ED to Focus on Student Debt, Institutional Accountability in Coming Year, Cardona Says

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona delivered remarks on Thursday touting his vision for the department as he embarks on his second year in the cabinet and the pandemic, equity, affordability, and access continue to dominate the higher education landscape.

The Department of Education (ED) characterized the speech as a “major address,” during which Cardona said there is time now for the American education system to reset, address inequities, and turn the crisis imposed by the pandemic into an opportunity.

The wide-ranging speech addressed education from pre-K through higher education, with Cardona stressing the importance of school reopenings, as well as the ways in which schools can utilize funding provided by the American Rescue Plan.

“We must level up our entire system of education from pre-kindergarten through adult education in this country, and this is our moment,” Cardona said. “Our hardest and most important work lies ahead.”

On the higher education front, Cardona said that ED would work to transform education beyond high school so that it works for all students in an equitable way, adding that it is unacceptable to burden students with “unimaginable” loan debt for several decades simply for pursuing higher education.

“Today, too many talented Americans are choosing against enrolling in higher education due to the fear of debt and the feeling that college is just out of reach,” Cardona said. “We maintain a posture of neglect when postsecondary education is out of reach for students and their families. This is un-American.”

In terms of working to overhaul the student loan portfolio, Cardona highlighted the significant changes made to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program to deliver promised debt forgiveness, and pledged that student borrowers will be supported as the department winds down the federal student loan moratorium, slated to expire May 1.

“That's why our administration has already canceled $15 billion in student loan debt, more than any other administration, and that's only in our first year in office,” Cardona said. “We're committed to supporting every student loan borrower when they transition back into repayment. No one should be forced to make a payment that they cannot afford.”

The remarks were delivered just days after 80 Democratic lawmakers from both chambers of Congress redoubled the efforts to call on President Joe Biden to release a memo outlining his legal authority to unilaterally cancel outstanding student loan debt.

Cardona also said that ED would be working with Congress “to make long-term improvements,” to the PSLF program and that the department was committed to holding institutions of higher education accountable to students.

On the institutional accountability front, Cardona touted Federal Student Aid’s enforcement unit that will aim to crack down on schools that defraud students. He also discussed ED’s ongoing negotiated rulemaking process to create a “strong” gainful employment rule.

“Students will not be taken advantage of for financial gain,” Cardona said. “In all that we do here at the Department of Education, we will be student-centered.”


Publication Date: 1/28/2022

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