The Department of Education’s (ED) second day of negotiated rulemaking, “neg reg,” heard an array of comments from stakeholders that prompted the day’s hearing to include additional time for affected parties to provide testimony that were originally slated on a waitlist.
Participants provided their perspective on topics, similar to Monday’s hearing, that included gainful employment regulation, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, income-driven repayment, and loan forgiveness, as well as requests for additional reporting and data for student veterans.
A number of commentators used their time to urge that when considering gainful employment regulations, ED should include a diverse group of stakeholders at the table to ensure the development of regulations that fairly consider all institutions of higher education.
One issue of concern for a cosmetology school had to do with the consideration of non-reported incomes in gauging gainful employment, which for many hair stylists and beauticians makes up a significant portion of their income.
Participants also shared their experiences navigating the process for student loan debt relief and requested ED to administer relief for borrowers who have met requirements for PSLF but have not received any loan discharge.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, indicated that her members were experiencing increasingly burdensome college debt and that the PSLF program has become a broken promise. Weingarten called on ED to use administrative action and improved borrower communication to administer the benefit.
“We urge you to act immediately before student loan repayments resume this September to order swift review of public student loan forgiveness applications and to immediately discharge debt for all borrowers who have completed at least a decade of public service while paying their federal student loans,” Weingarten said.
In tandem with PSLF, Weingarten argued that ED needed to go further in administering student loan debt relief before the current moratorium on federal student loan repayments expires this fall, urging the agency to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower.
Other commentators shared their struggles to navigate the process in repaying their loans and urged ED to rework the system with some calling for broad debt forgiveness while others urged for specific policy changes, like lowering the interest rates and better communicating with borrowers about how to enroll in specific repayment programs.
Regan Fitzgerald, senior associate of government relations at Pew charitable trust, urged ED to consider income-driven repayment plans among the issues up for discussion during the negotiated rulemaking hearing.
“We strongly recommend that the negotiated rulemaking committee examine streamlining existing income-driven repayment plans to reduce confusion,” Fitzgerald said. “We also recommend that borrowers with defaulted loans be allowed to directly enroll in an income-driven plan without first needing to exit default through rehabilitation or consolidation to help them access affordable payments without having to first navigate the complex administrative process of exiting default.”
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif) who serves as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee praised the Biden administration for its processing of borrower defense claims, saying the department has made great strides in going after institutions that knowingly defrauded students.
“I strongly encourage this department to pursue additional options, such as new rulemaking, to provide complete relief to defrauded borrowers,” Takano said. “ We have a historic opportunity to deliver justice for student borrowers.”
Wednesday’s hearing also included testimony from the perspective of higher education students with Welsey Wilson, who was a student veteran, discussing how he accessed his higher education through benefits within the GI Bill. In Wilson’s testimony, he urged ED to require institutions to comprehensively report on student veteran data.
“While ED collects some student veteran data they generally do not distinguish student veterans from traditional students,” Wilson said. “The VA collects and publishes some outcome data such as retention persistence and graduation rates, however the data is incomplete because reporting is optional.”
Publication Date: 6/24/2021