Student loan debt projected to increase with new bill authorization

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, the sky over The Capitol is lit up at dawn as Senate Republicans work to pass their sweeping tax bill this week in Washington, (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A bill reauthorizing the Higher Education Act includes provisions that would make college less accessible and affordable, according to Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson.

“By eliminating in-school interest subsidies on federal loans, the bill would needlessly drive up student debt,” McPherson said in a press release on Dec 1. “Students would see the interest on their loans grow as they study instead of having it deferred until they enter the workforce.”

McPherson said the bill would make college less affordable for those with significant need by stripping away the Supplemental Educational Opportunity grant and would force some students pursuing advanced degrees to take out more expensive loans in the private market by eliminating Graduate Plus loans.

McPherson said the bill would also make some students more vulnerable to schools and programs that “won’t serve their best interests” and fails to make what he called much-needed changes to improve data students use to decide where to attend college.

“While we appreciate some positive steps in the bill toward better data for students, its approach is flawed,” McPherson said. “Data on earnings of graduates by program at each institution are essential, but the bill would only report such data for students who receive federal loans or grants.”

McPherson said by maintaining the current system, the 30 percent of students who don’t receive federal loans or grants would be missing from the data students use.

“That means prospective students and their families will continue to receive misleading, incomplete data as they attempt to make informed decisions on where to attend college,” McPherson said. “Congress should bring higher education into the 21st century by lifting the student-level data ban through the inclusion of language from the bipartisan College Transparency Act.”

McPherson said the bill makes “significant changes” to institutional access of federal student aid that require a careful and thorough review.

“We should ensure there are strong safeguards in place to protect students from institutions that won’t serve them well,” McPherson said. “We’re concerned the bill would block the Department of Education from appropriately holding ‘gainful employment’ programs accountable for student outcomes.”

McPherson said the 90/10 rule, which ensures schools aren’t completely funding their operations with taxpayer-backed loans and grants, should be bolstered rather than eliminated.

“Eliminating these provisions puts students and taxpayers unnecessarily at risk,” McPherson said.

McPherson said the APLU commends the inclusion of increases in federal work study, support for risk-based accreditation and adoption of some recommendations of the bipartisan Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education.

“We look forward to continuing to review the bill, offering our support for positive steps forward and working with policymakers on areas in which the bill clearly needs improvement to support students and the contributions of higher education to our nation,” McPherson said.

The Higher Education Act was originally signed into law in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson.

It was intended “to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.”

It is reauthorized periodically, with the most recent reauthorization in 2008. That reauthorization expired at the end of 2013 but was extended while Congress prepared changes and amendments.


Gabriella Debenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.