By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter
As the Federal Student Aid (FSA) annual training conference continues, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona gave a keynote address on Wednesday highlighting successes of the Biden administration, including increasing the maximum Pell Grant award and student loan debt relief.
Cardona began his keynote speech applauding financial aid officers who stepped up during the pandemic to help students. However, he noted he fears higher education leaders run the risk of getting comfortable or complacent with the height of the pandemic behind us.
“We risk returning to the higher education system we had in March 2020,” Cardona said. “It wasn't good enough then and certainly not good enough now. We face major challenges. College remains unaffordable. Dishonest schools too often haven't been held accountable and outcomes are not equitable. Too many students, and especially students of color, never make it to commencement day. They wind up deep in debt with no degree and fewer pathways to prosperity. That's unacceptable.”
Cardona said college affordability and accessibility are priorities for the administration, noting that earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed into law an omnibus spending bill that included the largest increase — $400 — to the maximum Pell Grant in more than a decade. Cardona added that Biden has called on Congress to double the maximum Pell Grant by 2029, which he said would be “game changing.”
Cardona continued his keynote by mentioning that the Department of Education (ED) already identified 1.7 million borrowers eligible for $30 billion in debt relief, including borrowers who were misled by their schools, eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), and those with permanent disabilities. That was before Biden announced his student loan debt relief plan, which would forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for eligible borrowers.
While the debt relief plan is currently halted and headed to the Supreme Court, Cardona said “make no mistake, we will continue to fight for relief in the courts and put working families first.”
“We must avoid the default rates of the past and help borrowers succeed,” Cardona said. “That's why we're making repayment more affordable than ever. Today's borrowers and tomorrow’s students will benefit from dramatically lower payments and a smoother path to forgiveness after 20 years.”
In November, a federal judge in California granted final approval to a settlement for ED to discharge more than $6 billion owed by approximately 200,000 borrowers. Cardona noted that this is part of the Biden administration’s effort to increase “affordability and accountability” in higher education.
“We're streamlining relief for borrowers who have been cheated by their colleges, and taking steps to protect students from worthless degrees and unaffordable debts,” Cardona said. “Higher education brought the promise of America alive for me, and for many of you. Together, we must renew that promise.”
Publication Date: 12/1/2022
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