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Bipartisan Voters Overwhelmingly Oppose Rollbacks of Student Loan Protections

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Strong majorities across political parties show concern about the level of student debt in the United States and oppose the Department of Education’s and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) recent actions to weaken protections for students, according to a new poll released by Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) and the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). The poll was conducted by the bipartisan team of Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting.

View the polling memo showing voter opposition to recent Department of Education and CFPB actions to weaken student protections.

In AFR and CRL's poll, more than four in five (82%) voters agree that the amount of student debt in the country represents a crisis, including a majority (54%) who strongly agree. Moreover, the poll shows that 34% of Black voters and 37% of Hispanic voters currently have student loan debt, roughly twice the rate of all likely voters (18%). The survey is roughly consistent with federal data on the distribution of student debt across demographic groups.

“The student debt crisis in the United States deserves greater attention and voters know it,” said AFR Senior Policy Counsel Alexis Goldstein. “Borrowers need federal authorities as allies, not as apologists for the for-profit college industry.”

“It is no surprise that Black and Latinx student borrowers are very concerned about the recent CFPB rollback in efforts to protect them,” said CRL Executive Vice President Debbie Goldstein. “These borrowers are disproportionally affected by student loan debt and both the Department of Education and the CFPB under the current Administration are doing little to nothing to protect them in their pursuit of a postsecondary education. Worse, the Department of Education seems to be making it easier for for-profit colleges and servicers to take advantage of students. We need a Department of Education that holds for-profit institutions accountable for abusive practices and a CFPB with a division that protects borrowers from predatory student loan servicers. Without proactive regulatory action and strong state laws, students of color will continue to carry larger debt burdens, exacerbating the racial wealth gap.”

In recent years, under the helm of Secretary DeVos, the Department of Education has proposed or carried out a number of actions to weaken protections for student borrowers. A majority of voters, regardless of political party, find these actions concerning. Voters are most concerned about permitting higher penalty fees to be charged to borrowers struggling to repay their loans, making it harder for state and federal law enforcement agencies to pursue wrongdoing by student loan servicers, and blocking debt relief to thousands of student borrowers who were defrauded by for-profit schools. More than 60% of both Republicans and Independents are concerned with each of these actions.

In July, CRL and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) published a research report detailing how the flaws in the current education system contribute to the widening racial wealth gap. The research paper, entitled Quicksand: Borrowers of Color & The Student Debt Crisis, was recently updated and adds three new co-authors: the National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The report calls for fundamental reforms to provide fair opportunities for students, especially Black and Latinx student borrowers, who are most affected by the flaws in the current system. The research also notes that student debt has become a significant drag on the overall economy, depressing purchasing power and jeopardizing economic security for millions of families.

Additional key polling concerns on student loan debt crisis:

  • Across parties, a majority of voters agree that the amount of student loan debt represents a crisis, with 90% of Democrats, 80% independents, and 74% of Republicans in agreement.
  • Majorities among Black and Latinx voters, those making under $50,000 a year, those under age 30, women, and military households strongly agree that the current amount of student loan debt in the United States represents a crisis.
  • Seventy-percent of voters are concerned that the ED has made it harder for state and federal law enforcement agencies to pursue wrongdoing by student loan servicers.
  • In June, Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded the Obama-era Gainful Employment rule meant to crack down on for-profit institutions that did not provide borrowers with a degree that would enable them to find jobs and pay back their loans upon graduation. In August, the Department of Education announced its new Borrower Defense to Repayment rules that severely weaken accountability for for-profit colleges and prevent defrauded students from accessing relief.

In August, CFPB Director Kraninger appointed student loan servicer executive Robert Cameron as the agency’s Student Loan Ombudsman. Cameron previously served as Deputy Chief Counsel for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority (PHEAA). Under his tenure, the PHEAA had a poor compliance record, allegations of violations of consumer protection laws, borrower complaints, was considered as one of the worst performing federal student loan servicers, and improperly steered borrowers into costlier forbearance and deferment options instead of affordable income-driven repayment plans.

Last year, the CFPB shut down its division focused on protecting student loan borrowers from abuses by predatory student loan servicers.

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