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Biden’s Dismantling of Federal Student Loan Programs Has Inspired Republicans to Go Big


January 11, 2024

House Republicans released a new legislative package today aimed at bringing down the cost of college, holding universities accountable for the value of their diplomas, and reforming our broken federal student lending system. The College Cost Reduction Act represents the largest serious and comprehensive higher education reform package in decades and, in theory, has plenty of bipartisan appeal.

Since taking office, President Biden has made major changes to our higher education financing system. While his efforts may well have been made in good faith, what they have done is transform repayment programs into grant programs—subsidizing poorly performing colleges and universities—and handing out loans that many students will expect to never have to repay.

The silver lining to all of these legally dubious changes to the higher education finance system is that it seems to have inspired conservatives to “go big” on reform. This new legislative package from House republicans is a perfect example. It isn’t shy about making big changes and pushing for the system to move back in the direction of providing measurable value to students and taxpayers.

So what, exactly, does this new package do? A lot of things. But here are its major features.

First, the package aims to make college costs more transparent for students. Building off previous legislation, the Act would create a standardized financial aid offer form for university use, so that students can compare apples to apples. This might be a surprising push coming from the right, but it has been shown repeatedly that opacity (to put it mildly) in financial aid awards is creating troubling confusion among student borrowers.

Secondly, the Act hones in on access and affordability. Phasing out the inflationary Graduate PLUS and Parent PLUS federal direct loan programs, the package would also expand the Pell Grant for students on-track for on-time graduation, and replace borrowing caps with flexible loan limits which adjust based on the median cost of college for a given program. Moreover, it streamlines federal loan repayment programs, and prevents the Secretary of Education from creating new repayment programs or changing existing programs such that they impose a larger fiscal burden on taxpayers.

Lastly, The College Cost Reduction Act focuses on accountability and student success. For the first time, it would have colleges paying the price when their graduates fail to earn enough to repay their debts to taxpayers. This would put an end to the gravy train that has allowed colleges and universities to somehow escape blame for all that is currently ailing higher education finance. It also repeals a litany of onerous regulations on institutions of higher ed and opens up room for innovation in the system of accreditation that has remained stagnant for too long. And all of this happens in a “sector-neutral” manner; it would have public and non-profit colleges and universities held to the same standards as for-profit institutions. That in itself is a huge step forward.

The bill includes many more provisions than those I’ve enumerated, but these are the Act’s key features. This package is undoubtedly a major step forward. In the past, I’ve said that Republicans were stepping up to the plate on this issue. Today, they’ve hit it out of the park.