Betsy DeVos releases more data on student loan debt

The Education Department released new student loan data this week as part of its plan to deal with student loan debt by giving individual consumers more information about what they’re likely to get for their money.

The update to the College Scorecard website adds data from 2,100 programs that offer vocational certificates. It also breaks down average loan amounts by program at schools across the country, showing how much a philosophy major may owe compared to an engineering student at the same college, information previously available only at the school level.

“We committed to students that we would continually improve the College Scorecard so that they could access relevant, accurate and actionable data as they make decisions about their education after high school,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.

The move comes as Democratic 2020 candidates are proposing their own fixes for the student debt crisis. While all politicians generally support efforts to make college costs more transparent, some Democratic presidential candidates are pushing much broader plans to address student loan debt.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to cancel most outstanding loan debt, as well as make tuition and fees free at public colleges and expand the financial aid available for low-income students.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Julian Castro, the former housing secretary, have their own plans to make public college tuition-free. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California, signed on to co-sponsor a bill that would establish a matching grant to states that commit to helping students pay for the full cost of attendance without taking out loans.

Democrats in Congress have criticized the administration for delaying an Obama-era regulation meant to keep for-profit colleges in check, as well as attempting to rewrite a rule that would grant loan forgiveness to students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

DeVos has also taken heat for proposing end a loan forgiveness program for public workers and cutting funding for college affordability programs.

When asked at a congressional budget hearing in March what her department is doing to address the growing amount of student debt, DeVos said she is “enthused” about the agency’s efforts to release more data, which would give students “a lot more tools to be financially literate about the debt they’re taking on.”

But her response didn’t satisfy New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, whose state has the second-highest level of outstanding student loan debt.

“I think what my constituents need is help with that debt burden, not more options,” Shaheen said.

The new data release was prompted by an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in March, which directed the department to publish more information as well as to draw up policy proposals that would hold colleges accountable for student outcomes.

The scorecard already let students compare things like tuition and fees, average loan amounts and graduation rates across schools. The Department also updated graduation rates to include part-time students and those who were returning to school.

The administration is also urging Congress to put a cap on student loan borrowing for graduate students and parents of undergraduates.