Make Higher Education Affordable

U.S. PIRG Higher Education Director Chris Lindstrom calling on Congress not to double the student loan interest rate.

Student Debt Is Skyrocketing

Higher education in America continues to be critical for both individual success and the social and economic health of our country. While college attendance has grown over the past two decades, state appropriations and federal aid have failed to keep pace with the rising cost of college, shifting more costs to students. As a result, more students than ever must rely on student loans to pay for a college degree, with the average borrower now graduating with over $26,000 in loan debt.  

Heavy student loan debt carries negative consequences for borrowers, who must make monthly payments with their hard-earned dollars rather than save up and get ahead. High debt can affect where graduates live, the kind of careers they pursue, when they start a family or purchase a home, and whether they can save for retirement. The combination of high student debt and low earnings can lead to default, ruined credit and wage garnishment. Such distress runs counter to the goal of higher education.

The U.S. PIRG Higher Education Project is working to:

1. Keep loans affordable: This July, interest rates will double on the subsidized Stafford loans that almost 8 million students use to pay for school. U.S. PIRG is campaigning to prevent interest rates from doubling and advocating for more and better repayment options once a student graduates. 

2. Increase grant aid to students, such as the Pell Grant: The Pell Grant is the federal government's cornerstone financial aid program, providing scholarship aid to almost 10 million students of modest income each year. U.S. PIRG is making sure that every student can rely on their grant to stay in school and make it to graduation.

3. Make textbooks affordable: Textbook prices are rising four times faster than inflation, leaving the average student now paying over $1,100 every year for textbooks. After working to end many tricks the publishing industry used to increase prices unfairly, U.S. PIRG is fostering real competition in the textbook market place by promoting more affordable options like open textbooks and open education resources.

Issue updates

Report | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Easy Money

Congress has the opportunity this year to increase student aid funding by billions of dollars at no additional cost to taxpayers. Bipartisan legislation is pending in Congress that would increase federal student aid for those colleges and universities that utilize the more economically efficient of the two federal student loan programs. The Student Aid Reward (STAR) Act, introduced in March 2005, would increase student aid funding by redirecting the subsidies currently going to student loan companies to needy students.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Rip-off 101: 2nd Edition

The State PIRGs conducted a survey of the most widely purchased textbooks at 59 colleges and universities across the country. Overall, the survey uncovered evidence that textbook prices are a significant part of college costs, that textbook prices are rising at a fast pace, and that publishers use a variety of tactics to inflate the cost of textbooks. In addition, we found that textbook publishers increase textbook prices faster than the rate of inflation between editions and charge American students more for the same books than students in other countries. 

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Private Loans: Who's Borrowing and Why?

In recent years, increases in private education loan borrowing, in which students borrow outside of the federal loan programs, have sparked concerns within the higher education community.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Recommendations for Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

The state PIRGs have approached proposals for Reauthorization of the HEA from the perspective of making college affordable for students: our first series of policy proposals seek to assist students while they are in school, while our second series of proposals intend to deal with the problems too many student borrowers face after they leave school. In addition, we have included a section on the importance of strengthening consumer rights for students, as students are too often the prey of an aggressive and complex marketplace.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Lending A Hand

The student loan industry, a $40 billion dollar-a-year market, is dominated by federally subsidized lenders. These lenders receive millions each year in subsidies from the federal government in addition to income from loan interest payments. This report documents the political spending of the five largest holders of federally subsidized student loans, namely Sallie Mae, the Student Loan Corporation of Citibank (a subsidiary of Citigroup), First Union National Bank, Wells Fargo Education Financial Services, and the National Education Loan Network (Nelnet).

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