Pay As You Earn still has room to grow

While recent reforms help college students, they do not go far enough.

by Ronald Dixon

President Barack Obama issued an executive order last week that enhances the eligibility of current and former college students to enroll in a loan repayment program. Under the Pay As You Earn program, students only need to pay up to 10 percent of their discretionary income per month toward student loan bills. It also forgives any remaining debt after 20 years, or 10 years if a participant pursues a career in the public or nonprofit sectors.

While I do applaud the expansion of this program, lawmakers should address several problems with Pay As You Earn.

Too few students even know about loan repayment programs, as only 1.8 million of the approximately 17 million eligible Americans have enrolled in them. Unlike the Affordable Care Act, which the Obama administration heavily advertised, the only students that may learn about the program may be political junkies.

The sign-up process is also complicated and is likely driving away eligible students. To make matters worse, the loan servicers, such as middleman Sallie Mae, have reportedly lacked transparency when answering questions regarding eligibility and sign-up procedures.

The program also doesn’t include the 15 percent of students who have taken private loans, as well as those who have defaulted on their debt obligations.

Finally, only the poorest students are eligible. The segment of student loan borrowers that can actually take advantage of the program may be small. Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of educational resource Edvisors Network, told CNN taht he estimates less than 10 percent of student loan borrowers even qualify.

Instead of only focusing on these students, any student with debt should become eligible for the repayment program.

While Obama’s improvement to Pay As You Earn helps young Americans with college loan debt, it has flaws. More students need to know about the program, and it must be simpler and more inclusive to students with private loans or defaulters.

With these improvements, Pay As You Earn may be what we need to take a chunk out of the more than $1 trillion of economy-stifling student loan debt.