State and National Higher Ed Policy Updates — July 2019

Bahar Akman Imboden
Aug 1 · 6 min read

Massachusetts Updates:

UMass Blame Game is over

Budget talks have closed-- with lawmakers, not including the $10 million requested by UMass President Marty Meehan, nor the mandate that UMass should freeze its tuition. While nobody won this blame game, the real losers once again are the students, whose tuition will likely increase.
Now that the budget is finalized, the University of Massachusetts trustees are set to meet on Friday, August 2nd to set tuition rates for 2019-2020 academic year. President Meehan indicated last Thursday that it "looks like" tuition will go up by about 2.5 percent. If so, this will be the 5th consecutive year of tuition hikes at UMass, culminating to a 22% increase!
Enough is enough. Both legislators and college officials have a shared responsibility to ensure that our residents have access to affordable high-quality education. State funding to UMass has yet to catch up with two decades of deep cuts. The funding level has barely reached what it used to be in early 2000, while enrollment has increased by 20% in the same period! HOWEVER, while we need serious state-reinvestment in public higher education, we also need UMass officials to do their part in examining their cost structure to exercise wise stewardship of the resources they are given.
What’s your reaction to yet another potential increase in tuition at UMass? 
HERE to leave a comment.

Student Loan Bill of Rights - UPDATE

As we have previously made the case here: it’s time for Massachusetts to protect student loan borrowers. In the face of federal refusal to regulate the loan servicing industry, the state of Massachusetts has no choice but to enact a Student Loan Bills of Rights. Rhode Island has recently joined more than 10 states who enacted a SLBR; those states include New York, Maine, Maryland, Colorado, and Nevada. Other states, including California, and New Jersey, are steps away from passing their own Student Loan Bill of Rights.
This July, Hildreth Institute visited the MA statehouse to testify on behalf of S.160, sponsored by Senator Eric Lesser. Along with students, loan borrowers, and experts, such as Betsy Mayotte, president of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors (TISLA), we presented powerful arguments and testimonies for the need to take action here in MA. Hildreth Institute’s own Managing Director Bahar Akman Imboden Ph.D., presented highlights from our issue paper on Why Massachusetts Needs Its own SLBR, which was distributed to the members of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.
In the meantime, we received GREAT news from the house version of the bill, sponsored by Representative Natalie Higgins (The House version held a separate hearing before the Committee on Financial Services earlier this year). The Committee reported favorably on behalf of the bill, which was then referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. It is important to note: a critical amendment was introduced to the bill, to ensure that the office of the Student Loan Ombudsperson would be adequately funded to fulfill its duties. Hildreth Institute is in full support of this addition, as we want our borrowers to receive proper assistance, counseling, and consumer protection.

The version of the bill H.3977, includes the establishment of “a trust fund to be known as the Student Loan Assistance Trust Fund to be administered and expended by the office of the attorney general. Expenditures may be made from the fund for the purposes of: (i) funding the work of the student loan ombudsman established under section 34 of chapter 12; (ii) providing direct counseling and assistance to student loan borrowers; (iii) receiving, reviewing and assisting in resolving complaints from student loan borrowers; and (iv) pursuing legal action on behalf of student loan borrowers including, but not limited to, the investigation of such claims, the costs of personnel and litigation, the engagement of experts and the enforcement of settlements.”

Other MA news:

UMass tuition freeze dies in House-Senate budget talks

UMass tuition likely to increase 2.5%, president says

Mass. among states attempting to protect student borrowers
Citing federal inaction, Sen. Eric Lesser and education advocates aim to create ‘student loan bill of rights’

Salter College ordered to close, pay back $1.6M in student debt

Massachusetts Higher Ed commissioner targets sudden college closures

State Budget Geared Toward Fighting Opioid Crisis, Higher Education Expenditures

State plan could make college closure a self-fulfilling prophecy
Baker seeks to expand early college

National updates:

DeVos Ignores Defrauded Students’ Claims for Loan Forgiveness

The Project on Predatory Student Lending The Project on Predatory Student Lending is representing a class of more than 158,000 former students who have filed applications from borrower defense to repayment. By ignoring their claims, the Department of Education is abandoning students in limbo—some for over four years—destroying their credit and limiting their access to federal student aid. For students who have defaulted on their loans, the Department of Education never hesitated to invoke extraordinary extrajudicial powers to garnish their wages or seize their tax credits.

Shortly after the filing of the lawsuit, 900 defrauded former for-profit college students submitted personal testimony to force the agency to follow existing laws and issue debt relief to which the former students are entitled. We applaud the Project on Predatory Student Lending for their leadership in supporting these students and elevating their voices to demand what is right.

What Can We Learn From the New HigherEd Scandal?

Only months after the “Varsity Blues” college admissions bribery scandal, news broke that more than 40 families from Chicago's wealthiest suburbs exploited a financial aid loophole. To guarantee that their children would be eligible for need-based financial aid, families conceded guardianship of their high school children to friends and relatives. As legally recognized independents, children from affluent families were now eligible for need-based financial aid. These actions are both unethical and deplorable, to steal money from students with significantly greater need jeopardizing their ability to pursue post-secondary education.

While bureaucrats can try to fix this loophole, this would only fix a leaky faucet in a burning building. No matter how many precepts we add to the current financial aid system, the rich will employ their resources to abuse the system. Continuing to absorb money that is dedicated to low and middle-income students. The root of the problem must be addressed- that the cost of college is far too expensive. Hildreth Institute has described in earlier blogs that the current financial aid system creates a host of perverse incentives, the exploitation of need-based aid is just one example. As John Warner from InsideHigherEd explains very well, we are at a critical decision point:

“Either we are going to decide that post-secondary public education is a public good to be paid for with public money and provided to the public at little or no cost, or we are going to continue down the current road of post-secondary education as a private good, where really rich people can afford college and the less rich people will avail themselves of the public money that’s supposed to go to the more deserving.
There is no door number three.
Both choices, public good/free college, and private good/high tuition, are going to cost a lot of money. But it’s the private good/high tuition model that happens to carry significant inefficiency and waste as part of its model, while also incentivizing perverse behaviors by institutions through privileging prestige and competition as ways to draw additional funding to make up for the lack of public support”

Other National news:

U.S. Department of Education Announces Changes to College Scorecard, Plans for Future Expansion

The Case for Saying No to Tuition Increases

The new low-income big borrower of student loans

For-profit colleges — but not their student 'customers' — have a friend in Betsy DeVos

As student loan debt mounts, high schoolers 'shockingly' unaware of aid options

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon: Student Loans Are "Irrational"

It seems like a no-lose idea: free college. But nobody can agree on the details.

Statement: Income-share agreements are just student debt with a fancy name

Stagnant Wage Growth for New College Graduates

The average American family is spending more on student loans than fuel or healthcare

Vermont's Marlboro College merging with University of Bridgeport in midst of education changes

Broken Promises: Teachers Sue U.S. Over Student Loans That Weren't Forgiven

Those With Student Debt Spend $179 A Month Repaying Loans
Student Debt Repayment Is Completely Different for White and Black Americans

California budget spends $280 million to make college more affordable, from savings to grants

Bahar Akman Imboden

Written by

Bahar is co-founder and Managing Director of Hildreth Institute. Working towards solutions to address pervasive inequalities present in our society. McGill PhD.

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