President Barack Obama signs a “Student Aid Bill of Rights” to help protect student borrowers

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President Barack Obama signed a “Student Aid Bill of Rights” on Tuesday to ensure student borrowers are protected and help students manage debt.

The presidential memorandum directs federal agencies to take steps to simplify the loan repayment process, protect student borrowers and make higher education costs more manageable overall.

The memo orders the U.S. Department of Education to develop a streamlined “state-of-the-art” complaint and feedback system allowing students to file grievances about the federal financial aid process. Steps also include helping students set up affordable monthly loan repayment plans and analyzing student debt trends to accordingly make legislative policy recommendations.

“Higher education has never been more important, but it’s also never been more expensive,” Obama said in his remarks at the Georgia Institute of Technology on Tuesday.

The plan will require third-party loan servicers to clearly inform borrowers about repayment options. The administration hopes to improve customer service, create a centralized process that makes it easier to repay loans and ensure that students are aware of available resources.

Additionally, the administration will release individual state data showing outstanding federal loan balance. Obama said the average student graduates with about $28,000 in student loan debt.

Anne MacLachlan, a senior researcher at the campus Center for Studies in Higher Education, said that while Obama’s plan is good in theory, the steps in this memorandum act only as a “Band-Aid” on the problem.

“This is great that he’s drawing attention to this issue, but I think this is a little late in his administration to be thinking about this,” MacLachlan said.
UC Student Association board chair Kevin Sabo said that while Obama’s directive is admirable, there’s only so much the executive branch can do without taking actions that require congressional approval.

Sabo said there’s a lot the federal government should be doing to provide relief for student loan debt that would require Congress to take legislative action, such as expanding the Pell Grant.

Overall, Obama’s vision is to “put college within reach for millions more middle-class and low-income students across the country,” according to his remarks.

MacLachlan, though, said she disagreed with the sentiment that everyone needs to attend to college, explaining that with a highly unequal K-12 system, not all students are on a “continuum” that prepares them for a traditional four-year college.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has noted the department’s efforts to encourage states to reinvest in higher education.

“Budgets aren’t just numbers, they reflect values,” Duncan said in a phone press conference Wednesday. “I always say education is not an expense, it’s the best investment we can make.”
Obama has proposed other higher education-focused initiatives this year, including one that would award two free years of community college for qualified students.

Suhauna Hussain covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.