When you combine the rapid social and economic changes wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic with a new incoming Biden administration and shift in the balance of power between parties in Washington, several aspects of our financial lives are likely to be affected – including educational costs. From potential student loan forgiveness to more educational options and tuition freezes, here are the ways educational costs may change in 2021 – for better or worse:
Four-year public college tuition costs rose a mere 1.1% for the 2020-2021 school year – the first time in decades the increase has failed to surpass the rate of inflation. The increase of 2.1% in private four-year college tuition was also among the lowest since 1990.
"This year's data underscore the profound impact Covid-19 has had on higher education, " said Jessica Howell, The College Board's vice president for research in a statement.
In fact, tuition freezes are becoming increasingly common at many universities, while others are offering online instruction at discounted rates.That pattern is likely to continue through 2021.
"Several colleges have announced either a tuition freeze or a reduction in tuition for the fall 2021 semester, in order to encourage those who may be facing financial difficulties due to Covid to still enroll and/or continue their path in higher education. The motivation behind lowering tuition or offering a tuition freeze, is to build their student bodies up to help mitigate the loss of increased revenue," said Lauren Maxwell, an assistant vice president at Trustco Bank.
The shift to online learning may have more lasting impacts. An increasing number of universities are offering online or hybrid options at a lower rate than traditional in-person instruction. This may create a bifurcation in cost structures long-term, and offer students a greater variety of educational options, including more geographic and work-study schedule flexibility. Over time, this may reduce reliance on student loans to some extent.
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The Biden administration has indicated its support for a $10,000 federal student loan forgiveness plan, and on Wednesday extended the payment pause on federal student loans through at least September 2021. That action extended the Jan. 31 deadline on the repayment moratorium currently in place. That means federal student loan borrowers can expect a continued reprieve on accumulating interest as well as payment, in addition to some potential loan forgiveness. However, these only apply to federal student loan borrowers, so private loan borrowers will need to consult with their lenders regarding any loan modifications or flexibilities.
"While Congress ultimately left student loan forgiveness out of the most recent stimulus package, the incoming administration has indicated they would like them to revisit the issue, and effectively cancel $10,000 of student loan debt immediately. In the interim, student loan payments for federal loans have been paused through September, 2021, absent any further extensions. Those that have been economically impacted by Covid should explore any options they may have with their loan carrier, including income-based repayment plans, or re-financing their student loan debt to a lower interest rate, " says Maxwell.
Other issues likely to be addressed this year include a simplification of income-sensitive repayment plans; a solution to the "tax bomb" phenomenon that taxes any loan forgiveness as income, and better access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
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