​Obama offers ‘Student Aid Bill of Rights’ as college debt soars

U.S. President Barack Obama.(Reuters / Kevin Lamarque )
Pres. Barack Obama has signed a memorandum directing the Dept. of Education and other federal agencies to help keep education costs affordable during and after college, as the nation’s tally of student loan debt continues to mount.

The order, signed by Pres. Obama on Tuesday ahead of an address at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, contains recommendations for the government to handle rising concerns about the price of obtaining a college degree and the major fiscal post-graduation aftermath, as well as a “Student Aid Bill of Rights.”

"It's an executive action that we're able to take to streamline and improve the manner in which the federal government interacts with students," Obama told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

Although the directive does not in itself encode any new laws, it does call on the administration to coordinate with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and develop recommendations for regulatory and legislative changes, according to the White House.

The CFPB determined in 2013 that the total amount of federal student loan debt owed in the US amounts to over $1.2 trillion, and this week the Washington Post acknowledged that the figure has only risen in the months since, with the average college graduate leaving school with nearly $29,000 in loans.

“One of the things that’s been uppermost on my mind is how do we make sure that every young person in this country who is willing to put in the effort can afford to go to college,” Obama said on Tuesday.

The memorandum contains a four-point “bill of rights” – an outline of the administration’s intentions with regards to the imperatives Obama believes should be afforded to the nation’s growing number of student loan debt holders.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans graduating with bachelor’s degrees do so with student loan debt. The president’s directive, however, aims to see that “all of the more than 40 million Americans with student loans have additional basic rights and protections,” the White House said.

The bill of rights unveiled by the administration orders the government to ensure that students across the US can obtain “a quality, affordable education at a college that’s cutting costs and increasing learning,” but also be given the proper resources to pay back any loans --- and through an affordable repayment plan – while also receiving “quality customer service, reliable information and fair treatment,” according to the White House.

"The president is rightly prioritizing much-needed consumer protections for borrowers, and we urge the actions he's calling for are taken as quickly as possible," said Lauren Asher, president of the non-profit Institute for College Access & Success, said of Obama’s bill to the Huffington Post. "It's incumbent on the agencies to follow through as quickly as they can."