December 3, 2009
Federal student loans aren't the only form of student borrowing that may soon undergo a legislative makeover. As Congress debates the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, advocacy groups are continuing to push for inclusion of rules that would give the agency more oversight of student loans.
The Consumer Financial Protection Agency would already oversee other kinds of lending, such as credit cards and student loans. However, there's growing debate over how extensive the agency's student loan oversight should be, specifically regarding loans that some colleges make directly to their students. A House amendment to specifically include these loans under the agency's purview was rejected by the Financial Services Committee, but is expected to be revisited as the House prepares to take up a floor vote on the bill. The Senate version of the bill, meanwhile, does authorize the agency to supervise loans made by colleges to their students.
The House version initially excluded loans schools make to their students because many colleges make small, short-term, "emergency" loans to their students to help them pay bills while they secure other forms of funding. Career colleges, on the other hand, have begun lending large sums to their students, often with terms that are less favorable than many private loans. These loans typically have a high default rate and can burden students with difficult payments, as interest rates can easily reach 18 percent and the schools may have less forgiving repayment processes than traditional lenders. This has student advocates concerned, especially in light of recent economic events.
Colleges have been increasingly encouraged to act as lenders to their students in the face of the economic recession and the preceding credit crunch. As it became harder for students to obtain sufficient student loans from banks and other traditional lenders, schools began to step in to close the gap. This included for-profit career colleges lending significant portions of the cost of tuition to their students. The latter category of loan is increasingly widespread, with many of the largest career colleges reporting plans to lend out tens of millions of dollars directly to their students next year.
In addition to being a way to enroll students who wouldn't otherwise be able to secure funding, these direct-to-student loans are also ways for for-profit colleges to get around the "90/10" rule that states that no more than 90 percent of a for-profit college's revenue can come from federal student financial aid. By charging more in tuition but giving more in loans, colleges can get around this requirement, even as more of their students qualify for federal aid.
This isn't the only career college practice that's receiving criticism at the federal level. The Department of Education has been investigating recruiting practices at for-profit colleges and recently issued several proposed rules in its negotiated rule-making process with career colleges. The proposed changes would do more to ensure that colleges aren't giving incentive pay to recruiters and that students who are being enrolled are able to adequately benefit from a degree.
December 10, 2009
Congress has a lot going on right now, from the ongoing health care debate to a number of bills looking to improve student lending and credit card practices. But that doesn't mean college football fans shouldn't have their day in government.
Just in time for this season's Bowl Championship Series (BCS), a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday that would change the way the current championship series is run. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who introduced the bill, said college football champions should be crowned through a playoff method rather than a series of bowl games, such as the Fiesta, Sugar, Meineke Car Care and Rose Bowls, among others. The bill, named the College Football Playoffs Act, would ban the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I football game as a national championship, which Barton called unfair, unless it's the outcome of a playoff.
An article in the Dallas Morning News today details how the subcommittee came to its decision, noting that even President Obama has voiced his displeasure over the lack of playoffs in college football. One legislator said the current process was less about finding the best team out of dozens but about revenue sharing. Another said schools with less fundraising power are less likely to find themselves in a Bowl game. The one dissenting vote, Rep. John Barrow of Georgia, said Congress had better and more important things to do than worry about college football.
In other college football news, a recent study released by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida showed that of the 67 schools surveyed, 57 had graduation success rates of 66 percent or more for white football players participating in bowl games. But 21 colleges (up from 19 in 2008-2009) graduated less than 50 percent of their African American football athletes; 35 colleges (up from 29 in 2008-2009) had graduation success rates for African American football athletes that were at least 20 percent lower than their rates for white football athletes. What's it all mean? Racial gaps remain between white and African American football student-athletes despite any progress with overall graduation rates. As the findings only looked at schools appearing in bowl games this year, it would be interesting to see what kind of data exists across the board.
December 14, 2009
As Congress continues to puzzle out questions of student loans and consumer protection, new information released today suggests that young adults attempting to repay their student loans may be having even more trouble than previously thought.
As a condition of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the US Department of Education has started tracking three-year instead of two-year default rates for federal student loans. The first set of data was released today and the numbers are pretty shocking: the three-year cohort default rates are nearly twice as high as the two-year rates overall--11.8 percent compared to 6.7 percent.
Default is defined as failure to make payments on a student loan according to the terms of the master promissory note the borrower signed, and federal student loans are considered in default only after nine months of missed payments. This means that 12 percent of students who started repaying their loans in 2006 had stopped making payments for 270 days or more by September 2009.
The difference between two-year and three-year default rates was most dramatic at for-profit colleges, rising from 11% to 21.2%. For-profit colleges have the highest default rates in both two-year and three-year measures, and also make up the largest proportion of institutions that may lose the ability to distribute federal student financial aid in 2014, when the rule changes associated with the new three-year default rate calculations go into place.
Colleges will become ineligible to participate in federal student aid programs if their cohort default rates are above 30 percent (currently 25 percent) for three consecutive years, or if they go over 40 percent any one year. Inside Higher Ed has published a list of institutions whose three-year cohort default rate is over 30 percent this year-in addition to a number of for-profit colleges, several community colleges have also made the list.
In addition to this information's implications for colleges, it also means that default on federal student loans is even more common than previously assumed. More than 1 in 10 students currently default on a loan within three years, and it's possible that a significant percentage of students may default on their loans after more time has passed. If you're planning to borrow to pay for college, do so wisely. You may want to make sure that you only take out an amount that you can pay back in a worst-case employment scenario. It's not too late to start your scholarship search for next year (or even this year) to help cut down on the amount you have to borrow, as well.
December 15, 2009
Students who are interested in applying for private loans may soon see the process changing. The House of Representatives passed consumer protection legislation last week that would further regulate private student loans, ensuring that students interested in borrowing them are aware of rates, federal alternatives, and borrowing limits at their school.
The bill moves to further regulate Wall Street in the wake of the credit crisis and ensuing economic recession, and also creates a consumer financial protection agency that's responsible for overseeing consumer credit such as credit cards, mortgages, and other bank loans. An amendment introduced by Democratic Representative Jared Polis of Colorado ensures that private loans to students are also included under this umbrella, and sets up additional rules that lenders and colleges must follow in issuing and certifying private loans.
Under this legislation, all private loans will have to be certified by a student's college, verifying the student's enrollment and the amount he or she can borrow. Before a school can certify a private loan, it must also inform the borrower of the availability of federal student financial aid. This builds on rules that will go into effect in February that state that students must be informed of interest rates and repayment terms up front by banks, and must certify that they have been informed of federal student loan options.
Effectively, it puts 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. With rising student loan default rates, risky loans like these have increasingly come under fire. These loans can be a quick way for students to find themselves in excess debt, as they make it easy for students to borrow more than they need to pay for school without having to investigate alternatives first.
The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the President before it can be enacted. Whether the Senate introduces language similar to the Polis Amendment remains to be seen, as it's unlikely financial legislation will be debate until after they finish with healthcare.
December 16, 2009
A report released today examines what policy makers should be paying attention to when crafting educational policies that benefit all college students. The report also comes to the conclusion that many decisions regarding Latinos in higher education are based on misconceptions about that student population.
The report, "Taking Stock: Higher Education and Latinos," was put together by Excelencia in Education, an organization that looks at racial and ethnic trends to identify where the need exists for more effective educational policies. The Lumina Foundation for Education, Jobs for the Future, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) supported the report.
In a preview of the report earlier this week, The Chronicle of Higher Education described conversations at a panel discussion on Monday morning with the report's authors and leaders from a number of Hispanic organizations. The panelists suggested that public policy is based less on facts and more on stereotypes that define Latinos as an immigrant population with high drop-out rates. A majority of Latinos, however, are native-born and want to succeed in higher education.
Other highlights of the report include the following:
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of Hispanics enrolled in college rose from 20 percent in 1996 to 24 percent in 2006, a greater increase than seen among white students. Still, Hispanic students are still lagging behind other groups when it comes to college admission, retention and graduation rates. Studies looking into that attainment gap suggest that while most Hispanic students believe in the value of a college degree, their educations may be cut short for a variety of reasons. In data released in October by the Pew Hispanic Center, about 74 percent of respondents said they had to leave school because of personal and family responsibilities. Others said poor English skills hampered their ability to keep up with the rigors of college, and even high school. About 40 percent said it was just too expensive to go to college.
All minority students should know there is help out there when it comes to funding your education. Scholarships for minorities are the most common student-specific awards out there, and minority students are eligible for funding from not only the federal government, the state, and their intended colleges, but outside organizations that aim to diversify college campuses. Try conducting a free scholarship search to find not only Hispanic scholarships, but scholarships based on a myriad of criteria specific to you.
December 30, 2009
A recent Scripps Howard News Service article looks at one government job you may be surprised you don't need a college degree for. According to the Congressional Research Service, 27 House members, one senator, and two governors are currently serving without college degrees.
The article claims this is great news, considering the history of the position. Just 30 years ago, Congress had at least 48 representatives and seven senators without college degrees. Historians point to the idea that a college degree is becoming increasingly relevant for the position, which currently only requires U.S. citizenship and a number of years of residency in the state a politician is running in.
That shouldn't come as a surprise, right? We want our lawmakers to be educated. Do you know if your Congressman or Congresswoman holds a college degree? Considering the number of bills moving through Congress now related to college students' financial aid options and student lending practices, a college campus experience could be especially beneficial.
According to the article, the degree-less lawmakers defend themselves by saying they came up in a different era, when it was more beneficial to have a background in labor-intensive professions. In certain constituencies across the country, it may also be more useful to come from a farmer's background than an Ivy League one to better serve the communities those lawmakers look to represent. "They put their pants on the same way I put my pants on," Rep. Solomon Ortiz, a Democrat representing Texas' 27th District, was quoted as saying in the article about the difference between lawmakers with and without college diplomas. Ortiz joined the Army as a military officer to help support his migrant family, eventually becoming a sheriff when he returned home. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, ran a construction business for 28 years in Western Iowa before pursuing a Congressional seat.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the more educated Congressional lawmakers include 169 House members and 57 senators with law degrees, 83 House members and 17 senators with master's degrees, 16 doctors, six former Peace Corps participants, and five accountants. A more educated Congress also reflects the national trend. The percentage of people 25 and older with bachelor's degrees has increased from 4.6 percent to 28.7 percent between 1940 to 2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
January 26, 2010
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?
January 27, 2010
Immediately on the heels of an announcement that President Obama would be calling for additional assistance to college graduates struggling to repay student loans, the administration also unveiled a proposal to hold federal discretionary spending to current levels for the next three years, a move that could potentially have serious implications for colleges and students.
Currently, most federal education spending, including student financial aid, is discretionary, not mandatory, so it would fall under the umbrella of the budget freeze. This makes it possible that students will see limited increases to federal grants, work-study, and subsidized student loans in the coming years. The White House has pledged to make education a funding priority, but with states and colleges also struggling financially, it’s quite possible that financial aid programs will see an end to the boost in financial support they’ve received in the last few years.
It’s possible one federal aid program, at least, may be spared from the budget freeze. Last year, President Obama proposed making the Pell Grant an entitlement, putting it in the category of Medicare and other programs that would be exempt from the budget freeze, but the bill to do so still has not passed the Senate. If the bill passes, Pell funding will be mandatory and increases in Pell Grants will be tied to inflation, guaranteeing students a small, but steady, increase in available aid. If not, it’s up to Congress to allocate limited resources for any increases in grant amounts, and with increases in the numbers of college attendees, applications for financial aid, and Pell Grant recipients, it may be all Congress can do to hold funding levels steady for the next three years.
As details of federal and state budgets emerge, and emergency legislation that temporarily boosted funding to schools and student aid begins to be revisited and possibly phased out, exact changes to college funding will become clearer. Already, though, many families are finding paying for college increasingly challenging, even with the aid of college scholarships and grants. There’s a possibility that a federal budget freeze could mean that students in the next few years will see a situation similar to the one that faced students at the start of the last decade, where tuition increased rapidly while federal aid held steady and more and more students came to rely on private student loans.
February 19, 2010
New regulations that the federal government hopes will protect college students from excessive credit card debt by making it more difficult for young people to open multiple lines of credit go into effect Monday. The regulations, which fall under the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, were approved by Congress last May.
The key pieces of the act include the followin:
The regulations also included a strong suggestion to institutions of higher education that they provide education and counseling to students who may be struggling with credit card debt, or who may know little about managing credit card usage wisely.
Critics of the act since it was approved say that college students, who take on a slew of new responsibilities once they get on campus, should be treated as adults. For better or worse, students now are more apt to use credit cards to pay for their college expenses, and critics say they shouldn’t meet obstacles when using their credit cards for those costs. (According to a recent survey by student lender Sallie Mae, 84 percent of undergraduates have at least one credit card; 92 percent of those undergraduates use the cards toward college expenses. College students’ average balances are more than $3,100.) Some consumer advocates also say that while it's a good first step toward keeping students from incurring massive amounts of debt, it doesn't do enough, according to an article today in Inside Higher Ed. It fails to include any cap on the interest rate credit card providers can charge, for example.
We have a number of resources available to you about how to avoid credit card debt, make smart decisions about covering your college costs, and managing your money so that you're spending within your means. It may not mean much to you now, but it isn't all that easy to improve upon a credit score. The spending choices you make today will follow you down the line, so ideally, stick to one card if you need one, and if you find yourself in debt, pay off as much as you’re able to each month until you’re done.
March 12, 2010
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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