Has the student loan crisis already been solved?
This might seem an absurd question. Student loan debt is at a record high of $1.1 trillion, and the average undergraduate who borrows to attend school graduates nearly $30,000 in debt. Almost 20 percent of student borrowers are in default.
Yet a couple of little-noticed legislative tweaks to a small, obscure loan repayment program — revisions made under two very different presidents — appear to have created the conditions for far-reaching changes in how a college education is bought and paid for. The result may make it much easier for students to get out from under their debts.
The first changes happened in September 2007, when Congress passed a major overhaul of the federal college financial aid system. Most of the news coverage at the time focused on the fact that government subsidies would shift from private banks that offered loans to Pell Grants for low-income students. But the bill that President George W. Bush later signed contained another modest change in the law that would later gather significance.
To understand how that change set in motion what is happening today, it first helps to understand how the original government loan program worked. Starting in the 1960s, the federal government offered generous subsidies to private banks, which would then make loans to students. <Read more.>