Tuesday, January 29, 2013

WSJ: Senators Propose Bankruptcy Option for Private Student Loans

Good news for those struggling with private student loan repayment. In 2012, Americans owed more on their student loans than automobile and credit card debt. Private student loans, in particular, have fewer income-based repayment and loan forgiveness options. The Huffington Post covered the growing private student loan crisis last year. Because of a 2005 reform law, private student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, except in extremely rare cases. I hope this piece of legislation gains traction in Congress. (Subscription required to read the entire article).

Senate Democrats are moving to make it easier for consumers to expunge some student debt in bankruptcy, but the proposal faces uncertain odds on Capitol Hill.

The proposal, unveiled Wednesday by Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, would target student loans issued by private lenders such as SLM Corp.’s Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo Corp. and Discover Financial Services. The bill would not apply to federal education loans, which comprise more than 80% of the roughly $1 trillion in outstanding student debt in the U.S.

Federal law prohibits, except in rare cases, private or federal student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy court. Consumer advocates say that has prevented many borrowers from unloading student debt even when the amount owed is so high there is little hope for them to repay. Most other types of consumer debt, including money owned on mortgages, credit cards and auto loans, can be discharged in bankruptcy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reflections on Obama's Second Inauguration and Martin Luther King Day

The Presidential Inauguration was held in Washington, DC on Monday, January 21, 2013. The official theme for the 2013 inauguration was “Faith in America’s Future,” commemorating the United States’ perseverance and unity and marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

This Monday also marked the second time a presidential inauguration coincided with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The first time this happened was in 1997 at Bill Clinton's second inaugural ceremony. One of the two bibles U.S. President Obama used for the second inauguration belonged to Dr. King, and the second was a bible owned by the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln. I provide links to the video and transcript of the second inaugural address.

The year 2013 is significant for two reasons. First, the struggle for freedom and equality was made possible by the support of national figures, such as Lincoln and King. From the end of slavery to the dawn of the civil rights movement, African Americans and other allies risked their lives through nonviolent action and the courts to ensure that all Americans had access to voting rights, civil rights, and equal opportunity. African Americans (e.g., Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Ella Baker, Whitney M. Young, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, etc.), as well as local people at the ground level (remember the college students in the Greensboro sit-ins?) pursued a path of self-determination with the goal of being recognized as equal citizens of this great nation.  

Second, we must remember that Lincoln and King were not always beloved by everyone. Both received assassination threats because their views challenged societal norms on racism. Lincoln was seen as a pariah for his decision to end slavery, and King was seen as a radical for his opposition to the Vietnam War. Both became saint-like heroes after their assassinations. We must remember that they made decisions during times where society as a whole did not support citizenship and equality for African Americans.

King always perceived himself first as a minster of the gospel. If you have listened to his last public speech, "I've Been to the The Mountaintop," King says these famous words: I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

That last line is from the opening of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. In the Bible, the people of Israel had to wander in the wilderness for forty years after Moses freed them from bondage in Egypt. His successor, Joshua, would eventually lead the people to the Promised Land. I believe that both Lincoln and King knew that they would not live to see the outcomes of their goals, but they had faith in the Lord that their efforts would not fail in vain. When I watched the 2008 and 2012 elections, I cried and shouted for joy because it was ordinary individuals (famous and non-famous) who risked their lives and paved the way for Barack Obama to become the first African-American president of the United States.
While we are living through tough economic times, 2013 marks a new beginning of hope and social progress. King's dream never ended in 1968; it continues to live on as long as Americans come together to make this great nation a place that embodies democracy, equality, and social justice for all.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Michigan Girl's Cafe Named As Great Site for Social Workers

I am honored to receive this award as one of the 101 Greatest Sites for Social Workers on MSWOnlinePrograms.org. My website is listed under Social Work Blogs. As everyone knows, I focus on social justice issues as it relates to macro social work. Click on the link to view the complete list.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

University of Michigan LSA Semeter Theme for Winter 2013: Understanding Race

The College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts (LSA) Semester Theme for Winter 2013 is Understanding Race at the University of Michigan.

Few subjects provoke as strong a visceral response as the topic of race. One-hundred-and-fifty years after the United States was nearly fractured by the battle over slavery and more than a half-century since the modern Civil Rights Movement emerged, the University of Michigan is launching the Understanding Race Project.

From January through April, an extensive range of public exhibits, performances, lectures, symposia and more than 130 courses in several disciplines will explore the concept of race and its impacts. The historical, cultural, psychological and legal interpretations of race will be examined from both national and global perspectives.

Highlights of the project include the "Race: Are We So Different?" exhibit developed by the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota and "IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas," a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit.

Click here for more information about the Understanding Race Project.

The goals of the Understanding Race Project include an exploration of the idea of race as a social construct that has no biological basis, and as an idea that grows in meaning when examined at the intersections of other identities, such as gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and religion. The Understanding Race Project offers myriad opportunities for conversations about race, emphasizing student engagement, highlighting local experience and expertise, and looking beyond the black/white dichotomy. (College of Literature, Science, and the Arts)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Infographic: Most Popular College Majors

Edudemic published an infographic of the most popular college majors by gender and area. When I look back at my own undergraduate study, I definitely followed the most popular major route for women.  I am also surprised that business and economics did not make the top college majors for men.

In the academic year of 2009-10, a total of 1,650,014 college and university students earned their Bachelor's Degree. That's 33% more than graduating class 10 years earlier. Well over half of those graduating were female students (57.2%).

Figure 1: Bachelor's Degrees Awarded by Degree Granting Institutions
  • 22% Business (management, marketing, personal and culinary services)
  • 10% Social Studies (social sciences and history, excluding psychology)
  • 08% Healthcare (health professions and related programs)
  • 06% Education
  • 06% Psychology
  • 06% Visual and performing arts

Figure 2: Most Popular Bachelor's Degrees for Females
  • 88% Human Sciences/Family and Consumer Sciences
  • 85% Health Professions
  • 82% Social Services
  • 80% Education
  • 77% Psychology

Figure 3: Most Popular Bachelor's Degrees for Males
  • 83% Engineering and engineering technologies
  • 82% Computer sciences
  • 59% Physical sciences
  • 53% Recreation/fitness studies
  • 51% Agriculture
Among professional master's degrees awarded by degree granting institutions in 2009-10, education is the most awarded degree, followed by business (#2), and health professions (#3). Engineering (#4) and public administration and social services (#4) roughly awarded the same number of degrees. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: Essentials of Social Work Policy Practice (2007)

Essentials of Social Work Policy Practice (2007), by Cynthia J. Rocha, provides a concise overview of policy practice methods and tactics that social workers need to know in order to advocate for policy changes within an organization and different government levels.  Social workers must understand social problems and the ways in which education and social welfare policies are established to address these social problems. Rocha is currently the Associate Dean and Profession of Social Work at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She is an expert on social welfare policy, evaluation research, and political social work.

As part of the Essentials of Social Work Practice series, this book is a practical resource that includes step-by-step guidelines for putting a plan into action and working efficiently within a system. Techniques are presented for handling a number of related topics, including effective interpersonal communication and participation, utilizing technology and the media in policy practice, creating change within organizations, and many more. Each chapter features key concepts, case examples, extensive illustrative material, and vignettes that promote critical thinking around planning and policy development.  

This is a skill-based book written for social work students in policy practice classes and is an easy reference guide for social work practitioners. Topics are organized for an easy understanding of the essential material related to a particular practice area. Chapters 3 through 6 provide step-by-step instructions on skills that can be used across organizations and policy levels. Chapters 7 through 10 provide specific strategies for working with the community, in organizations, and at the legislative, bureaucratic, and judicial levels of government.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NYTimes: For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall

As much as policymakers talk about earning a college degree is a great equalizer for upward mobility, it is often not a smooth transition for low-income and first-generation students according to the New York Times. Without proper guidance and support, this group is most likely to drop out of college and face staggering college debts that cripple their lifetime earnings.
Low-income strivers face uphill climbs, especially at Ball High School, where a third of the girls’ class failed to graduate on schedule. But by the time the triplets donned mortarboards in the class of 2008, their story seemed to validate the promise of education as the great equalizer. Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University. Bianca enrolled in community college, and Melissa left for Texas State University, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s alma mater. “It felt like we were taking off, from one life to another,” Melissa said. “It felt like, ‘Here we go!’ ” Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store. Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net. The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: Unfaithful Angels - How Social Work Has Abandoned its Mission (1994)

Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work Has Abandoned its Mission (1994), by Harry Specht and Mark E. Courtney, is a critique of the evolution and status of the social work profession in the United States up to the last decade of the twentieth century. The authors contended that social workers have largely abandoned the original tenets of Jane Addams and Mary Richmond, early pioneers of societal improvement through community organization and social case work, respectively. Social workers today are primarily trained to use a psychotherapeutic or psychoanalytic approach to help build individual's sense of self-esteem. This type of training neglects the increasingly vulnerable underclass and the macro dimension (community capacity building and policy advocacy). Since most social workers aspire to establish private practices, their clientele is largely middle-class because work in the public social services is daunting, underpaid, and under-appreciated by policymakers and the general public.

As a result, Specht and Courtney argue that this trend has betrayed the original mission of social work, which was primarily to direct those in need to appropriate resources. Students are entering social work to become clinical private practitioners in order to make money and become their own boss.  Furthermore, clinical social workers offer individualized treatment that resembles the therapy of psychologists and psychotherapists. This is a mistake for two reasons: 1) the authors believe that society's problems are caused by the social isolation of modern life (fewer people participate in civic associations and live close to their family), and 2) it is the job of psychptherapists to help people with emotional and mental problems. Social workers should return to their original mission by connecting people with resources and supporting sustainable communities. I provide the preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics (2008) below:

The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well­being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well­being in a social context and the well­being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

Based on the preamble above, Specht and Courtney argue that social workers should stay true to their original mission--improving the welfare of families and empowering communities to achieve economic and social justice. Social workers should spend less time fighting for clinical licensure protection and third-party reimbursements. Instead, social workers should focus instead on promoting policies and services that enhance social participation and community well-being. In other words, social workers should work on addressing the environmental conditions that hinders their clients' well-being (e.g., lack of jobs, inadequate transportation or child care arrangements, etc.) rather than looking for irrelevant psychological treatments.

Recommendations included public policy and fiscal support at federal, state, and county levels to redirect the social work profession toward a community-oriented social care system in every neighborhood. Although their guidelines are vague and impractical (everything ties back to funding, and governments are notoriously conservative when it comes to allocating funds for the poor), they believe this will ensure a healthier society for all. While some readers may not agree with the authors' views, it is timely and relevant because social work has drifted too far from its original mission of providing resources for the oppressed and marginalized. The arguments and proposals of these two educators in the field will be of much interest to academics, professionals, social welfare students, and other readers who are searching for antipoverty frameworks..

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What Can You Do With a Degree in Education?

If you find joy in helping others learn, a degree in education is a both versatile and flexible. The education industry is one of the largest employers in the United States. Education is also considered a helping-profession (along with counseling, ministry, nursing, and social work).

A bachelor's degree can help you obtain a teaching position in elementary or secondary education. In some cases, some schools (such as Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy) provide non-teaching, pre-professional majors in education. A master's degree in education is often pursued by those who want to specialize in a specific subject, counsel students (may require licensure), develop curriculum, conduct policy research, or serve in an administrative role. A doctorate in education prepares you for research, policy-making, and senior administrative positions. 

Common career paths include K-12 schools, colleges and universities, local state and federal government, professional associations, and research and consulting firms. With a degree in education, you can also pursue a variety of non-teaching careers, such as a community organizer, corporate trainer, counselor, curriculum specialist, higher education administrator,  journalist, librarian, museum curator, policy analyst, and textbook author! It is a very versatile degree with many career options.

Education professionals can be found in the following industries below:

  • K-12 Education
  • Higher Education
  • Adult and Continuing Education
  • Business and Industry
  • Government
  • Nonprofit