What Student Borrowers Are Entitled To?

DC Shuttle …

President Obama Announces Student Aid Bill of Rights. President Barack Obama announced the “Student Aid Bill of Rights,” a series of proposals which the administration says will help simplify and improve the college loan system. In a speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the president remarked that higher education is not only a good investment for students but also for the future of the country. He emphasized the importance of education in securing good jobs and in keeping America a global economic power. President Obama also called on Republicans in Congress to devote more money to education. He called the Student Aid Bill of Rights “a simple organizing principle. … a declaration of values.” In it, the administration is proposing the creation of website which will allow students to easily file complaints and provide feedback about federal student loan lenders, services, collection agencies and institutions of higher learning. The proposal also includes new steps to help students understand and repay their loans and increased research into student loan trends as well as into ways of preventing students from falling into default. The president also called for his cabinet and White House advisors to work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to determine recommendations for regulatory and legislative changes for all student loan borrowers, possibly including similar ones to the protections recently applied to mortgages and credit cards. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, the memorandum isn’t a complete overhaul to the system but could make some meaningful changes. The administration also released state-by-state data showing the number of borrowers and the total outstanding balance. The average national debt per student was $28, 400. Students from New England averaged debts of $25,000. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, was among many lawmakers who responded positively to the plan. In a statement, Murray  called the Student Aid Bill of Rights “an important step forward.”

Report on Student Loans. A recent study conducted by the nonpartisan public opinion research firm FDR Group and commissioned by New America studies the reasons why students struggle to pay back their loans. After conducting six focus groups across the country from June to October 2014, the group concluded, “there may be a ‘typical’ struggling borrower, but we didn’t find it in these focus groups.” It found a variety of reasons students struggle with loans, including lack of gainful employment after graduation, family or personal crises, and confusion about the implications of loans that many students agree to without conducting due diligence.

No Child Left Behind Reauthorization Shows Promise. HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray released a statement this week saying they hope to have their bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) ready for consideration and markup the week of April 13. The most recent reauthorization of ESEA, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), expired in 2007. According to The Hill, the House Education and Workforce Committee’s proposed legislation to reauthorize ESEA, the Student Success Act, isn’t set for a vote in March. A scheduled February vote on the legislation was hastily cancelled to allow time for the Department of Homeland Security funding debates. The legislation has been attacked by conservative blogs, leading some to believe that it wouldn’t have passed the February vote anyway as it would have lacked the support of many Democrats and conservative Republicans. Republican members of the House Education and Workforce Committee recently issued a release citing a blog post calling the proposed legislation “the most conservative federal education move in a quarter century.” Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seemed skeptical about the likelihood of an ESEA reauthorization happening soon at the National Science Teachers Association’s annual conference, as Education Week reported.

CBO Projects Pell Grant Costs. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its report on the projected cost of the federal Pell Grant program. The report estimates that the funding can remain flat for the program this year. EdCentral reports, however, that the estimates show that the program will hit a fiscal cliff in the year 2018, requiring an increase in funding of $2.3 billion to maintain current policies. The funding is predicted to require increases each subsequent year, resulting in appropriations needing to be $31.8 billion higher over the next 10 years.

Education Privacy Groups Release New Student Data Principles. The Data Quality Campaign and the Consortium for School Networking recently released 10 principles regarding student data. More than 30 nonprofits and education groups have endorsed the principles, including the National School Boards Association, the National PTA, and the National Education Association. The aim of the principles is to address concerns about student data privacy and equip the field with tools to effectively use and protect student information.

Department of Education Officials Speak At SXSWedu Conference.  Many officials from the Department of Education spoke at the SXSWedu Conference this past week in Austin, Texas. The officials spoke at events spanning all levels of education. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell spoke in a panel discussion entitled “Innovative Tools & Strategies to Access Higher Ed” which aimed to explore some of the administration’s innovative higher education initiatives, including Reach Higher and the $60 million First in the World fund.

Community College Data Shows Improvement. A new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCSSE) shows vast improvements in student engagement. The report notes that student engagement is a “key indicator of learning and, therefore, quality of community colleges.” On its website, the CCSSE said that the improvements are likely related to institutional changes in policy and practice at the institutions. A recent blog post from the New York Times also highlighted recent positive institutional changes at community colleges which it says can help improve graduation rates.

Disparities in Funding Between Districts. A Washington Post analysis of 2012 federal data shows that in 23 states, state and local governments together are spending less per pupil in the poorest school districts than they are in the most affluent ones. “What it says very clearly is that we have, in many places, school systems that are separate and unequal,” Education Secretary Duncan said in an interview. This report came just a day after the Washington Post reported on a new Center for American Progress brief which argues that loopholes in the Title I program prevent it from being totally effective.

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of March 16, 2015. Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.   



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