FACT SHEET: The State Of Higher Education In Virginia

The Commonwealth of Virginia has some of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions, but it is difficult for many Virginians to afford college without incurring significant debt. Average annual tuition and fees at Virginia public colleges are rising, and are already higher than the national average. In 2015, the average student loan debt for students who borrowed to earn a bachelor’s degree at Virginia’s four-year public and private institutions was $26,432. What’s more, it is not only the young that struggle with student debt; the number of seniors aged 60 and older who have student loan debt rose 47% between 2012 and 2017, with the median student loan balance among seniors being $14,950 in 2017.

Borrowers in Virginia and across the nation are in crisis because of the high price of a college education. But it’s not just tuition bills beleaguering student loan borrowers; poor management and excessive fines by student loan servicers like Nelnet and Navient Solutions—the latter of which is headquartered in Virginia—make it even harder for borrowers to pay back their loans. These student loan companies have a track record of failing to inform borrowers of their repayment options or how they can avoid default. As Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial election draws near, there couldn’t be a sharper contrast between the two candidates on policies that would address college affordability and help borrowers with repayment and basic consumer rights. Young people are eager to see solutions to the student debt crisis, and we know that policies like free or debt-free college and putting predatory student loan servicers on a leash via a Borrower’s Bill of Rights would help young Virginians. Student debt affects 1 in 5 households nationwide, and here are some quick facts about the student debt crisis in Virginia:

Nationally, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have yet to produce any sort of comprehensive plan to deal with college affordability and the student debt crisis. Even worse, they want Congress to eliminate important programs and repayment options that limit interest accumulation for borrowers with financial need or provide loan forgiveness for nonprofit and public sector workers.

The same rollback of progress is happening on the state-level in Virginia; Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie has similarly failed to come up with tangible policies to address Virginia’s student debt crisis. Virginia Republicans recently blocked efforts in the state legislature to establish a Borrower’s Bill of rights, which would have protected students struggling with their loans and inadequate student loan servicers, and established a consumer watchdog to remedy these problems. Moreover, Gillespie – a professional lobbyist – has both worked many years for and taken many dollars from student loan servicing companies and big banks, trying to change laws to make it easier for them to profit off of student debt.

The contrast with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam couldn’t be clearer. He has campaigned on a platform to make college debt-free and wants to help borrowers by providing them with greater consumer protections.

Virginia needs a plan to not only help student loan borrowers in the state, but make higher education a public good again for all.

Download the fact sheet here.

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