(READ) Senators introduce bi-partisan bills to create transparency about college costs

As the Supreme Court begins considers legal challenges to the Biden administration’s plan to transfer nearly $1 trillion in student loan debt to taxpayers, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) have reintroduced three bi-partisan bills they say would help students and families make informed decisions about borrowing for college.

The bills are said to ensure that students get the “full picture” when choosing a college and taking out loans. From the initial college search, to the acceptance of financial aid, to counseling once in college, the bills would help college students avoid sticker shock, find the best college for their budget and avoid taking out ill-advised and oversized loans. 

I often hear from Iowa families who are frustrated and confused by the complex student loan borrowing process. So much of the student debt conversation focuses on repaying debt. We ought to fix the process on the front-end before students get in over their head. The federal government should be offering commonsense resources to better prepare borrowers. These bills would provide additional counseling, resources and clarity to the student loan process so that America’s next generation of leaders can pursue higher education opportunities without breaking the bank. We need to equip students and their families with better information about the costs of college from the initial college search to when they receive financial aid offers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

My bipartisan bills with Sens. Grassley and Ernst would help fix these problems. That includes improved net price calculators so students and families have estimates of college costs after taking into account scholarships and grants. We’ve got a plan to create a universal financial aid offer so students can easily compare financial aid packages between schools, which is important because time and again students are met with inconsistent and incomplete information. And we’ve introduced a bill to improve loan counseling. These reforms will help students make one of the biggest financial decisions of their lives—how to pay for college.

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.)

None of bills nor the Biden plan would address the core problem of overinflated college costs. Analysts say the main reason the cost of college has ballooned so far out of reach for most is because the government offers grants and loans that appear to cover the cost, but ends up being at taxpayer and student expense. Without grants and loans, experts say the cost of college would have to come down to more reasonable levels because; otherwise, few could afford to attend and America’s higher education institutions would empty out. However, colleges and universities are major donors to members of Congress, and there have been no proposals in Congress to address college costs.

Supporters say the Net Price Calculator Improvement Act would improve the effectiveness of and access to net price calculators. Net price calculators provide students with early, individualized estimates of higher education costs and financial aid figures before they decide where to apply. Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A summary of the Net Price Calculator Improvement Act is available here.

Supporters say the Understanding the True Cost of College Act would create a universal financial aid offer form and standardize terms used to describe financial aid to allow students to more easily compare financial aid packages between schools.

This aims to prevent troubling findings by the GAO that over 90% of college financial aid offer letters currently understate the price students would pay. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is an original cosponsor of the bill and Rep. Young Kim (R-California) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A summary of the Understanding the True Cost of College Act is available here.

Supporters say the Know Before You Owe Federal Student Loan Act would strengthen the Higher Education Act to enhance the current loan counseling requirements for institutions of higher education. The bill would make loan counseling an annual requirement before new loans are disbursed, rather than a one-time requirement for first-time borrowers.

The legislation would also allow students to decide exactly how much they would like to borrow, rather than offering the maximum possible loan amount as the default option. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A summary of the Know Before You Owe Federal Student Loan Act is available here. 

Grassley has long warned of the fiscal danger posed by blanket cancelation after the fact and says he is an advocate for increased transparency to empower prospective and current students.

Read more here.

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