In his first six months in office, the president has proposed major changes to the student loan program
The Obama administration spent years laying the groundwork to overhaul the student loan system by issuing new rules to that attempted to hold colleges accountable when they wronged students and to give more options to borrowers struggling to repay their debts.
After just six months in the White House, the Trump administration has taken steps to reconsider and even totally do away with many of those initiatives. Much of the Obama administration’s efforts ramped up in the last few years of his tenure. His administration ended just months after finalizing new rules and in some cases it was in the middle of implementing major policy overhauls.
“What’s striking is that in just a few months, the Trump administration has really shifted the Department of Education’s focus from serving students and taxpayers to serving industry,” said Debbie Cochrane, the vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit focused on equity in higher education.
Trump administration officials portray the shift in focus differently. Elizabeth Hill, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said in an email that the agency’s decisions are driven by three priorities: providing students with a variety of post-high school pathways to success, getting rid of red tape and protecting taxpayers.
Here’s a rundown of some of the changes proposed by the administration in its first six months:
Overhauling the student loan servicing system
The Trump administration has rescinded guidance issued by the Obama administration that helps dictate the way student loan companies treat borrowers.
Earlier this year, DeVos reversed two Obama-era memos that instructed officials who decide which companies will receive lucrative government contracts to service student loans to consider past poor performance. This makes it less likely that those with poor track records would get contracts. Borrower advocates are concerned that companies that have previously wronged students will be able to work with them once again and get paid handsomely by the government for their service.
“It somewhat solidified our fear that servicing wasn’t going to be designed in a way that is going to be the most helpful for borrowers, especially the most vulnerable borrowers,” said Persis Yu, the director of the Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project at the National Consumer Law Center.
For years borrower advocates, like Yu, have argued that servicers — the point of contact for borrowers paying back their student loans — aren’t incentivized to provide borrowers with enough or the right information to successfully manage their loans. After years of complaints, the Obama administration took steps, like those memos, to try to push companies to act in borrowers’ best interest. Now advocates worry that progress could soon disappear.