Editor’s Note: Student loan borrowers need better support from the government

By Blaise Mesa, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Student loans are stacking up for millions of Americans, and while student borrowers drown, the U.S. Department of Education proves time and time again it is both incompetent and unwilling to help those in debt. An NPR investigation found that borrowers with disabilities are not getting federal relief from their student loans.

“It was at a point where I couldn’t do anything,” Drew Lehman, a student loan borrower who couldn’t work after severely injuring his back in a car accident, told NPR. “I was having trouble getting up, walking and doing basic things around the house were next to impossible.”

Lehman is one of thousands of borrowers with loans piling up and no way to make enough money to pay off his debt. While the bills stacked up, Lehman could have taken advantage of a program to forgive his debt but was not alerted to this opportunity by the Department of Education. Lehman heard from his loan company about the program, and when he asked for more information about it, he was told to look it up for himself.

“People don’t even know about this. They don’t find out about it. Nobody tells you about it,” he said in a Wednesday, Dec. 4 NPR story.

The Department of Education did send letters to potential candidates alerting them of the program, but only 36% responded. That could potentially be due to the department’s loan recipient records being outdated, as reported in the NPR story.

An abysmal 36% respondent rate should have been seen as a failure to the department. Furthermore, sending someone mail about an unheard of student loan program may seem like a scam and undoubtedly reduced the rates at which candidates would respond.

This joins a growing list of the department’s blunders, including rejecting 99% of applicants for the federal student loan forgiveness plan and collecting loans from an estimated 45,801 defrauded students—borrowers whose school loan program misled them or violated the law—while dragging their feet to forgive the debts, as reported Tuesday, Dec. 3 by Fox News.

At what point do we draw the line and hold the Department of Education accountable? With each mistake there are serious risks to the lives of student borrowers as the bills pile up.

To make matters worse, the Department of Education told Congress it had discharged 40% of loans from borrowers with “significant, permanent disabilities.” But according to NPR’s investigation, only 28% of borrowers’ loans had been forgiven between March 2016 and September 2019.

The Department of Education should be embarrassed by its many failures. Systematic change is desperately needed to reform the student loan system.

The department’s actions imply it cares very little about students and that it doesn’t mind saddling students with thousands of dollars worth of predatory student loans. Where else would these failures be tolerated?

The system is set up to provide few chances of success for students to repay their loans, as evidenced by the millions of borrowers drowning in student loan debt.

To be clear, I have no issues with the amount of my debt. I’m happy with my choice in schools and would make the same decisions if I were to do it all over again. But student borrowers need to be better protected.

It should not take legal action for defrauded or disabled students to save and/or receive the money they rightly deserve. While the Department of Education stumbles its way through these cases and works to forgive student loans, these borrowers are dealing with the stress and anxiety that come with the monthly student loan payments they shouldn’t have to be paying.