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Guest Opinion: Protecting students' rights

BY GUEST OPINION | MARCH 24, 2015 5:00 AM

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In an economy increasingly built on innovation, the most important skill you can sell is your knowledge. That’s why higher education is, more than ever, the surest ticket to the middle class.

But just when it’s never been more important, it’s also never been more expensive. The average undergrad who borrows to pay for college ends up graduating with about $28,000 in student-loan debt.

That’s why my administration has worked hard to make college more affordable. We expanded tax credits and Pell Grants, enacted the largest reforms to the student-loan program in history, and fought to keep interest rates on student loans low. We’ve acted to let millions of graduates cap loan payments at 10 percent of their incomes so they don’t have to choose between paying the rent and paying back their debt. I’ve sent Congress my plan to bring the cost of community college down to zero, because two years of higher education should be as free and universal as high school is today.

I recently unveiled another way that we can help more Americans afford college. It doesn’t involve any new spending or bureaucracy. It’s a simple declaration of values — a Student Aid Bill of Rights.

It says: Every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education. Every student should be able to access the resources to pay for college. Every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan. And every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment, even if he or she struggles to repay their loans.

That’s it. Just a few simple principles. But there’s a lot that colleges, lenders, and the people you send to Washington can and should do to live up to them.

Consider the other actions I took two weeks ago. We’re creating a way for borrowers to ask questions about their loans or file a complaint and get a fast response. We’re going to require businesses that service loans to provide clear information about how much students owe and their options for repaying it, and help them get back in good standing if they’re falling behind, with reasonable fees on a reasonable timeline.

We’re also going to take a hard look at whether we need new laws to strengthen protections for all borrowers, wherever their loans come from.

If you believe in a Student Aid Bill of Rights that will help more Americans pay for a quality education, I’m asking you to visit WhiteHouse.gov/CollegeOpportunity. Sign your name to this declaration. Tell your families, friends, and fellow students. I’m going to ask members of Congress, and lenders, and as many business leaders as I can find. Because making sure that students aren’t saddled with debt before they even get started in life is in all our interests.

This issue is personal to me. My grandfather had a chance to go to college because this country decided that veterans returning from World War II should be able to afford it. My mother was able to raise two kids by herself in part because she got grants that helped pay for her education. And Michelle and I are where we are today because of scholarships and student loans. We didn’t come from families of means, but we knew that if we worked hard, we’d have a shot at a great education. That’s what this country gave us.

In America, a higher education cannot be a privilege reserved only for the few. It has to be available to everyone who’s willing to work for it

President Barack Obama


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