. Palu is part of Indonesia. It feels like a dead city,” Sidik said.

“I want to bury my wife and children. Please help me find them inside,” he said.

Residents crowded around a team of Associated Press reporters, loudly voicing their complaints. Some had heard cries for help rising from beneath the rubble for two days. Now there is silence. There’d been nothing from the government, they said, no food, no water, no medical assistance, no search and rescue effort.

Sa’Adon Lawira, cradling a kitten whose cries had led him to his dead grandchild, was angry that search and rescue efforts in the days since the quake have focused on places such as a hotel where tourists were staying.

“Why did the search and rescue agency and others prioritize the search for victims in hotels?” he said, holding back tears as he spoke. “Neighborhoods like this should take precedence because the bodies of residents are buried, but there are no rescuers who have searched for them.”

Because of its location on the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” Indonesia is prone to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions and is well versed in responding to disasters.

A massive earthquake off Sumatra island in 2004 caused a tsunami that killed 230,000 people around the region, the majority of them in the Indonesian province of Aceh. That was the last time the country had declared a national disaster.

The Palu earthquake and tsunami has not been declared the same, but in a rare move, Indonesia’s government has appealed for international assistance, showing how hard-pressed it is to deal with the disaster. The area’s remoteness is one of the big challenges for the humanitarian effort.

Disaster officials are uncertain how many people are buried in Balaroa. Residents gave varying figures — 50, 100, hundreds.

Numerous children are believed to be buried in the neighborhood’s collapsed mosque because a Quran recitation group for children was being held there before evening prayers.

“Seeing the ground upside down, I knew my children couldn’t survive,” said Agus, whose daughters aged 3 and 13 were at the Quran recital. “The mosque collapsed and went down inside the earth. It shifted at least 30 meters (100 feet) from where it originally was.”

He was at home when the quake struck but couldn’t get out because “the earth was moving like a wave.”

“It was moving so fast and trapped everyone inside it,” said Agus, who uses one name. “Buildings collapsed, houses broken, I just cannot explain it. Cars, everything buried under there.”

Kawadi Razak, the chief of Sulawesi’s Sopeng district, who is connected to Balaroa because about 100 people from Sopeng had migrated there and some are among the missing, said the neighborhood was home to more than 2,000 people.

“They have to speed up the aid,” he said. “I saw how emotional people are here when I distributed some food. Everyone scrambled and almost fought each other.”

Associated Press journalists Niniek Karmini, Fadlan Syam and Dita Alangkara contributed to this report.

Desperation grows as death toll soars from Indonesia quake


Associated Press

PALU, Indonesia (AP) — Trucks carrying food for desperate survivors of the earthquake on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island rolled in with a police escort Tuesday to guard against looters, while the death toll from the disaster soared past 1,200.

Four days after the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami struck, supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine had yet to reach the hardest-hit areas outside Palu, the largest city that was heavily damaged. Many roads in the earthquake zone are blocked and communications lines are down.

“We feel like we are stepchildren here because all the help is going to Palu,” said Mohamad Taufik, 38, from the town of Donggala, where five of his relatives are still missing. “There are many young children here who are hungry and sick, but there is no milk or medicine.”

The death toll reached 1,234, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in Jakarta, the capital. Hundreds of other people were injured, and scores of uncounted bodies could still be buried in collapsed buildings in Sigi and Balaroa under quicksand-like mud caused by Friday’s quake.

The U.N. humanitarian office reported that “needs are vast,” with people urgently requiring shelter, clean water, food, fuel and emergency medical care.

Water is the main issue because most of the supply infrastructure has been damaged, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

More than 25 countries offered assistance after Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appealed for international help. Little of that, however, has reached the disaster zone, and increasingly desperate residents grabbed food and fuel from damaged stores and begged for help.

Haq said the government is coordinating emergency efforts, and U.N. and relief agencies are on the ground or enroute. He said the agencies are working closely with the government to provide technical support.

An aircraft carrying 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of fuel had arrived. and trucks with food were on the way with police escorts to guard against looters. Many gas stations were inoperable either because of quake damage or from people stealing fuel, Nugroho said.

The frustration of waiting for days without help has angered some survivors.

“Pay attention to Donggala, Mr. Jokowi. Pay attention to Donggala,” yelled one resident in a video broadcast on local TV, referring to the president. “There are still a lot of unattended villages here.”

The town’s administrative head, Kasman Lassa, all but gave residents permission to take food — but nothing else — from stores.

“Everyone is hungry and they want to eat after several days of not eating,” Lassa said on local TV. “We have anticipated it by providing food, rice, but it was not enough. There are many people here. So, on this issue, we cannot pressure them to hold much longer.”

Nearly 62,000 people have been displaced from their homes, Nugroho said.

Most of the attention has been focused so far on Palu, which has 380,000 people and is easier to reach than other hard-hit areas.

More aid was being distributed, but “we still need more time to take care of all the problems,” Nugroho said.

Teams continued searching for survivors under destroyed homes and buildings, including a collapsed eight-story hotel in Palu, but they needed more heavy equipment to clear the rubble.

Many people were believed trapped under shattered houses in the Palu neighborhood of Balaroa, where the earthquake caused the ground to heave up and down violently.

“I and about 50 other people in Balaroa were able to save ourselves by riding on a mound of soil which was getting higher and higher,” resident Siti Hajat told MetroTV, adding that her house was destroyed.

A handful of disaster personnel arrived in the neighborhood Tuesday morning. A lone backhoe cleared a path into the jumble of twisted buildings.

Sa’Adon Lawira, who lost a grandchild, was angry that rescue efforts focused so quickly on places such as the Palu hotel where tourists were staying.

“Why did the search-and-rescue agency and others prioritize the search for victims in hotels?” he said, holding back tears as he spoke. “Neighborhoods like this should take precedence because the bodies of residents are buried, but there are no rescuers who have searched for them.”

Near the coast, the tsunami shattered buildings, uprooted concrete and thrust boats inland. The deadly wave reportedly reached as high as 6 meters (nearly 20 feet) in places,.

In Palu’s Petobo neighborhood, the quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy, creating a thick, heavy quicksand-type material that resulted in massive damage. Hundreds of victims are still believed to be buried in the mud there.

Liquefaction of soil can be compared to walking on a sandy beach.

“If you walk across some wet sand a little back from the water’s edge, it is usually firm walking, even though you might leave footprints,” said Adam Switzer, an expert at the Earth Observatory of Singapore. “However, if you stand still and wiggle your toes and feet, you will probably sink a little as the sand around your feet becomes soft and unstable. This is similar to what happens during liquefaction.”

Nugroho said 153 bodies were buried Monday in a mass grave in Palu and that the operation continued Tuesday.

He said generators, heavy equipment and tents are among the most-needed aid items. The countries that offered assistance include the United States and China, he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government has given $360,000 to help victims and is in talks with Indonesian authorities about a second round of aid. The initial funds are to go to the Indonesian Red Cross for the most obvious emergency aid needs, such as tarpaulins.

Nugroho said only two of the 122 foreigners in the area remained unaccounted for — one from South Korea and the other from Belgium.

The U.N.’s Haq said the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has asked the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, to send social workers to the affected area to support children who are alone or became separated from their families. And he said the World Health Organization is warning that a lack of shelter and damaged water sanitation facilities could lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 260 million people, is frequently struck by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. A powerful quake on the island of Lombok killed 505 people in August.

Associated Press writers Margie Mason and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

The Conversation

Trusting states to do right by special education students is a mistake

September 28, 2018

Many special education students are isolated from their peers.


Matthew Brock

Assistant Professor of Special Education, The Ohio State University

Disclosure statement

Matthew Brock receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.


The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

On Sept. 20, the U.S. Department of Education released a new framework to “rethink” how the department oversees special education services for students with disabilities.

As part of this framework, the department plans to provide states with “flexibility” and to “acknowledge” that states are “in the best position to determine implementation of their programs.”

This flexibility relates to how states satisfy the provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – a federal civil rights law known as IDEA meant to ensure all students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education.

In my opinion, the assumption that states are in the best position to determine implementation of their programs related to the IDEA law is a faulty one. So is the notion that relaxing enforcement of these provisions would have a positive impact on students.

I make these arguments as a researcher who focuses on the best ways to serve students with intellectual disability and make sure such students are included in the general classroom to the greatest extent possible.

The Education Department’s plan to give states more flexibility is in line with the Trump administration’s broader view that the Education Department has too much power and that its role should be reduced.

In my view, the administration is wrong to single out IDEA as an example of federal overreach. In reality, IDEA is an example of how the federal government works at its best to ensure the rights of America’s most vulnerable citizens. Without it, the nation’s special education system would not exist.

Evidence of positive effects

The Education For All Handicapped Children Act – the predecessor to IDEA – was passed in 1975. This followed an outcry by parents of children with disabilities and advocacy groups about how nearly 2 million students with disabilities were not receiving educational services at all, and an additional 3 million were receiving educational services that weren’t appropriate for their needs.

The law’s passage was neither partisan nor controversial. In fact, it passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Overall, implementation of IDEA has had a hugely positive impact on the lives of children and youth with disabilities. It has ensured that all children and youth with disabilities receive an education, and it has provided parents and the students themselves with a strong voice in designing Individualized Education Programs. However, this does not mean that all of the provisions of IDEA have been fully realized. Nor does it mean that it is time to relax federal oversight.

State implementation of some key IDEA provisions has been mixed. This underscores the critical need for continued and vigilant federal oversight.

Segregation is common

One particularly troubling example of how implementation of IDEA has fallen short relates to segregating students with disabilities in separate classrooms and schools.

A key provision of IDEA is that all students with disabilities should have meaningful opportunities to learn alongside their peers in general education classrooms. This is called inclusion. Inclusion is the best way for these students to gain critical social and communication skills, and to learn the same important academic material that is taught to all students. Furthermore, students with disabilities are held to higher expectations when they are included in general education classrooms, and students often rise – or sink – to teacher expectations. In addition, peers benefit by getting the opportunity to know someone they would not have otherwise met, increasing their acceptance of individual differences. More broadly, inclusive classrooms contribute to building a more inclusive society.

The law does not require all students to be included all of the time. Rather, it calls for schools to take an inclusion-first approach, treating the general education classroom as the default placement. Students are only supposed to be placed in specialized settings when there is a compelling reason. For example, it might be appropriate for a middle school student who struggles with literacy to receive intensive instruction on basic reading skills in a special education classroom, or for a high school student to spend part of the day at a community job internship that is consistent with her career goals.

Despite this federal mandate, there is little evidence that most schools are embracing an inclusion-first approach. A recent analysis of federal data shows that most students with intellectual disability spend most of their school day outside of the general education classroom. Only 17 percent spend at least four-fifths of the day in a general education classroom.

Perhaps even more troubling is the lack of progress toward more inclusive placements over time. Although there was some movement toward more inclusive placements in the 1990s, placement rates have remained mostly unchanged since 1997. In the last two years for which data are available – 2013 and 2014 – schools actually became a little less inclusive.

Room for improvement

Could progress have stagnated because schools have reached the upper limit of what is possible? There are a number of reasons why this is not the case.

First, educators have the tools to do better. Researchers have made significant strides in developing practices that promote effective inclusion for students with intellectual disability. There is solid evidence that practices such as peer support arrangements and embedded instruction enable students with intellectual disabilities to thrive academically and socially in general education classrooms. Peer support arrangements involve peers without disabilities providing academic and social support to students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Embedded instruction involves providing individualized instruction in the context of classroom routines.

Second, some schools have already demonstrated that it is possible to do much better. Entire states like Vermont and Iowa include most students with intellectual disability for the majority of the school day. And there are individual school districts that boast inclusion rates four times better than the national average.

The bottom line is that there is no good reason why schools cannot or should not be more inclusive. The problem is not a lack of strategies or successful models. The problem is a stubborn insistence on an outdated segregation-first approach that is both ethically and legally problematic. This problem is not perpetuated by any malicious intent, but instead by systemic factors that encourage the status quo. For example, once large urban school districts invest in building a separate school to serve students with severe disabilities, they are less likely to consider serving a student at a regular neighborhood school. Similarly, if a school has always served students with intellectual disability in a separate classroom, they are likely to continue to default to this placement option until parents and advocates push for change.

The U.S. Department of Education has an obligation to enforce IDEA provisions. The department must also ensure that inclusion is no longer a privilege afforded only to the fortunate few who live in a particular state or school district. All students with disabilities deserve the opportunity to benefit from inclusion. Similarly, all peers without disabilities deserve the opportunity to experience interactions with people who are different from themselves.

FILE – This April 2017 file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Brianna McGurran, a columnist for personal finance website "Ask Brianna" is a Q&A column for 20-somethings, or anyone else starting out. (NerdWallet via AP, File) – This April 2017 file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Brianna McGurran, a columnist for personal finance website "Ask Brianna" is a Q&A column for 20-somethings, or anyone else starting out. (NerdWallet via AP, File)

Staff & Wire Reports