Obama unveils Student Aid Bill of Rights


By Sarah Gardner, @rabbitearz93

With student loan debt in the U.S. topping $1.3 trillion, President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to help the more than 40 million Americans who feel trapped under insurmountable student loans.

The president laid out his plan Tuesday during an address at Georgia Institute of Technology. He outlined the major points of what he is calling a Student Bill of Rights again in a conference call with student media Wednesday.

“I want every student to have access to a quality, affordable education at a college that’s lowering cost and increasing learning,” Obama said. “Every student should be able to access the resources to pay for college…  and every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information and fair treatment, even when they’re struggling to repay their loans.”


The Department of Education released state-by-state data showing the number of borrowers and total outstanding balances as of January. Illinois ranks No. 7 for total debt with 1.8 million borrowers accumulating nearly $50 billion in debt. 

The Obama administration committed to a series of steps it says will minimize that debt and ensure borrowers are treated reasonably and fairly.

During the conference call, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in addition to working to keep college costs low on the front end, the Department of Education and other federal entities will take the following actions to make paying for higher education easier.

  • By July of 2016, establish a website that will act as a streamlined way for students to file complaints and receive timely responses to any issues with lenders, collection agencies or institutions of higher education.
  • Make sure banks that service federal loans are held to high standards and provide better information to borrowers.
  • Raise the bar for debt collection, so that agencies are fair and reasonable when dealing with borrowers, are transparent and help students get back on track when they need help.
  • Improve customer service by finding better ways to communicate and help borrowers make smart decisions about repayment, and creating a centralized process for repaying all their loans.

Duncan said these steps build on the initiatives the Obama administration has already been working on in the past several years, including Obama’s state of the union proposal to make two years of community college free.

Another of his initiatives is the pay-as-you-earn plan—which Obama made available last June—that caps federal loan payments to 10 percent of the borrower’s income.

Duncan said there are approximately 3 million people enrolled in the program, a fourfold increase in the last year.

Both the president and Duncan stressed the importance of states financially supporting higher education. 


“We want to challenge states to re-invest in higher education,” Duncan said. “States cut their investment, universities jack up their tuition and then universities themselves have to do a better job [of being more effective.]”

He said it should not become a partisan issue, as all people should be in favor of supporting education, which contributes to an effective workforce and strong economy.

“We should not be putting higher ed against K-12 against early childhood education,” Duncan said. “We have to think about this as a continuum from cradle to career.”

The four articles of the bill read:

  1. Every student deserves access to a quality, 
affordable education at a college that’s cutting costs and increasing learning.
  2. Every student should be able to access the resources needed to pay for college.
  3. Every borrower has the right to an affordable 
repayment plan.
  4. And every borrower has the right to quality 
customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment, even if they struggle to repay their loans.

The president urged all who agree with the statements to sign their names at whitehouse.gov/collegeopportunity to express their support for the plan.

“We can’t allow higher education to become a luxury,” Obama said. 

Sarah Gardner can be reached at [email protected]