June 18, 2018

Warren, Harris, Takano, Adams, Espaillat, Colleagues Press Education Secretary for Action on Student Loan Borrowers of Color

Lawmakers Call for Task Forces to Study Challenges Facing Borrowers of Color; Urge DeVos to Enforce Borrower Protections, Discharge Loans of Defrauded Students

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), along with Representatives Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.), and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) today sent a bicameral letter signed by 19 other senators and 37 other members of the House of Representatives to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, raising concerns regarding the challenges facing students of color in the federal student loan system and calling on the Education Department (ED) to take a series of steps to study and mitigate these challenges.  

In their letter, the lawmakers highlighted a number of long-standing inequities between racial groups and discussed how these differences affect students of color seeking higher education. 

"In our personal debt-based model of financing higher education, graduating from college is simply not enough to avoid financial calamity for many borrowers of color," the lawmakers wrote. "This also emphasizes, once again, the underlying structural inequalities that people of color face - these individuals continually make the right decisions to invest in their education, but cannot reap the benefits as easily as their White peers."

Citing an October 2017 report by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, which found that black student borrowers have disproportionately higher amounts of debt and rates of default, the lawmakers' letter outlined how recent decisions by the Department have exacerbated these inequities, noting Secretary DeVos' decision to delay and suspend two Obama-era regulations aimed at protecting student borrowers. 

"Given the scope of the student debt problem, the Department is moving backwards by delaying and rewriting the very policies designed to protect students and mitigate the racial divide among student loan borrower outcomes," the lawmakers continued.  The lawmakers also criticized the Department for failing to collect and report long-term student loan data disaggregated by race and ethnicity.

In order to begin addressing these issues, the lawmakers called on the Department to:

  • Create a task force to study the specific challenges facing student loan borrowers of color and to propose policy solutions to help get borrowers of color out of debt;
  • Collect and report annual data disaggregated by student characteristics, loan characteristics, and school attended;
  • Create a task force to study the impact of student loan borrowing on individuals with extreme financial distress and how students of color compare to the overall student loan borrowing population;
  • Continue to process the nearly 100,000 pending borrower defense claims and fully discharge the loans of defrauded students;
  • Immediately and fully enforce the Borrower Defense and Gainful Employment rules as they were finalized in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

The letter was also signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Chris Van  Hollen (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-Calif.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.),  Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Ro Khanna (D-California), James Langevin (D-R.I.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), Al Lawson (D-Fla.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.), Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), David Price (D-N.C.), Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.).