The House of Representatives released its Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization bill this past Friday, and it proposes to modify or eliminate several federal financial aid programs – changes which would directly and negatively affect law students.
These proposals include:
- Lowering the cap on Grad PLUS Loans
- Eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
- Effectively eliminating income-based loan forgiveness
Law students rely heavily on federal loans. Studies have shown that between 80 and 90 percent have at least one. So, these changes could directly impact the majority of you.
If enacted, the bill will lower the cap graduate student loans to $28,500, irrespective of schools’ listed costs of attendance. This will force many students to borrow from private sector lenders to attend law school, returning the nation to an environment where many low- and middle-income individuals will be unable to obtain a student loan under reasonable terms, or even obtain a loan at all.
Additionally, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program will be eliminated. PSLF was originally established to encourage graduates to enter and persist in public service careers where the pay may be lower but the reward is high in practicing your trade in critical, underserved sectors and areas of the country. Disincentivizing students from pursuing this path would worsen existing gaps in access to vital public services and the quality of delivery of such services. This strips the benefit not only from borrowers, but also from the communities they serve.
And while AccessLex Institute agrees that income-driven repayment plans should be simplified, the bill will eliminate a provision that allows borrowers to have part of their debt forgiven after making payments for 20 or 25 years, ensuring for many financially-challenged, and even insolvent borrowers, a literal lifetime of debt given the effective nondischargability of student loans in bankruptcy proceedings.
Now, some of this may sound like financial mumbo jumbo, but these proposals could have very real effects on your law school experience and professional career choices. So, understand your stake in this and make your voice heard. Only by hearing from their consituents – you! – will members of Congress be compelled to rethink these policies. Contact your members and let them know your stories and plans and goals, and tell them why these policies are not the right policies for higher education.
At AccessLex Institute, we believe legal education is essential to American progress and prosperity. As law students, you must feel the same way. These proposals will have a negative impact on access and affordability of law school and will narrow the breadth of feasible career paths for law school graduates. If the bill passes out of the education committee, it will head to the floor for a vote, and these policies will be one step closer to becoming law.
So, don’t wait. Contact your representatives today!