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Alexander at AEI: Congress Must Act to Make College Worth It

Proposes simplifying federal aid, new student loan repayment plan and new accountability system for colleges

“The questions I hear most often about college are: Can I afford it? Is it worth it? And can you make applying for financial aid and repaying student loans simpler? And from administrators—can’t you do something about the jungle of red tape that makes it so hard to apply for federal financial aid, to pay back student loans and that wastes money on overhead that could instead be spent on students? Today, I have three proposals to help make the answer to all four of those questions YES.” 

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WASHINGTON, February 4, 2019 — Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today offered three proposals “to help students afford college and make their degrees worth the time and money they pay for them.”

At an event hosted by American Enterprise Institute (AEI) today, Alexander outlined his agenda for updating the Higher Education Act with resident fellow at AEI, Jason Delisle.

Alexander said, “A college graduate paying more than $1,000 per month on student loans recently wrote, ‘I was told to chase down a bachelor’s degree by any means necessary. But no one mentions just how expensive and soul-crushing the debt will be.’ The United States has most of the best colleges in the world, but also the most graduates paying off college debt. Roughly 40 million borrowers owe  $1.5 trillion in collective student loan debt.”

Alexander laid out three proposals to simplify the process when applying for financial aid and repaying student loans, and make college affordable and worth it.  

First, simplify the FAFSA. We can cut from 108 to no more than two dozen the number of questions on the dreaded Free Application for Federal Student Aid – the FAFSA – that 20 million families must fill out each year if they want a federal grant or loan to help pay for college.

“Second, a new way to repay student loans. We should scrap the current system of nine different ways to repay federal student loans that was described by Dr. Susan Dynarski, a professor at the University of Michigan, at another hearing as ‘a rigid archaic payment system that unnecessarily plunges millions into financial distress.’

“Third, I am proposing a new accountability system based upon whether borrowers are actually repaying their student loans. This should lower tuition for some programs, or even discourage schools from offering programs that are not worth it to students.” 

During the last four years, the Senate education committee has held 27 hearings on the Higher Education Act. This year, Alexander has met with Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and nine other committee members to discuss compiling ideas into a single piece of legislation. His goal is to report that legislation out of committee by spring so that the full Senate can consider it this summer. “That schedule should permit a conference with the House of Representatives on their version of reforms to the Higher Education Act so that we can produce a present for 20 million college students and their families by Christmas,” Alexander said. 

 You can read Alexander’s full prepared remarks here and watch video of his remarks here.