DeVos Education Budget Could Make It Harder To Obtain, Repay Student Loans

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Days after the Department of Education revealed it would give all student loan accounts to one servicing company and strip away more protections for federal student loan borrowers, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos outlined the Department’s proposed budget, which goes even further by eliminating or completely overhauling programs intended to make student loans more accessible and easier to repay.

The proposed budget [PDF] would cut nearly $9.2 billion from the Department’s current funding level, including more than $2.5 billion related to income-driven repayment plans and the public service loan forgiveness program that assists student loan borrowers in repaying their education debts.

DeVos contends that the budget “makes a historic investment in America’s students,” while at the same time eliminating or significantly changing many of the programs meant to assist future or current students in realizing their dreams of a higher education.

For instance, the proposal eliminates the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program and reforms the student eligibility requirements for the Federal Work Study (FWS) program, as well as reducing funding for some college access programs targeting lower-income, first generation students.

DeVos claims that she is “refocusing the Department’s funding priorities on supporting students,” but consumer advocates see things differently, arguing that the Secretary’s proposed changes could just lead to more debt for American students.

So what exactly does the potential budget change? Here are 3 things you should know.

No More Subsidized Student Loans, Opportunity Grants

DeVos is calling for the elimination of two popular pieces of financial aid available to students who need affordable financing: Subsidized Stafford Loans, and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program, along with further restricting access to Work Study.

Under the current Subsidized Stafford Loan program, the government pays the interest on the loan while the student borrower is still in college. A single borrower can only get up to $23,000 in subsidized loans total for four years of undergraduate school.

The DeVos proposal to eliminate the Subsidized Stafford is purely a cost-cutting measure; the Department would not take the savings and reinvest in some other program to make education affordable.

This, argues The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), will have the effect of raising the cost of college significantly for the millions of students each year who rely on subsidized loans.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) provides grant assistance of up to $4,000 per academic year to undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need.

The program funds are allocated to institutions according to a statutory formula and require a 25% institutional match, with schools ultimately determine who will receive the funds.

The Department says this program should be eliminated as it largely matches the Pell Grant program and “does not deliver need-based aid in the most targeted way.”

The Federal Work-Study program, on the other hand, provides grants to participating institutions to pay up to 75% of the wages of eligible undergraduate and graduate students working part-time to help pay their college costs.

Under the proposed budget, the program would only apply to undergraduate students in the future.

More Expensive Income-Based Repayment Plan

There are currently multiple income-based repayment plans for recent graduates who are limited in how much they can pay. However, the DeVos budget proposal would ultimately replace these options with just one income-driven plan.

That proposed new plan may come at a less-affordable rate for most borrowers in need of help. The budget proposal recommends a monthly cap that would be 12.5% of a borrower’s income, an increase from the 10% seen by most of the people in the current plans.

For those that can afford that higher rate, there would be a positive trade-off: shorter repayment period. The DeVos plan would forgive any loan balance after 15 years of steady repayment, compared to the standard 20 years under the current plans.

However, the DeVos proposal also seems to penalize those who took out student loans to pay for graduate school, requiring 30 full years in the repayment program before forgiving any remaining debt.

Affordable education advocates at TICAS are concerned that this 25% increase in payments could disproportionately harm the lowest-income borrowers, including those with continued low earnings relative to their debt.

As an example, the organization points to a teacher — with a master’s degree — who has an averages of $44,200 in student loans and a staring salary of $36,100.

Under the proposed program, this individual would make payments for 30 years before the debt was forgiven. TICAS estimates this would come to twice the amount — about $50,000 — that they would have paid under a current repayment plan.

Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney for our colleagues at Consumers Union, tells Consumerist that lengthening the loan forgiveness timeline to 30 years for graduate borrowers could deter people from pursuing certain professions, like teachers, nurses, social workers, doctors, and lawyers whose post-college incomes are often much lower than their total student debt tab.

“We need people to pursue those professions so they can educate our kids, heal our illnesses and defend our rights,” Martindale notes.

If the DeVos proposal becomes a reality, it would only apply to federal student loans that are first disbursed after July 1, 2018, meaning current students and those repaying student loans would still have their same repayment options.

Eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness

As previously rumored, the Department’s proposed budget will eliminate the public service loan forgiveness program.

In 2007 the government began offering the public service loan forgiveness program that forgives certain federal student loans for borrowers who work for government organizations and non-profit groups for 10 years and make 120 on-time monthly payments on their loans.

This October will mark the first time that student loan borrowers enrolled in the program will have their debts wiped clean.

According to the Department’s proposal, the program would be eliminated as a way to “streamline the pathway to debt relief for undergraduate borrowers and to help put the nation on a more sustainable fiscal path.”

By eliminating the program, the Dept. estimates it will save $859 million in 2018.

Department officials said on a press call Tuesday that the program’s elimination will not apply to estimated 550,000 borrowers currently enrolled in the plan.

While the program would allow students already counting on loan forgiveness to continue along that path, advocates caution the change will hinder future borrowers from seeking work in public service or at non-profits, as the incentive to work in these fields will no longer apply. .

“We all benefit when our students can get the education and training they need to serve important roles in our society,” Martindale said. “They shouldn’t be stuck with decades of debt that will hold them back from building their futures, and ours. We need an education budget that puts students first – and this sure isn’t it.”

In all, the Department estimates changes to student loan programs would save $143 billion over 10 years. Any final education budget will ultimately have to be approved by Congress, which, as we’ve learned in the past, could take up the whole thing or ignore it completely.