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Think Tanks Pen Joint Letter Urging Congress to Prioritize Impending College Student Crisis

December 10, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Masked students walk through the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

This week, a group of prominent Washington D.C. think tank organizations sent a joint letter to Congressional leaders urging them to prioritize bipartisan-backed legislation that would benefit America’s college students. The letter was sent to the House and Senate minority and majority leaders, as well as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. 

“America’s college students are in crisis,” states the letter. “The next two months will be make-or-break for both the short- and long-term economic prospects of millions of current, former, and future postsecondary students already facing economic hardship. 

“That’s why in addition to passing another round of stimulus relief to students and institutions, we implore Congress to take concrete action during the lame duck session where there is already bipartisan support for helping students.” 

Starting with the pressing issue of student loans, the letter discusses how the upcoming January 31st ending period of student loan forbearance and other student loan related activities that have been halted as a result of the CARES Act will put a strain on borrowers. 

“A new survey from the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that nearly 60% of borrowers who were aware of these paused payments said that, ‘it would be somewhat or very difficult to afford their payments if they had to begin making them in the next month.’ 

“As a broad coalition of national and state advocacy groups has noted, financial challenges from restarting repayments would disproportionately affect women and Black and Latino borrowers. 

“Without immediate action by Congress or additional administrative action, millions of borrowers will be hit starting February 1, 2021 with loan bills they simply cannot pay.” 

The letter continues further to discuss other financial elements of higher education, namely the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. 

Citing data from the National College Attainment Network and the National Student Clearinghouse, the think tank coalition argues that Congress should pass bipartisan legislation that simplifies the FAFSA for the benefit of all college students. 

“For prospective students, real-time tracking of Free Application for Federal Student Aid completions by high school seniors from the National College Attainment Network shows that as of November 27th, FAFSA submissions are down 16.7% from this time last year—resulting in 185,000 fewer prospective college students taking the steps they’ll need to secure federal financial aid for the coming year. 

“Further, new data from the National Student Clearinghouse show a 4.4% decline in overall postsecondary enrollment—as well as a notable 13% drop in freshman enrollment since last year. Undergraduate enrollment declines have been most severe among Native American (-9.6%) and Black (-7.5%) students compared to last year, with historically Black colleges and universities most impacted across sectors.” 

Aside from the immediate financial related issues facing America’s college students, the letter also advocates for legislation to be passed that will protect and restore the rights of vulnerable student groups, such as veterans and individuals who have been incarcerated

Towards the end of the letter, the think tank group recommends that Congress should consider passing the College Transparency Act in an effort to help students and families fully understand the investment they make in choosing a higher education institution. 

“Students deserve the best information possible to find a program that aligns with their goals and to ensure a return on their investment of time and money; Congress should act now and bring better data within reach,” reads the letter. 

The joint letter was co-authored by over a half dozen think tank organizations, including but not limited to, BPC Action, Third Way, Higher Learning Advocates and Institute for Higher Education Policy. 

Tamara Hiler, director of Education at Third Way, spoke to The Well News about why Third Way co-authored the joint letter to Congress. 

“We know a lot of the focus between now and the end of the year is making sure Congress passes additional stimulus relief to help students and institutions remain afloat during these tough times. 

“But there are also a handful of bipartisan policy fixes on the table that are ready and able to go that would also have a long-lasting impact on students and clear the way for additional higher education negotiations in the next Congress. 

“Our hope was to urge Congress to take those wins where they can get them and help students who desperately need it now rather than having to start from scratch in those negotiations next year,” stated Hiler. 

The full letter sent to Congress can be read online

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