The Biden administration is thinking about imposing new rules on universities to prevent unstated costs for food and textbooks.
These modifications are a part of a package of improvements that the Education Department is discussing at a new round of policy talks this week. The primary focus of the negotiations is increasing federal oversight of the higher education sector, which President Joe Biden has stated is a top goal in his attempts to lower the skyrocketing expense of higher education and reduce the debt that accompanying student loans.
During a phone conversation with reporters in October, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stated, “The president told me directly that he wants us to be equally as aggressive with debt relief and accountability.”
Certain proposed modifications to federal law would prohibit colleges from keeping a portion of the funds they receive for students from low-income families whose school meal plans are funded by federal financial aid.
Students use special meal funds, often known as “flex” accounts, at several institutions to help pay for a portion of their food expenses (at grocery stores, for example). The federal government, which assists institutions with financial aid programs, may contribute money to those accounts.
However, by the end of the year, students don’t always use all of their “flex” money, and in certain instances, schools wind up keeping the difference.
According to the department, that is unfair. According to the agency, schools ought to return students’ money if they require it.
“We are concerned that, when taken as a whole, it does represent a significant amount of money,” Education Department representative Greg Martin stated during the talks on Monday. “That money belongs to the students.”
Most schools and universities would not be able to charge students automatically for books and supplies if a separate adjustment were made. Present regulations allow schools to charge students for books and supplies even when they can obtain the same things for less money elsewhere. This is known as “tuition and fees.”
Under the proposed rule, the agency expresses worry that students may find less expensive resources or determine whether their school is delivering the best economical arrangement limited by a lack of information and transparency.
Proponents of affordable textbooks applauded the action. According to Daniel Williamson, managing director of the education group OpenStax, students are occasionally charged for resources they could have had for less money due to the existing condition of automatic billing mechanisms.