I have attempted more than once to bring to the attention of the Community Service Society an additional (and much worse) problem with student debt in the state of New York. But my attempts to contact CSS have been ignored, without even the courtesy of an acknowledgment.
In brief, the situation is this. For students attending any of the SUNY (State University of New York) colleges or universities, if students encounter financial problems and cannot pay tuition or other fees in full when they are due, SUNY advertises to the education community (and the press) that it has programs in place to help these students. This is a lie, and a rather bold one considering the huge gap between this claim and reality.
In fact, for such students, SUNY colleges first issue a perfunctory form notice that carries an ultimatum – a demand for full payment at the due date, and if students suggest any alternative that could keep them in school, all such discussions are categorically rejected. SUNY then expels these students, cancels all their previously earned (and paid for) college credit, and turns over their student “account” to New York’s Attorney General’s office.
The AG’s office accepts the account, and without contacting the student, or checking any information contained therein, and with no knowledge of who these students are (outside data on the account form), the AG sues them on SUNY’s behalf. (Virtually unique among state university systems, SUNY is considered a “state agency” and is therefore legally represented by the AG’s office.)
(Incidentally, this is the same AG’s office under Letitia James that has waited around for years to finally sue Trump. By contrast, the AG does not wait to sue students. It’s done automatically and quickly, like operating a machine.)
For these lawsuits, there is no judge involved, no court, no trial, and rarely any student legal representation. Virtually all these cases end up as quick default judgements against the student. The judgements are not even seen or signed by a judge, but by an assistant AG. So in effect the AG acts as both party and judge in its own case.
In the great majority of cases, students learn of the judgements against them well after the fact. They are never informed directly by the AG, by SUNY, or even by the court clerk (who files the case only); students must figure it out for themselves after their wages or tax refunds are garnished.
But this is not all. For additional punishment, the New York AG’s judgment tacks on a host of supplemental (and largely unexplained) fees. Offices not even involved (such as the Albany county sheriff’s office) get their cuts. Most of these are relatively small except for the fee the AG awards to itself, which is over 20 percent of the unpaid bill. Note that this fee is tacked on, not a part of the overall judgment based on the original bill. And the final thrust is the interest rate; after adding up all the fees, the whole amount accumulates compound interest at the highest rate allowed under New York law, 9 percent. (The law states, “up to 9 percent,” but the AG always uses the maximum.)
This is not a rare event. From 2008 to present, some 25,000 students have been sued by New York (data obtained via FOIL requests). I roughly estimate that about one in every hundred SUNY students gets sued. However, since these suits are against mostly impoverished students forced to quit, the state gains almost nothing financially. All the procedure does is to add further pain to people whose only crime is trying to earn a college education. .
I have apprised the Community Service Society of this unique New York phenomenon – no other state in the country sues its college student or treats them with such contempt – but so far CSS has neither replied or even acknowledged this disgraceful state of affairs.
Thank you for listening.