The Rant

Transforming Education Finance: A Conversation with Secretary Miguel Cardona on Student Debt Solutions

February 13, 2024 Eloy Oakley/Secretary Miguel Cardona Season 2 Episode 14
The Rant
Transforming Education Finance: A Conversation with Secretary Miguel Cardona on Student Debt Solutions
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Embark on a transformative journey with the 12th Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona, as we traverse his remarkable path from the classrooms of Connecticut to the summit of educational policy. Our conversation uncovers the tidal waves of change he's championed, including the revamp of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the battle against the for-profit education sector's predatory tactics. With over $136 billion in student debt erased, a new dawn has arrived for countless Americans, and we're here to narrate this pivotal chapter. Dr. Cardona brings to light the critical need for accessible education financing, the necessity for clarity in aid information, and the vital role of educational institutions in stemming the tide of rising tuition costs and the student debt crisis.

Tune in to hear how the SAVE program emerges as a beacon of hope, providing borrowers a lifeline through repayment plans that guard against the daunting shadows of overwhelming interest. Dr. Cardona's insights, shaped by his personal odyssey and professional convictions, serve as a guiding star for learners across the nation. We lay out the next steps for those grappling with student loan debt and invite you to join the discourse by sharing your voice in our comments. Whether you're affected by student loans or invested in the future of education policy, this episode offers a wealth of knowledge and resources. Subscribe, engage, and let the wisdom of Secretary Cardona illuminate your understanding of the complex world of education finance.

SAVE Program Link, https://studentaid.gov/announcements-events/save-plan

Speaker 1:

Hi, this is E-Lawyer T Zockely, and welcome back to the RENT podcast, where we pull back to curtain and break down the people, the policies and the politics of our higher education system. The US Department of Education is responsible for a myriad of issues that impact K-12 schools across the country and our institutions of higher education that are titled for eligible. The Department is responsible for implementing a president's agenda for K-12 and higher education in this country. The Department oversees what is probably the largest bank in the country, the Federal Student Aid Program, which provides more than $240 billion of aid to undergraduates and graduate students. It is also responsible for civil rights, for implementing Title IX regulations and for promulgating a whole host of rules and regulations that the Higher Education Act authorizes it to do. So. It is a huge, very complex and very influential organization when it comes particularly to higher education in this country.

Speaker 1:

The Department is overseen by the Secretary of Education, who is appointed by the President of the United States and then confirmed by the US Senate, and today it's my privilege to welcome onto the RENT the 12th Secretary of Education, dr Miguel Cardona. Secretary Cardona has agreed to come onto the RENT to talk about what's going on in the Department of Education these days and, in particular, focus his comments on student loan borrowers, those individuals that have had to take on enormous amounts of debt in order to finance their education. In some cases, the US Department of Education has not always helped them discharge that debt in the ways that were intended by Congress. Some examples are that are the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which up until this point had about a 90% rejection rate. The Department of Education, under the Biden administration and under the leadership of Secretary Cardona, has discharged billions of dollars in debt and changed the way that borrowers pay back student loans. This has been, I think, an underreported issue. Sometimes we catch the headlines about just the debt relief, but the SAFE program, which has been designed to help repayment, to help borrowers repay those loans in ways that don't straddle them with enormous amounts of interest in debt over time, is a huge issue. One of my previous guests here on the RENT, the Kias Smith Alice, mentioned how incredibly crippling this debt is for black learners and for many of those black learners. They have more debt today than they did when they first entered their program of study, which is not what we want for our learners. We don't want them saddled with backbreaking debt for the rest of their lives.

Speaker 1:

Now, depending on which side of the aisle you're on, I know that you have varying opinions about student loan debt forgiveness. At the heart of this for me, is having a manageable way of financing your education, having enough information so that I know, or my son or daughter knows, what they're paying for and what they can expect and what kind of aid is available, what kind of loans are available and what is the repayment prospects of those loans based on the program of study I'm going into. And I feel that there's an expectation that institutions hold down the cost of education and become responsible in part for that debt. So I know that we can debate student loan policy all day long. Lots of organizations are doing that, so I'm not going to lean into that, but I do want to get into this discussion with Secretary Cardona. So with that, thank you for joining me on the rant.

Speaker 1:

Please hit subscribe if you're following us on this YouTube channel. Continue to follow us on this on your favorite podcast platform and, with that, help me welcome 12. Secretary of Education, miguel Cardona. Secretary Cardona, welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 2:

Great to be with you, Eli.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's great to have you. You look great, you look energized. Hard to believe it's an election year already, but a lot going on in the Biden administration, a lot going on in the Department of Education. But before we jump into that, I want our listeners to know a little bit more about you. You've come a long way since your days in Connecticut public schools. Tell us how your time as a student, as a teacher, as a K-12 administrator Shape the way that you lead the Department of Education.

Speaker 2:

Well, I appreciate that. You know I always get to see you again. You know you're your fierce champion for students and for higher education and you know right, so I. I was born and raised in a community that right now has about 80% of the students living At or below the poverty level. You know my wife and me raised our two children they say my my son graduate. My daughter still attends the schools. I was a teacher there. It was a school principal there for 10 years. I was a district leader, ended up becoming commissioner of education. But even before that, when I was in high school, I was a technical high school graduate.

Speaker 2:

So you know the experience of being a technical high school graduate, going on to college to become a teacher, living in a community that has tremendous need, and Having the experience of being a fourth-grade teacher and being a principal of a school, bilingual students and students with Autism and children and medical needs all shaped my experience as secretary of education really informed a lot of the decisions that I make. I look at it from those the same perspective, that Not only as a teacher but also as a parent of students in a school system.

Speaker 1:

That's great. I can really see your experiences come out in the way that you lead, so it's wonderful to see that authenticity. Now the Biden administration Been responsible for some major changes to the student loan process. Your department, department of education, has revamped the public service loan forgiveness program. They've clamped down on for-profit predatory practices, created some aggressive borrow defense rules. But the biggest news has to be that the department has forgiven more than a hundred and thirty six billion dollars, that's with a B of student loan debt. That is a major achievement and a huge impact on everyday Americans across this country. Tell our listeners about those efforts and what more are you hoping to do for student loan borrowers? I'm not happy to talk about that.

Speaker 2:

But look, you know, one of the things I didn't mention my previous response was I'm a first-gen college kid, Right, and you know my parents came here from Puerto Rico to get kids a better life. This whole college experience for me was really eye-opening. You know, I didn't even fill out the FAFSA because I didn't want to put that pressure on my parents and I knew I was eligible. You know.

Speaker 1:

I just didn't. It was such an intimidating thing.

Speaker 2:

So the grand scheme of things were fixing a very broken system. Higher education in this country has been a separation of the haves and have nots and, thanks to people like you and others, you committed your life to making opportunities available to students who deserve it, capable of lifting our country. But our system wasn't always designed that way. So $137 billion in counting debt forgiveness, public service loan forgiveness that program was so broken. Only 7,000 people got it Absolutely In four years. 98% denial rate, when we got in over 950,000 people close to a million people already. Over $50 billion in debt relief of it. We're going after these predatory colleges that are preying on first-gen kids who want they want to get a degree, they want to help their families and they're being sold these dreams and then the colleges close and the students are left in. So we did a lot of discharge there, but, as you mentioned, we're also trying to set it up so that we're not in the same position five years from now.

Speaker 2:

So we're taking care of the debt relief but we're taking care of some of the root causes. We're holding colleges accountable for a better return on investment. We're making sure that we're lifting up our community colleges, pathways to high-skill, high-paying careers With the recognition that you could go back for a four-year degree and level up or skill up and get more earning potential. You know we're doing those things. We have the save plan. You know it's funny because loan forgiveness gets a lot of attention. But I'm just as excited about the save plan. Undergraduate loan repayment is going to be cut in half of borrowers. That's significant. Man that would take a 17-year-old me and say you know what? I can't go to college because I could afford those payments. I'm not putting too much on my parents' shoulders and that's the message that the president, the vice president, want across the country. Higher education should be for everyone, not just people born into wealth.

Speaker 1:

That's right, and I think this speaks not only to students like you and I, students of color, but low-income students all across this country. I mean that's I think the biggest challenge right now and and an erosion in the confidence in higher education is the cost, the total cost, not only to go to school, but the cost of borrowing, and the SAVE program has really made it a lot more realistic for students and their families to be able to afford to go to college. So what would be your message to borrowers who haven't signed up for the SAVE program?

Speaker 2:

Go sign up for SAVE, sign up for PSLF. If you're a public servant, you might have your loans discharged. I spoke in educators and nurses and veterans who've had over $100,000 in debt forgiven. You know just today I was at Bowie State University in Maryland, I had a gentleman on the way out stop being set. I qualified for public service law, forgiveness, and now I could buy a home. Like these are life-changing things, you know. And then another thing that you know we're working on, which is hard work, is redoing FAFSA.

Speaker 2:

Right now we know another $600,000 students could be eligible for FAFSA with the new formula. We know that the total amount is up to $7,000, almost $400,000. So almost $7,400 for $600,000 more students Like that's huge. You know, changing this process after 40 years of being dormant and flat funded, flat funding is a difficult process and we're rolling up our sleeves. We're not running away from this issue. We're going to get it right, we're going to fix it and we're going to give access to higher education to more people across this country. That's how you make sure the United States goes back to the top when it comes to education, opening doors of access for more students. That's the responsibility we have. It's hard work. It's hard work but it's worth doing. Man, I'd rather struggle and have hard work in front of me than protect the status quo, because I know there are so many students who are capable of Eloi who are?

Speaker 2:

bright, who just need that door open, man, and that's what we're fighting for, and that's what we're going to do.

Speaker 1:

Well, I'm glad you're fighting for our students and for our country. Mr Secretary, as we begin to wrap up, let me ask you a final question. You've been through a lot of the 19 pandemic reopening schools, rulings against affirmative action. What's been your proudest moment as Secretary?

Speaker 2:

You know, there's been a lot of experiences where I'm blessed to be front-lining, to be talking to families who are fighting for safer schools, to be talking to students who are getting mental health support in schools now because of the work we've done or students, as mentioned before, that now have long forgiveness and are able to continue with their education.

Speaker 2:

My proudest moment is always, eloy, when I'm sitting with the students, the beneficiaries of the work that we're doing. Today I talked to students in college who are part of a diversification program right, the Augusta Hawkins grant was, for the first time ever, funded by this president and I got to meet young black men that are going into the teaching profession to help their community through grants, through this funding that the president put forward, and I know that the experiences that they have as teachers will impact black and brown students in their classrooms in a way that is different, because this might be the first time they've had a black teacher. I know the difference it's making in the classroom because I was a teacher. I was a student who remembers his first teacher of color, so I get to see the faces of the policy, eloy.

Speaker 2:

And I think that, to me, is the greatest thing. When you got a kid who you know. I went to public schools my whole life. I went to state universities. I had only what the public system offered. I get to see the fruit of those efforts of public schools and public universities and you know, to see that experience and know that that's what I'm fighting for. Me that's the best part of the job.

Speaker 1:

Well, mr Secretary, thank you for your leadership, thank you for your commitment to our country and thank you for being on the rant.

Speaker 2:

I appreciate it, man, thanks for having me. I wish you continued success. Eloy, take care.

Speaker 1:

All right, you too, take care. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Secretary Codona. I had a great time talking to him and I want to really thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to be here with us on the rant and to talk about issues like student loan debt forgiveness and the SAVE program, which is incredibly important to borrowers today. I'll put information about the SAVE program in the comment section. If you are or you know a student loan borrower, make sure that they're signing up for the SAVE program, and thank you all for continuing to follow us here on the rant. As I said before, hit subscribe. If you're following us here on this YouTube channel, hit the like button, leave us your comments, let me know what you thought about my conversation with the secretary and if you're following us on an audio podcast, continue to follow us on all of your favorite podcast platforms. I'm John Nguyen, everybody, and we'll see you again soon.

Student Loan Forgiveness and Reform
Student Loan Forgiveness and the SAVE Program