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Trump exec order to hold colleges accountable for student loan debt, free speech

Brittany De Lea

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Thursday regarding free speech on college campuses and public institutions’ responsibilities regarding student loan debt.

According to a senior administration official, the order seeks to ensure that public institutions comply with the First Amendment and that private schools fulfill their own stated free speech standards.

A White House official suggested failure to comply could put grant money at risk. In order to receive federal dollars an institution will need to agree to follow certain conditions of receiving the money.

Citing the example of Hayden Williams – a conservative Berkeley student who was assaulted on campus – during a recent event, Trump suggested it would be “costly” for schools to suppress free speech.

“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people … to speak,” Trump had said during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee. “Free speech. And if they don’t, it will be very costly.”

Agencies are also expected to be directed to gather information regarding student debt, earnings and default rates across majors from higher education institutions, as it seeks to help prospective students evaluate the quality and prospects of different programs.

Further, the White House will ask for policy recommendations as to how it can shift some of the onus of student loan risk onto public institutions.

The government is currently responsible for backing up what students cannot repay in loans – meaning the obligation ultimately falls on taxpayers. Students are required to pay back their loans regardless of the “quality” of education received, which may directly affect their ability to fulfill obligations as a borrower, according to the White House. Unfulfilled obligations bear no consequence on the college.

In Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget, officials outlined a proposal to require colleges that accept taxpayer funds to “have skin in the game through a loan risk-sharing program.”

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Earlier this week the White House proposed a cap on student loans, among other provisions, aimed at bringing down the costs of higher education – including efforts to cap a borrower’s monthly payment at 12.5 percent of discretionary income.

Outstanding student loan debt surpassed $1.5 trillion in 2018, doubling over the past decade.

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