Lawmakers need to act on student borrower safeguards


Zoe Haworth

Politicians are supposed to unify, not divide

By Eric Bradach

Illinois lawmakers have a golden opportunity to right a wrong Gov. Bruce Rauner committed against students during the current veto session. 

Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 1351, which would have created the Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights, Aug. 25 after it passed both state chambers. The Senate already voted to override the veto Oct. 25, 37-19. Now it’s up to the House to enforce stricter regulations to protect student borrowers when they return to session Nov. 7. 

The Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights, which was introduced Feb. 9 by state Sen. Daniel Biss, who is also a candidate in the democratic gubernatorial primary, would safeguard student borrowers by prohibiting student loan servicers from misleading borrowers, requiring companies to properly process payments, explain all repayment options and inform borrowers they may be eligible to have their loans forgiven due to a disability or problems with the school they attended. 

These regulations may seem overly burdensome to some, but U.S. student loan debt has reached a point at which it can be classified as a national crisis. 

More than 42 million Americans have student loan debt with more than $1.4 trillion in outstanding balances. That’s more than two and a half times what they owed a decade ago, and it has demoralized those only trying to gain an education and contribute to the U.S. economy. However, a coalition of the Federal Trade Commission and 12 attorneys general filed 36 lawsuits against allegedly fraudulent student loan debt relief companies, accusing them of scamming American student borrowers out of more than $95 million, as reported on Page 34. 

About 51 percent of Americans aged 25–39 with at least a bachelor’s degree and outstanding student loan debt say the lifetime financial benefits of their degree outweigh the costs. Sixty-nine percent of those in the same category without outstanding student loan debt say the financial costs were worth it, according to an Aug. 24 Pew Research Center report. 

The average Illinois student borrower has $29,271 in outstanding loans, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Rather than grant Illinoisans securities against those who prey on others in the financial abyss, Rauner yanked those measures from becoming law. 

Conflict between Rauner and Democratic legislatures triggered more than two years of state budget stalemate, which created doubt about Illinois’ future among students.

These student borrower protections could provide an incentive for young individuals to stay in the state. Unfortunately, Rauner was blind to this despite continuously promoting laws that could bring more people to Illinois. 

Rauner said the bill would be too much of a burden on an already complex student loan process and would force the state to monitor an industry that should be the responsibility of the federal government. But California, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., already have variations of a student loan bill of rights, and other states are also exploring similar ideas, according to a Sept. 10 Chicago Tribune article. So why can’t Illinois have those protections?

The bill passed the House, 63-48-1, May 31. Eight votes shy of the veto override threshold. It’s imperative that state lawmakers who voted against it to buck to the other aisle and create the Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights to protect the next generation, which should be their number one priority, from those who are looking to take advantage of their desperation.