PRINCIPLE 1: High quality postsecondary education should be accessible to everyone, regardless of finances.
The current state of student finances urgently requires bold action. While we support proposals that streamline financial aid systems, we recognize that far too many students are forced into financial uncertainty in order to pay for college. Tuition and non-tuition costs have both ballooned over the last decade. Students need decisive action to reverse current trends and make necessary investments in postsecondary education.
Reinvigorating state investments: The major driver in tuition-growth and student loan debt is state disinvestment in higher education. During the Great Recession, states were forced to make tough decisions, nearly all choosing to rely more heavily on tuition dollars to finance public education. While those states’ budgets have largely recovered, their investments in public higher education have not. The federal government should establish a program that leverages federal dollars to spur state significant reinvestments in public higher education.
Strengthening need-based financial aid: The Pell Grant is the cornerstone of our federal financial aid program, yet its purchasing power -- and impact on student finances -- has diminished steadily over time. As college costs have vastly outpaced investment in Pell grants, Pell recipients are disproportionately forced to borrow in order to fully access their education. We believe needed reforms include (1) a significant investment to strengthen the impact and reach of Pell and (2) targeted investments in campus-based aid programs including Federal Work Study, the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, and Perkins. These investments are possible by bringing new funds into the education budget as well as shifting funds away from poorly targeted education tax expenditures.
Protecting borrowers: Increasingly, students turn to loans to finance their education. As student leaders, we are deeply concerned about the impact that $1.5 trillion of student debt has on borrowers’ financial wellbeing and the health of the overall economy. A strong policy is needed to improve financial outcomes for student loan borrowers and limit the broader economic impact of student loan debt. We believe the federal government should ensure borrowing is a positive financial tool for students by protecting subsidized student loans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, simplifying repayment plans, and maintaining low interest rates. Additional protections are necessary to (1) hold loan servicers accountable for predatory or harmful practices and (2) make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy in a fashion similar to other forms of consumer debt.
Modernize the financial aid system overall: Each year, an estimated 2 million students fall through the cracks of the current financial aid system. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is too long and redundant, and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is disconnected with current financial realities for students and families. The effects of these problems ripple to state-based and institutional aid programs as well. We support policies that:
Simplify the FAFSA. Congress and the U.S. Department of Education should leverage existing IRS data to limit or eliminate the number of times students and families are asked to re-submit information to the federal government. States and institutions rely on some of the FAFSA information to allocate their own aid, so the design process of simplification should be student-centered and informed by other aid distributors.
Review the EFC. The EFC formulas were designed for a bygone era of higher education and do not account for the financial realities of today’s students and families. The formula should be reviewed regularly and informed by direct student input.
Ensure financial aid award letters are clear and accurate. Direct the U.S. Department of Education to develop-student informed guidance on the matter.
PRINCIPLE 2: Equity is central to scaling student success.
While major financial aid investments are necessary, policy design and implementation must account for the diverse needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Historically wide equity gaps prevent too many students from persisting to degree completion. Students want to see policies that account for the unique challenges facing their communities. Changes to financial aid programs, quality assurance practices, and civil rights policies must be student-centric and consider historically disproportionate impacts on underserved student communities, including students of color, first-generation students, student veterans, students with disabilities, international and immigrant students, student parents, and LGBTQ students.
Basic needs security: We are encouraged by recent efforts to leverage federal resources to further research the prevalence of food insecurity on campuses. We need further action to support students who experience food and housing insecurity. Further action is needed to provide resources and guidance to institutions for how to leverage existing federal programs like SNAP and housing benefits.
Improve data to increase transparency and accountability: Higher education needs better data to understand and improve outcomes. The student unit record ban stands in the way of a comprehensive federal data system that can reveal important insights for decision-makers and consumers alike. We believe a student-level data network that can be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, family income, and other factors research shows may contain variances is vital to higher education’s mission of serving all students.
Student health & wellbeing: Students’ physical and mental wellbeing is critical to success. However studies consistently find a deteriorating state of mental health among college students, particularly students of color, LGBT students, and graduate and professional students. Too few students utilize counseling resources and those who seek support too often find services operating well beyond capacity. Student access to quality, affordable health services, especially with mental health parity, is critical to improving student outcomes. Additionally, we believe students should have more transparency in other matters that affect student safety. As such, we support efforts to ensure hazing and harassment are reported under the Clery Act.
Textbooks & course materials: The costs of textbooks and required course materials continue to rise for students. On average, students pay $1,200 a year for textbooks. An analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that over the past decade, the price of textbooks and supplies has risen four times as fast as inflation. The costs lead 2 in 3 students to not purchase a required textbook and 1 in 4 to drop a course. We support efforts to renew and expand investment in grants that promote open education resources.
PRINCIPLE 3: Higher education policy must protect students’ rights.
Federal policy must provide a strong backbone for students’ rights in the ongoing fight for equity and freedom from discrimination. Federal aid must never be allowed to support or subsidize programs that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, or place of origin. Additionally, we are concerned about federal policy regarding the issues below.
Campus sexual assault: Institutions must create an environment where survivors are supported and sexual assault is unacceptable. Federal policy plays a critical role in codifying those goals, and we are concerned about recently proposed Title IX regulations. Sexual victimization affects roughly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men on college campuses, leading to measurably poor student outcomes, including dropping out, increased prevalence of substance use disorders, and severely negative economic impacts. We support policies that:
Require regular, quality campus climate surveys
Ensure that (1) institutions are responsible for handling cases that may have occurred off campus and (2) campus proceedings are not excessively adversarial and litigious in nature
Provide clear guidance and best practices for institutions in preventing and responding to incidents of sexual misconduct
Racial discrimination: Higher education policy must protect, strongly enforce, and inform stakeholders about students’ rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Recent spikes in white supremacist propaganda on campuses underscore the urgency of improving campus climate and supporting marginalized communities.
Voting rights & civic engagement: Federal policy should require institutions to promote civic engagement, particularly voter registration. Too often, institutions shy away from helping students participate in our democracy. Moreover, recent efforts across the states to disenfranchise student voters particularly through stringent voter ID laws and limits to on-campus polling sites are unacceptable. We urge action to curb such efforts.