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APLU Statement on President Biden’s Student Debt Forgiveness Action

Washington, DC – Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson today released the following statement on President Biden’s student debt forgiveness policy.

“President Biden’s announcement today will be welcome news to many student loan borrowers who will now be eligible for some debt forgiveness. Moving forward, it’s essential that Congress and the Biden administration work together to also invest in programs to make college more affordable and, in turn, limit student debt from accruing in the first place.

“This requires investments in higher education on the federal level, state commitments to return to their historic role in support of public institutions, improved transparency on student outcomes to empower students and families to make informed decisions on institutions and academic programs, as well as meaningful, effective, and fair federal accountability to protect students and taxpayers.

“On the federal level, Congress and the administration must meet the needs of students on the lowest end of the income scale. Doubling the maximum Pell Grant award, as the Biden administration has proposed, can give these students critical resources to help pay for college and speed their path toward a degree, allowing them to enter the workforce earlier.

“For public colleges and universities, which educate more than three-quarters of all students in postsecondary education, addressing long-term state disinvestment is crucial. Decades of disinvestment has left students shouldering an increasing share of the cost of college despite vast societal benefits of a college-educated workforce and citizenry.

“Public universities continue to provide the best opportunity for a high-quality, affordable education with average net in-state tuition and fees of $2,640. Despite the value and benefits of a higher education degree, the cost is significant for students and their families and universities have an obligation to be transparent and continue to identify ways to manage that cost. Across all sectors of higher education, it’s imperative that colleges and universities bolster counseling services so students understand the importance of on-time completion and have the support to stay on track while also understanding how much debt they will accrue over the course of their studies.

“Additionally, increasing college completion is key to limiting some of the most concerning kinds of student debt. The data are clear that students who earn bachelor’s degree see extraordinary economic returns on their investment. Too many students start school, but struggle to reach the finish line with a degree in hand. These students accrue debt, but don’t have the degree that makes the investment in a college education worth it. Public universities have led the way over the past decade in innovating to boost college completion and a federal college completion fund can help institutions turbocharge efforts to identify and scale promising practices for reducing students’ time to degree and boost their chances of earning a degree.

“Students and families also desperately need better data on outcomes to inform decisions on where to attend college. The College Transparency Act would enable more robust data on student outcomes such as comprehensive graduation rates, typical debt load, and earnings throughout students’ careers. More robust data enabled by the College Transparency Act would empower students and their families to make wise decisions on where to attend college and which programs best deliver.

“Finally, the federal government also has a role to play in accountability. The public university community supports wisely targeted accountability measures that protect students and taxpayers from academic programs and institutions that do not provide sufficient outcomes. A strong, effective, and fair gainful employment rule is a start. Congress should also meaningfully and comprehensively address an accountability structure by updating the Higher Education Act. The broken cohort default rate has become largely irrelevant as an effective accountability and student protection measure.”

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