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Student Loan Debate Heats Up

April 28, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As Congress moves forward with a federal budget plan for 2010, rhetoric is ramping up on both sides of what is proving to be one of the most contentious budget debates so far:  whether or not to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program.  President Obama initially proposed this move in his budget outline, saying that a move to Direct Loans would result in a savings of $48 billion, money that could be put towards expanding the Federal Pell Grant program.

After the Congressional Budget Office revised the estimated savings to $94 billion over 10 years, many members of Congress and several higher education professional organizations have been offering up tentative support for the plan.  Democrats on the joint budget committee have even begun paving the way for this portion of the budget to be eligible for reconciliation, a filibuster-proof process that will allow portions of the budget to pass with a simple majority vote in the Senate.

However, lenders and other groups have begun suggesting and campaigning for alternatives that would allow the bank-based student loan program to continue to exist while still cutting costs to some extent.  Concerns have been raised that Direct Loans will not be as efficient or as kind to borrowers in the long run, though the credit crisis has made the program especially appealing as FFELP has required repeated government interventions to avoid grinding completely to a halt.  With many schools voluntarily making the switch to direct lending based on the program's current stability, concerns have also been raised about a rapid expansion in Direct Loans overwhelming the program as it currently stands.  Others worry that eliminating FFELP may speed lenders' exodus from private loans, ultimately leaving many students in a worse place financially than they find themselves in now.

What's emerging is a war of words between banks and the President.  In a speech on Friday, Obama characterized lenders as, "gearing up for battle," to which he responded, "So am I. . . And for those who care about America's future, this is a battle we can't afford to lose."  Considering the President's popularity and lenders' tarnished reputations from crisis after scandal after crisis over the last two years, we may see big changes happening soon in student loans.

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Students Encouraged to Write to Congress about Student Loans

May 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A little over a week after announcing his plans to gear up for battle with student lenders over the future of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, President Obama has begun calling in the troops.  An e-mail message sent to young Obama supporters by the Democratic National Committee is urging students to speak up in favor of the President's proposal to switch all federal lending to the Direct Loans program and to use the savings to expand Federal Pell Grants.

Students have been asked to call, write, or e-mail their Representatives and Senators to let them know what they think of the proposal to eliminate FFELP for Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The text of the e-mail, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, urges students to stand against "special interests" and to help "fix a broken system."  Rhetoric on the other side has focused primarily on preserving jobs and preserving choice (technically, the choice is primarily left to schools, not students, as students aren't able to choose freely between DL and FFELP until they graduate and consider consolidation loans).

Regardless of whether you favor or oppose this plan, now is a good time to let your people in Congress know how you feel, since changes in federal student financial aid are likely to affect you directly.  So, what do you think?  What changes, if any, should Congress make to student loans? Do you plan on writing to Congress about this issue?

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Congress Holds Hearing on Lender Subsidies

May 22, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, Congress held a hearing to begin the process of determining the fate of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the bank-based federal student loan program that President Obama has proposed eliminating in the 2010 federal budget. Voices from both sides of the debate chimed in, with one clear theme emerging: in 2010, student loans are definitely going to change. The questions at this point are to what extent federal student lending will change and whether the banks currently involved in FFEL will still have a place in the new system.

The Obama administration proposes switching all federal Stafford and PLUS loans to the federal Direct Loans program, then using the savings from eliminating lender subsidies to increase Federal Pell Grants and make funding mandatory, while also greatly expanding the federal Perkins Loan program and spending more on college completion. Opponents of this plan, primarily consisting of FFEL lenders and representatives of schools that participate in FFEL, have suggested alternatives that would restructure student lending, but still leave a place for lenders to service the loans. Not one witness at the hearing advocated keeping the system as it is, though, and it seems that a shakeup in student lending is inevitable. Hopefully, this will result in more available financial aid for students.  Inside Higher Ed has more information on the hearing.

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Obama Pledges New Funding for Community Colleges

July 15, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Yesterday, President Obama announced a new focus on community colleges in a speech delivered at Macomb Community College in Michigan. Obama pledged $12 billion to improve facilities, increase enrollment, and boost graduation rates at the nation's community colleges, a shift in education policy from the traditional focus on K-12 education and public universities. In addition to the proposed federal funding increase, Obama's speech also called for community colleges to graduate five million more students by the year 2020.

Community colleges have already seen increased enrollments and publicity in recent years.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, community colleges saw the greatest enrollment boom since the 1960s during the first half of this decade. The current economic downturn has prompted even more first-time college students and unemployed adults to enroll at community colleges this academic year. Community college officials and the Obama administration hope that the increased attention paid to community colleges will prompt more students to consider enrolling, either as a path to a career training degree or certificate, or in order to transfer to four-year colleges.

Beyond Presidential endorsement, there are many other incentives to pursue a degree at a community college. Tuition is typically much lower at two-year schools than at private colleges or state colleges, and courses are often offered with the scheduling needs of working adult students in mind. Additionally, numerous scholarship opportunities exist specifically for students pursuing two-year degree programs. Community college students can do a free college scholarship search to learn more about funding opportunities available.

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Obama Proposes More Generous Loan Repayment Plan

January 26, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Even as much of the student loan agenda President Obama announced last year remains stalled in Congress, he is expected to propose a new plan to assist middle-class workers in repaying their student loans as part of his State of the Union address on Wednesday. On Monday, the White House announced some of the points Obama plans to address, and among the items is a plan to make student loan payments more affordable.

Obama’s proposal would alter the federal Income-Based Repayment plan to make it beneficial to a wider range of borrowers. Currently, college graduates who choose Income-Based Repayment are expected to make loan payments equivalent to 15% of their discretionary income each month (defined as income above 150% of the poverty level for the borrower’s household size) and to make consistent payments for 25 years, at which time their remaining loan balances will be forgiven. Under the new plan, borrowers would have to make payments of only 10% of their discretionary income each month, and would only have to make payments for 20 years before their remaining balances are forgiven.

This change would have an added bonus for students pursuing careers in public service. Students who enroll in IBR and work in approved public service fields (such as teaching, healthcare, non-profit work, or government employment) can see their loans forgiven after just 10 years of payments in IBR. For many students, this can mean a substantial reduction in their overall loan obligations as well as more easily manageable payments as they begin their careers.

To illustrate the benefits of the President’s proposal, the Institute for College Access and Success provided the following example: someone with $33,000 in student loans who currently makes $30,000 per year would have a loan payment of $110 per month under this plan, compared to $170 per month under the current IBR plan, and $380 per month under the standard repayment plan.

Although it has the potential to enormously benefit individual borrowers, the proposed adjustment to the IBR plan is likely to run into some opposition. In the example above, as in many other cases, the new IBR plan will result in a significantly smaller amount being repaid by borrowers, especially those who go into public service. However, it may substantially reduce borrowers’ likelihood to default, which would prove beneficial overall. Still, calculating the overall cost to taxpayers is likely to be vital to this proposal’s viability, especially given the Obama administration’s announcement of a planned three-year freeze on federal spending.

Overall, these changes would benefit an estimated 36 percent of borrowers, according to Inside Higher Ed. The National Association of Colleges and Employers lists the average starting salary for college graduates at $48,633, and depending on household size and overall debt, graduates in this bracket may not see much benefit from IBR. By contrast, the average starting salary for liberal arts graduates is $36,624, making them most likely to benefit from this program. However, many recent graduates are considering themselves lucky to find jobs paying substantially below these figures right now. It’s likely that a broad range of college graduates, especially those pursuing careers in fields that have been badly impacted by the recession, may welcome the proposed changes.

What do you think of this plan?  Would it help you or would you rather see federal resources being used in another way?

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17 States Pledge to Improve College Graduation Rates

March 3, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

Seventeen states across the country have joined together in a pledge to improve college graduation rates as part of the Complete College America Alliance of States.

The alliance, announced today, is led by Stan Jones, Indiana’s former commissioner for higher education, and the Washington-based nonprofit group Complete College America. It is part of a larger, national effort led by President Obama of making the United States the most educated country by 2020. The main goal is to raise the number of adults between 25 and 35 with associate's or bachelor's degrees from 38 percent to 60 percent.

How will they do it? According to Complete College America, a number of things need to happen to develop  action plans and move legislators to create change. Among those are the following:

  • We must ensure all students are ready to start and succeed in freshman credit courses. (According to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics, about 41 percent of students who start college aren't ready for college-level work, resulting in delays and, worse yet, dropouts. We've already reported more college freshmen are in need of remedial coursework.)
  • We must use available financial aid resources to provide incentives to students and colleges for progress and completion.
  • We must develop new, shorter, and faster pathways to degrees and credentials of value in the labor market.
  • We must develop and implement aggressive state and campus-level action plans for meeting the state's college completion goals.
  • We must use consistent data and progression measures to create a culture that values completion, including publicly reporting benchmark data and annual progress on college completion, progression, transfer, job placement and earnings, and cost and affordability measures.

The United States ranks 10th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and an article yesterday in the The Chronicle of Higher Education. While there have been a number of initiatives cropping up recently to move high school students into college faster and move college students through college faster, this project is unique in that it focuses on involving state legislators and creating new policies that would make move such initiatives into law. As ideas become policies, more funding also becomes available on the state and federal level to keep programs in place. (Even successful programs that have helped thousands of students get into and through college have been affected by budget cuts over the last year or so due to the recession.)

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Survey Shows College Students Agree with Young Adults on Economy

March 11, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

A recent survey shows that college students are in line with young adults when it comes to the economy and President Obama's handling of the economic situation in recent months—they're all worried.

The report, titled "Survey of Young Americans' Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service: 17th Edition," was an online survey conducted by Knowledge Networks for Harvard University's Institute of Politics. It joins similar surveys on college and the economy that look to determine where college students stand in terms of their own economic outlooks. Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 22, more than 3,000 adults ages 18 to 29, including college students, were asked to comment on whether they were concern about the economic crisis, politics, and their ideologies, among other topics. Despite recent upswings in the economy and the federal government's general positive outlook on how the economic landscape will improve by year's end, the survey showed that college students and young adults aren't as optimistic.

According to the survey:

  • About 60 percent of respondents overall are concerned about meeting their current bills and obligations.
  • About 45 percent of respondents overall report that their personal financial situation is bad.
  • About 45 percent of college students are concerned about their ability to stay in college given the state of the economy.
  • About 41 percent of young Republicans are planning on voting in the next midterm elections, compared to 35 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of Independents.
  • About 58 percent of young adults are worried about affording a place to live; about 56 percent are worried about affording health care.
  • About 46 percent of those in the workforce are concerned about losing their job; that same number are concerned about being able to live in the city or town they want to.
  • Less than half of overall respondents feel that they will be able to live the "American Dream."

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looked at other intricacies of the survey, and compared the two age groups. While college students and young adults mostly agreed about the economy, college students were generally more concerned about climate change, foreign policy decisions, and the idea that community service is an honorable thing to do. College students were also less likely to get involved in politics and participating in voting activities if they were not well-versed on candidates and issues than young adults, and agreed more strongly that basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them.

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Student Loan Bill May Become Part of Health Care Package

March 12, 2010

by Scholarships.com Staff

To compensate for stalled negotiations on both health care legislation and a bill that would overhaul the country's student loan program and improve college students' access to federal aid, Democratic leaders proposed a solution yesterday that would move both of those hot-button issues forward—combine them, and pass them as one.

Both the comprehensive health care bill, which would guarantee health insurance to 30 million uninsured Americans, and the student loan bill, which would replace private lending with direct lending through the government and increase Pell Grant maximums, have faced opposition as Democrats work to pass both through Congress before the November mid-term elections. To kill two birds with one stone, Democratic legislators proposed bundling the two bills into one last night, not only to give the proposals a better chance at passage, but to keep them alive long enough for a vote by the full Senate and House.

An article in the New York Times yesterday describes the strong support a dual measure already has among the Democrats, suggesting that adding the student loan bill to the more expansive health care legislation would improve the health care bill's chances at passage. (Providing college students with more access to federal aid is undoubtedly more popular and less controversial than crafting a reasonable health care bill.)

The student loan bill had already passed in the House. Recent predictions have the government saving about $67 billion by going to direct lending; that new funding would go toward Pell Grants and other education programs. (A rise in the number of people attending college and seeking aid in the weak economy has raised the projected cost of new Pell Grants to $54 billion from $40 billion, according to the New York Times.) The student loan bill has been a consistent goal of President Obama's, as lenders have come under fire for a lack of oversight,  rising student loan default rates, and contributing to excessive debt among college students. Effectively, the bill would put an end to direct-to-student private loans, which students can borrow without even informing the financial aid office, and which can be taken out for more than the student’s cost of attendance for the academic year.

The private student loan industry has obviously not been very supportive of the bill, and Republicans have questioned whether giving the government control over the student loan industry is really a wise choice.

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DREAM Act Supporters to Obama: Quit Campaigning If You Won’t Deliver

May 20, 2011

DREAM Act Supporters to Obama: Quit Campaigning If You Won’t Deliver

by Suada Kolovic

Last week, national immigrant youth-led organization United We DREAM started a petition asking President Obama to remove discussions of the DREAM Act from his campaign literature and fundraising emails unless he is willing to use his executive power to block deportations for DREAM Act-eligible students. The petition is a result of President Obama repeatedly saying he supports the bill and that undocumented students are not the focus of his immigration enforcement plans, yet over 390,000 people were deported last year alone.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has denied that it could use its discretion to stop the deportation of DREAM Act-eligible students. "I am not going to stand here and say that there are whole categories that we will, by executive fiat, exempt from the current immigration system, as sympathetic as we feel towards them," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in April. "But I will say that group ... are not the priority [for deportation]."

As the deportations continue, DREAM Act supporters say it is disingenuous for President Obama to use his support for the bill to drum up support for his reelection. Let us know what you think.

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The President on Education

Obama Talks Higher Ed in State of the Union Address

January 25, 2012

The President on Education

by Alexis Mattera

In addition to talk of the economy and spilled milk, President Obama shared his thoughts on higher education during his third State of the Union address last night. On his to-do list: reduce student loan interest rates, extend a tax credit and continue supporting community colleges.

Ideally, the president would prevent the interest rate increase on federal student loans currently set for July, double the amount of federal work-study jobs in the next five years (moves that would cost $5 billion and $1 billion per year, respectively) and make the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent. Obama praised community colleges as he has in the past for their links to job training and their contributions to keeping college affordable but had some harsher words for other institutions: Colleges that continued to hike tuition were put "on notice" and a document accompanying the speech said the president would propose to shift some federal aid away from colleges that don’t provide good value. "It’s not enough for us to increase student aid," Obama said. "We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down."

Did you watch the State of the Union? What did you think of what President Obama had to say?

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