By Emma Neiman
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced an executive memorandum called the Student Aid Bill of Rights, which will affect college students all over the country. The next day, the White House held a conference call directly with student journalists to promote the new executive action.
“The principles are simple,” Obama said of the memorandum during the call. “I want every student to have access to a quality, affordable education at a college that’s lowering costs and increasing learning. Every student should be able to access the resources to pay for college.”
“We want to mobilize the energy and focus the attention of everybody nationally around the basic principles that can make it easier for young people to get the education they need,” he added. “We can’t allow higher education to become a luxury.”
Student loans are a major focus of the initiative, and this new executive action takes various steps to help students who have to take out loans to pay for college.
“Every borrower [of student loans] has the right to an affordable repayment plan,” Obama said. “And every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information and fair treatment, even when they’re struggling to repay their loans.”
First, the administration wants to create a state-of-the-art “responsive student feedback system,” which will allow students to easily file complaints about their federal student aid. The goal is to have a website set up by July 1, 2016.
Additionally, the administration hopes to hold banks to higher standards so that they will provide better information to borrowers. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who led a question and answer session with students during the call, they also want to ensure that collectors are fair, transparent and willing to help students “get back on track when they might need help.”
Finally, the government is aiming to improve customer services for students by finding better ways to communicate with them and help them make smart decisions. They want students to be able to repay their loans through an easy, centralized process, according to Duncan.
“It is our responsibility to make sure that the 40 million Americans with student loans — which includes many of you — are aware of resources to help them manage their debt, and we want to do everything we can to be responsive to their needs,” Duncan said.
However, Obama’s plan extends beyond helping students who have loans. Part of his initiative involves working with universities — including private universities like Stanford — to lower their tuition and other basic costs.
The government plans to incentivize private universities to lower their costs by creating a system of transparency and visibility through their “college scorecards.” These would allow prospective students to see the average cost of different universities, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell Ph.D. ’83 said during the conference call.
“As we talk about pulling costs down, institutions are going to need to respond to other institutions that are bringing their costs down,” Mitchell said. “I think another incentive is simple transparency and visibility… We think that that transparency plus a little healthy competition is going to influence all sectors of higher education.”
Duncan stressed the role of individual universities in this effort.
“Universities themselves have to do a better job of containing costs and being more efficient and effective and using technology different ways,” he said. “So we all have a role to play here.”
According to University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin, Stanford is still waiting to see the details of the final bill but generally supports actions that help students.
“Stanford is [generally] in favor of information that will help students make informed choices, including to determine what they can afford, what value they will receive and the quality of their education,” Lapin said.
“We hope that the final scorecard will be something that provides solid, simple information that allows students to make comparisons and informed decisions,” she added.
Contact Emma Neiman at eneiman ‘at’ stanford.edu.