B24-0170 – New Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights Amendment Act of 2021

Joshua Hodge 

The Committee on Business & Economic Development and the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety Hearing on: B24-0170 – New Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights Amendment Act of 2021 

Joshua Hodge 

Policy and Communications Manager 

Democrats for Education Reform DC 

My name is Joshua Hodge, and I am a Ward 6 resident and current graduate student at Howard University. I am submitting written testimony on behalf of Democrats for Education Reform DC (DFER DC). DFER DC works to ensure all students, particularly students of color and students from low-income families, graduate from high school and receive a high-quality, affordable college education or work-based experience and credentials necessary to immediately earn a livable wage. 

I am pleased to share testimony in support of B24-0170 – “New Student Loan Borrower Bill Of Rights Amendment Act Of 2021.” Student loan debt is a tremendous barrier for many when it comes to attending higher education institutions and yoke around their futures beyond. It impacts Black and Brown communities disproportionately. 

For Black and Brown students and those from low-income backgrounds, debt aversion is real. It is leading to more students, especially students of color, to forgo attending a post secondary institution even though higher education is a means to upward economic mobility. For those that overcome the barrier like myself, the risk is steep. 

D.C. has the highest average student loan balance of any state, and it’s not even close.1 The average student loan balance among Washington, DC residents is $55,077 per borrower.2 For Black students, this number is a lot higher. Immediate action needs to be taken to ensure all students receive an equal opportunity to attend school. Therefore, I commend the DC Council for considering B24-0170, the New Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights Amendment Act of 2021. This bill is critical in ensuring students, borrowers no longer in school, and their families are not preyed on by lenders and have a fair shot at repaying their loans. 

I would also encourage the Committee to examine three additional ways to lessen, on the front end, student loan debt by supporting expansion of dual enrollment and early graduation opportunities for DC public and public charter students, ending legacy admissions in DC, and urging Congress to increase targeted funding of the DC TAG program for low-income and hard-pressed middle class families. 

Support the Expansion of Dual Enrollment Opportunities for DC Public and Public Charter Students 

One of the easiest ways to increase college affordability is to speed time to degree by helping high school students take college level courses in high school or encouraging them to graduate from high school early if they’re academically ready to do so. 

As a formally low-income student in high school, the price of college was something that was always on my mind. Something that I feared would be a barrier for me to attending college. When I was 16 and still a junior in high school, I began attending Minneapolis Community and Technical College through the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program, which allows 10th, 11th and 12th grade students to earn college credit while still in high school — effectively enabling them to attend college for free.3 This was an outstanding opportunity for me, because without it I would not be able to afford college. I was able to graduate with my associates degree at the age of 18 completely debt free. I went on to attend and graduated from the University of Minnesota with my bachelors degree at the age of 20 with only about $8,000 in student loans. My lack of student debt has been a blessing for me and my family. It has helped me be in a position where I can be enrolled in Howard University without fear of crippling undergraduate and graduate school debt. 

Washington, DC should study its current dual enrollment opportunities to determine how to expand the program offerings to more students, and I would go further and suggest incentivizing early high school graduation. Give a portion of what we would spend on students in 12th grade to their families in the form of a scholarship that can be used at any public college. The District would save money and so would families.

End Legacy Preference Admissions in DC Higher Education Institutions 

I will also ask the DC Council to support the end of legacy preferences in college admissions and increase socioeconomic diversity at selective institutions of higher education. Generally, the legacy preference admissions is essentially white affirmative action: it is an alumni preference bonus in admissions that allows more white students to be admitted to top ten universities than the total number of Black and Latinx students admitted under affirmative action policies.5 Currently, American University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University all utilize a legacy preference.6 We urge you to ask them to cancel this policy and open affordable seats at their institutions to low-income students of color from DC public and public charter schools. 

Lower the DC Tag and Increase Grants for Low-Income Students of Color 

Second, we would recommend the Council urge Congress to better target and increase the DC Tuition Assistance Program (DC TAG) program. The DC DC TAG program was created in 1999 by Congress to expand higher education choices for college-bound residents of the District of Columbia.7 Currently, the eligible family income threshold is set to a maximum of $515,108.8 This is too high given the fact that the 2019 median family income among households with children in the District of Columbia is $106,700, and that about half of our students are considered “at-risk.” Wealthy families do not need help affording college. Better would be to provide increased grant aid that currently is going to the already very comfortable instead to low-income families confronting major student loan debt. 

Therefore, we propose a two-pronged approach to advance socioeconomic opportunities and racial equity through higher education: urge Congress to lower the student’s family taxable annual income threshold for the DC TAG eligibility and re-route the cost savings to provide a larger grant for those still eligible if not provide additional financial aid for students attending UDC. 

Financial aid should go to those who truly need it. 

Thank you for allowing me to testify in support of B24-0170 and recommend additional ways for the DC Council to prevent, on the frontend, DC public and public charter school students from being saddled with overly burdensome student loan debt.