Amidst on-campus discussion about reforms to Yale’s financial aid policies, President Barack Obama has issued a new Student Aid Bill of Rights that would enhance protections for student borrowers nationwide.
The executive order, signed yesterday, directs the Department of Education to institute a number of initiatives to increase transparency and accountability. These initiatives include a streamlined website to facilitate the filing of complaints, improved customer service and new disclosure requirements for lenders that will help students avoid falling behind on repayments, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a Wednesday afternoon conference call with reporters from student newspapers.
“Yesterday, I took new action [that]…helps students cut through the bureaucracy and get faster responses about their loans,” Obama said during the call. “We’re continuing to just chip away at this problem. There is no silver bullet. We’re going to have to do things at the federal level, the state level and the university level to really mobilize the entire country around this issue of college affordability.”
By increasing transparency and responsiveness, the order will hold not only the DOE and federal lenders accountable, but also institutions of higher education themselves, said James Kvaal, deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, who also participated in the call.
The new website will act as a “one-stop shop” for students who have questions about their loans, regardless of whether the loan comes from the federal, state or university level.
Using the website, students will be able to track what action is being taken on their complaints, he said, adding that the manner in which university-related complaints are resolved will ultimately feed back into the government’s relationship with those schools.
“If we see patterns developing, we’ll be able to address them,” he said.
Student satisfaction will be a factor in the government’s consideration of which institutions advance in competitions for federal services, Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell added during the call. The Office of Federal Student Aid hosts an annual conference with financial aid officers from around the country to ensure accountability and training, Duncan said.
This push for transparency and affordability comes on the heels of a similar push on Yale’s campus. In January, the Yale College Council published a report advocating for reform of Yale’s financial aid policies, specifically calling for a freeze — and ultimate elimination— of the student effort expectation in award packages and greater clarity of information on the Office of Financial Aid’s website. According to the report, students frequently complained that the website was not user-friendly and did not provide sufficient or clear information about their own aid or potential outside scholarships.
Earlier this month, Director of Financial Aid Caesar Storlazzi confirmed that for the first time in three years, the student effort expectation would not rise, despite a 4 percent increase in the Yale College term bill for next year.
During the call, Obama emphasized that the Student Aid Bill of Rights is only one step toward his larger goal of increasing college affordability, citing his January proposal to make community college free as another potential step in the right direction.
Mitchell concurred, adding in response to a student question that lowering higher education costs across the board will create “healthy competition” that will incentivize both public and private institutions to lower tuition.
“I want every student to have access to a quality, affordable education at a college that’s lowering costs and increasing learning,” Obama said.