I want all children to have the same opportunities that Joel had to attend and graduate from college without being saddled with debt that could inhibit future opportunities. Higher education is often the best path out of poverty and towards opportunity for children born into lower-income and lower-wealth households. While there are many things that individual students and their families can do to increase the likelihood of college completion, the policy landscape must change in order to address the structural inequalities and racial wealth gap that make it difficult for many children in America to attend college and earn college degrees, and to do so without incurring excessive student debt. Woodstock Institute and its allies are working on many of these policy changes, including:
  1. Enacting local, statewide, and national universal child savings accounts programs. These programs not only increase savings for college but also create a college-bound identity for students and their families, which raises the likelihood that students will attend and graduate from college. While Illinois has not yet acted on the 2010 Illinois Children’s Savings Account Task Force Report and Recommendations, a growing number of states and local governments have adopted child savings account programs beginning at birth or kindergarten. A recent Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report analyzes the benefits and barriers of using 529 college savings plans and basic retail products as the platforms for these programs. Woodstock is working with Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG) and allies to continue the conversation and share the growing body of research and practice about universal accounts at birth. Making it possible for more Illinois students to complete college is important both for students’ economic opportunity and for creating a highly skilled workforce for the Illinois economy.
  2. Expanding access to 529 college savings plans. Working with IABG and Illinois Treasurer Frerichs’ and Governor Rauner’s offices, Woodstock has proposed a number of administrative changes to the Illinois Bright Start 529 plan which would make it more accessible to students and families from lower-income households. Making it easier for more lower-income families to participate in saving for college through Bright Start will increase the socioeconomic and demographic diversity of college students and help more of them have a shot at the middle class.
  3. Creating protections for students from poor quality for-profit colleges, misleading marketing, bad servicing, and high-cost private and institutional loans and prepaid cards. Woodstock has commented on U.S. Department of Education rules on gainful employment and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guidance on campus prepaid cards. Among other suggestions, we have urged the Department to require higher standards for colleges to be eligible to receive federal student loans and to strengthen rules to protect students from being forced into using prepaid cards offered by banks with links to their college. With Illinois Senator Durbin and others, we have advocated for Congress to pass a Student Loan Borrowers’ Bill of Rights and the option to discharge non-federal student loan debt through the bankruptcy process that is available for almost every other kind of debt. We have supported the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in its enforcement actions against shoddy for-profit schools such as Corinthian Colleges and its Request for Information about student loan servicing practices. Just last week, Woodstock issued a report on student loan debt, which captured extensive media coverage. We also recognized the terrific work of CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman Rohit Chopra with a Woodstock Institute Community Investment Award.
I hope that you will follow and support Woodstock’s work in these areas, so we can make more kids’ dreams of a college education a reality.