WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is floating several policy proposals to address student loan debt, as college affordability becomes a popular topic for Democrats on the 2020 campaign trail.
“Student loan debt. I’m going to work to fix it. Because it’s outrageous what’s happening. You’re not given that fair start,” President Donald Trump said Thursday during an executive order signing event in the East Room of the White House.
The order aims to protect free speech on college campuses, but also includes two provisions related to student loan debt.
“We’re going to work very, very hard to get it fixed. We’re going to start with 43 million people in the United States are currently working to pay off student loans, and we’ll be talking very soon,” Trump said.
At one point, he joked: “I’ve always been very good with loans. I love loans. I love other people’s money.”
The executive order directs the Department of Education to publish more information about graduates’ income and debt levels, aimed at making it easier for students to choose which colleges might be best for them based on the value of the program. This data is already available on the government’s College Scorecard website, but the order directs the department to add information on specific degree and certificate programs to the school-level data.
The order also directs the department to come up with policy proposals that would hold colleges accountable for student outcomes.
It comes on the heels of an announcement Monday by the White House that urged Congress to include a cap on student loan borrowing as lawmakers consider updating the Higher Education Act. The proposal suggests limiting how much the parents of undergraduates and graduate students can borrow from the federal government. Currently, they can borrow as much as they need — with the price tag set by schools.
Some research suggests that unlimited borrowing may encourage colleges to drive up the price of tuition. But Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat who’s the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, criticized the loan cap proposal. In a statement, she said it would “hurt students” and ignores the fact that most students can’t afford college without taking on debt.
The Trump administration has also proposed simplifying student loan repayment and expanding the Pell Grant program to low-income students who are enrolled in short-term career training programs. Those priorities were outlined in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, released last week.
Over the past two years, the administration has been criticized by Democrats as siding with for-profit colleges over students. Under DeVos, the Department of Education attempted to roll back an Obama-era rule designed to help students cheated by for-profit colleges get relief on their education debt.
After DeVos was sued by attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia, a court ordered her to implement the rule and forgive $150 million in student debt.
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