President Obama’s call for a “Student Aid Bill of Rights” comes at a good time, though it’s something that should have happened long ago, as college expenses and borrowing slowly climbed far too high.
The president is ordering the federal Department of Education to create a complaint system for student loans wherein the department would help students who have borrowed for their education to set up affordable ways to repay their loans.
That department also is going to look at possible new rules to govern student loans.
The president earlier called on American universities to look closely at administrative and other expenses for the purpose of cutting costs for students.
The president’s bill of rights says every student should have access to an “affordable, quality education,” and that means enough money to pay for college and a fair repayment plan, along with good treatment by the companies that service their loans. That service now appears to be all over the board.
The cost of public and private higher education has far outpaced the rate of inflation. Part of that is due to increased competition among colleges and universities, which now include all sorts of bells and whistles in dormitories and other facilities in an effort to draw students. But some of the expense may be the result of pre-Great Recession fat times for colleges and universities when new programs were established, construction expanded and layers of administration added.
It’s true, of course, that college is accessible to many who might not otherwise be able to afford it through grants and loans. But now, more than 70 percent of people who earn undergraduate degrees have debt when they graduate. The debt among them averages more than $28,000.
Graduating with that kind of obligation puts pressure on students to go to work right away to repay debt, and for many it means taking the highest-paying jobs they can find as opposed to public service jobs or travel and other experiences that would enhance their post-graduate lives and provide them with additional learning experiences.
With Obama’s order, students and graduates with debt will have a web-based system for complaints that will focus on ensuring that debt collectors don’t inflate fees.
Some universities have admirably made it possible for students to graduate debt-free, through grants instead of loans and work. That is the way public and private schools should move, along with cutting their expenses and not continuing to raise costs for students beyond inflation rates.