Republicans proposing revamp of federal student aid programs

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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are proposing to revamp federal student loan programs by putting caps on how much students and parents can borrow even as they call for simplifying the application process.

The student aid provisions are part of a massive rewrite of higher education legislation introduced by Republican Reps. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, chair of the House Committee on Education, and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky, chairman of the panel's higher education subcommittee.

"Unfortunately, today's chaotic maze of federal aid programs, requirements and red tape has driven up college costs and made pursuing and finishing a postsecondary education unworkable for far too many individuals," a fact sheet on the bill states.

The legislation aims to help schools better prepare students for careers. "There are 6 million unfilled jobs in this country, and we need to make sure students and prospective students have access to the right education matching the skills they need to get those jobs," Guthrie said in a statement.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the measure "pulls the rug out from borrowers and gives unfettered access to federal funding with no accountability." She said the end result will be making college more expensive for low-income students.

The legislation would create a new Federal loan program for undergraduate students with "reasonable annual and aggregate limits" on borrowing. The goal, the bill says, is to ensure "responsible lending." Repayment would be on a standard 10-year plan or a single income-based option.

Federal work-study programs would be increased, with partnerships between colleges and industry encouraged to "expand earn-and-learn opportunities leading to high-wage, high-skill and high-demand careers," according to the fact sheet.

The legislation calls for a simplified process for applying for federal financial aid.

That's something Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called for, too. Earlier this week she said students should be able to apply for aid through a mobile app, similar to the way they order food or find a ride.

The education secretary would be required under the legislation to create a "College Dashboard" to provide students and their families with basic information about schools, including average debt of borrowers at graduation and average salary of graduates five and 10 years out.

The question of whether schools prepare students for "gainful employment" has been a big issue in the for-profit college industry. Former students at for-profit schools have filed requests with the U.S. Department of Education for student loan forgiveness, claiming their schools didn't prepare them for jobs that would enable them to pay back their student loans. The department under DeVos has delayed action on those requests while rules on the so-called "borrower's defense" claims are rewritten.

The legislation released Friday repeals the gainful employment requirement for schools participating in federal financial aid programs and bars the education secretary from reinstating it.

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