This Week In Washington
Congress is back from its holiday break, and it has only two more working weeks before the end of the 115th Congress.
On Thursday, the Senate education committee voted along party lines (12—11) to advance the nomination of Robert L. King to be the new Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education at the Department of Education (ED). King, the President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and former chancellor of the State University of New York system, would be the last remaining Senate-confirmable position currently vacant at ED. Mr. King’s nomination will now head to the Senate floor for a final vote in the next two weeks.
House Democrats held their caucus leadership elections on Wednesday. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) won the nomination to be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. The other two top spots, Majority Leader and House Whip, remain unchanged, but Democrats did elect younger members to leadership positions beyond the top three. The official vote to become Speaker will happen when the 116th Congress is sworn in on January 3rd.
On Tuesday, at the annual Federal Student Aid training conference, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that the federal student loan program is in a “crisis,” and that the student loan program “is not only burying students in debt, it is also burying taxpayers and it's stealing from future generations.” She also claimed that student debt now is 10 percent of the national debt, and suggested that the Direct Loan program is the reason students are borrowing more. However, several prominent education scholars and researchers, both liberal and conservative, blasted DeVos’ statements as misleading, incomplete, or outright false, and they rebutted several of her claims using ED’s own data.
Last week, a federal district judge struck down parts of Washington D.C.’s student loan servicing law by reasoning that States do not have the authority to oversee ED’s loan servicers. Recall, ED previously published a notice of interpretation that argued that only the federal government can regulate those servicers. ED also filed a statement of interest in this case siding with the plaintiffs. The D.C. law required student loan collectors operating in D.C. to have a license and disclose information to borrowers. While the judge blocked D.C. from regulating servicers collecting student loans directly for ED, he dismissed the plaintiff’s request to bar D.C. from applying regulations to other types of student loans, including some federally-guaranteed ones.
Industry and student advocacy groups had been watching this case closely because several other states have passed similar servicer oversight laws and may face similar legal challenges in the future. Be sure to get caught up on this issue from our previous coverage in September, July, May, May (again), and March.
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Hybrid programs, which combine on-campus and online study, are reported (subscription may be required) to have attracted new applicants, those students who may not have otherwise considered graduate education, to law school.
Seth Frotman, the former top student loan watchdog at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and other CFPB former employees founded the Student Borrower Protection Center, a nonprofit designed to help student loan borrowers by working with state and local lawmakers and attorneys general to litigate claims and strengthen borrower protections.
In Bloomberg, a group of scholars recommend that income-driven repayment become the default repayment option, requiring borrowers to opt-out rather than opt-in, because their research shows this policy change could reduce student loan defaults.
There were no relevant student-aid related bills recently introduced for consideration by the 115th Congress (2017-2018).