The next U.S. education secretary should use the long-neglected authority they have under the nation’s main higher education law to promote greater racial equity, argue top leaders of the advocacy group Student Defense.
In a paper, the group’s president, Aaron Ament, and vice president and chief counsel, Daniel Zibel, write the Higher Education Act gives the secretary the power to determine which institutions can participate in the federal direct student loan program.
That means, for example, that the Education Department can require institutions that want to accept direct loans to sign agreements to enroll students receiving Pell Grants at a commensurate rate as those not receiving the aid, write Ament and Zibel. The department could also require agreements that Pell Grant-recipient students graduate at the same rate as those not receiving the grants, or that they graduate at a minimum rate to make sure colleges are helping them succeed.
The department could also use its authority to hold academic programs at colleges accountable, and it could require that colleges be financially responsible if students are unable to repay their college loans, the paper said. However, the department has never used its authority for those purposes, the paper said.
“Because the Department has wide authority over the content of those agreements,” the paper said, “the Department can use those agreements as a gatekeeper to mandate ‘quality assurance’ programs, promote social equity, and create structures for institutions to have financial ‘skin in the game’ with respect to student loan repayment.”