News & Politics

New York Times Story on Federal Student Loans Uses Photo of School That Doesn't Offer Any

In a heartbreaking story about the Department of Education (DOE) announcing that it may not be able to honor debt forgiveness programs for federal student loans, The New York Times used a picture of a college widely known for its refusal of federal funding — one of the few schools in the country where federal student loans are unavailable.

In the Thursday story “Student Loan Forgiveness Program Approval Letters May Be Invalid, Education Dept. Says,” the Times included a photo of Hillsdale College, a nonsectarian Christian liberal arts college founded in 1844.

New York Times website screenshot, a photo of Hillsdale College in an article about federal student loans.

The image caption even identified the school as “Hillsdale College in Michigan. The federal Education Department has raised the possibility that students’ acceptance into a loan forgiveness program could be rescinded.”

As fans of Hillsdale College (or Rush Limbaugh or Hugh Hewitt, for that matter) are well aware, however, this is one of the very few schools in the nation which does not offer federal student loans to students (Grove City College is another important example). As a result, the student loan forgiveness program mentioned in the article cannot possibly apply to Hillsdale graduates.

Indeed, according to Hillsdale’s website, the school rose to prominence in the very case which established that federal student loans would not be available for students of the college.

Hillsdale’s modern rise to prominence occurred in the 1970s. On the pretext that some of its students were receiving federal loans, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare attempted to interfere with the College’s internal affairs, including a demand that Hillsdale begin counting its students by race. Hillsdale’s trustees responded with two toughly worded resolutions: One, the College would continue its policy of non-discrimination. Two, “with the help of God,” it would “resist, by all legal means, any encroachments on its independence.”

Following almost a decade of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against Hillsdale in 1984. By this time, the College had announced that rather than complying with unconstitutional federal regulation, it would instruct its students that they could no longer bring federal taxpayer money to Hillsdale. Instead, the College would replace that aid with private contributions.

The Times knows this well. As reporter Erik Eckholm wrote in a February profile of the school, “Conservatives are also entranced by Hillsdale’s decision to forgo any federal or student funds so as to be ‘unfettered’ by government mandates.”

As the more recent story reported, the debt forgiveness program mentioned in the article “generally covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit organization, a diverse group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters” (emphasis added).

The program may have convinced tens of thousands of borrowers (if not more) to choose public service jobs, hoping for debt relief from the federal government, instead of more lucrative work in the private sector. The DOE’s announcement is huge news for college graduates across the country — but it is not important personal news for Hillsdale graduates, and that very independence from federal funds is one of the college’s selling points.

The Times, perhaps realizing its monumental mistake, altered the photo on the digital version of the article. PJ Media welcomes comments of anyone who can see the March 31, 2017 print version of Section B, Page 1, which reportedly carries the story. Conservatives would like to know if Hillsdale is still pictured there.

New York Times website screenshot, the federal student loans article gets a more appropriate photo.

This is by far not the first time America’s newspaper of record has made embarrassing mistakes (it got the Syrian city of Aleppo wrong twice in an article mocking Gary Johnson for humbly asking what Aleppo was), and specifically mistakes which betray a misunderstanding of conservatives (it reported that Romans 1 calls for the execution of gay people).

Even in Eckholm’s February article about the school, the Times reporter included arguments against Hillsdale’s education philosophy, without a full explication of what it is. Dr. Paul Rahe, a Hillsdale professor, responded to the Times‘ subtle attacks on Hillsdale’s central philosophy.

Everyone makes mistakes, but reporters at America’s newspaper of record should know better than to put Hillsdale as the featured image of an article about federal student loans.