The fast-growing federal program known as Parent PLUS now serves 3.2 million borrowers, who have racked up $65 billion in debt helping their kids go to school. The loans have much in common with the regular student loans that have created a national debt crisis and a 2016 campaign issue, but PLUS has much higher interest rates and fees, and far fewer opportunities for loan forgiveness or reductions.
Should student loans generate profits for the federal government?
In fact, the PLUS program, which includes similar loans to graduate students, is the most profitable of the 120 or so federal lending programs. That sounds like a good thing, until you remember the government’s profit comes from its own citizens, often citizens of modest means.
Student loans enhance accessibility, but at what cost?
… PLUS loans have also become a key revenue source for many schools, particularly historically black colleges and for-profits that tend to serve lower-income families.
But that just illustrates the increasingly tortured economic paradoxes at the heart of modern higher education, where schools have no incentive to provide affordable prices as long as they can count on federal dollars for making education affordable. Ultimately, Parent PLUS sluices more cash into the college-industrial complex, helping educators jack up their tuitions while pressuring parents to make up the difference with debt, while doing nothing to ensure they’re getting a real return on their investment. It enhances accessibility, but not really affordability, simply giving parents a way to punt the skyrocketing costs into the future.
Underwriting standards are lax, and the government lends money to “people with no clue if they can pay it back”.
Many critics argue that Parent PLUS should be abolished, and that the government should expand Pell grants and raise caps on student loans instead. But even those who want to continue the program — including Rodriguez in the White House and Republican staffers on Capitol Hill — seem to agree there are relatively obvious ways to strengthen it. The most evident would be real underwriting standards to evaluate the ability to pay of potential borrowers. Another would be strict loan caps. Or a combination of those reforms could link the creditworthiness of borrowers to the size of the loans they’re eligible to receive, the kind of calculation real banks make. Even Draeger, who represents aid administrators at 3,000 colleges and universities, said the system needs structural changes to protect vulnerable families.
A parent’s comment in a CollegeConfidential thread illustrates part of the problem.
My main concern with the Parent Plus loan is the lack of consumer disclosures regarding future pymts and the cost of credit – there are none. I borrowed $24,000 this week – it took about 5 minutes – with no evaluation of my qualification to repay – and no disclosure to me of what my future pymts will be. I can see very easily how someone could get in over their head.
The major challenge to reforming the Parent PLUS program is its “immense profitability”.
… These days, the government borrows money at almost no cost, so lending at 7 percent plus fees can add up: Parent PLUS could reduce the deficit by $3 billion this year. That means any effort to scale it back and restrict it to creditworthy borrowers would cost the government a lot of money….