Rohit Chopra, the former assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has taken a job as a senior official with the Department of Education. Chopra will work directly for Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and will focus on student protections, analyzing financial capacities of schools, education benefits for military service members and openness of the department’s data.
In his past role with the CFPB, Chopra often contradicted senior officials at the Education Department on student loan issues, including admonishing the administration’s loan contractors, questioning the reliability and quality of government data on student debt and challenging the value of going to college.
Many student advocates and regulators believe the Education Department hasn’t adequately policed its loan contractors that guide borrowers on payment options and collect monthly payments or colleges and universities in general, which annually receive more than $100 billion in federal loans and grants.
Chopra, 33, has compared college to an insurance policy, one with "premiums that keep going up and up" even as Obama administration officials - specifically former Education Secretary Arne Duncan - continue calling it an excellent investment.
Total student debt has doubled in the last eight years to $1.3 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Nearly 1 in 5 of the roughly 42 million Americans with student loans are in default, according to the CFPB. Several million more are delinquent while millions of others watch their balances grow as they delay payments under approved repayment plans, Education Department data show.
Chopra has repeatedly pushed for a strong government response to the student debt crisis, such as allowing borrowers to refinance loans with high interest rates or discharge debt in bankruptcy that they’re unable to repay. In 2013, he said financial regulators and economic policymakers would be irresponsible if they ignored the potential problems stemming from overly indebted Americans struggling to repay student loans.
In mid-2015, Duncan took credit for a small drop in the share of borrowers defaulting early on their federal loans but Chopra argued that most of those defaults could have been avoided entirely had "servicers enrolled borrowers in affordable repayment plans." Chopra stated that loan servicers - the companies the Education Department pays more than $800 million annually to counsel borrowers on their federal repayment options - haven’t properly done their jobs.
Chopra also has publicly shamed Education Department loan contractors. He noted in 2013 on the CFPB’s blog that Navient Corp., known at the time as Sallie Mae, was the worst-ranking loan specialist in three separate department-commissioned surveys of borrowers, colleges and Education Department employees.
Borrowers seeking to move their accounts to another contractor with better customer service were mostly out of luck, he said. The Education Department posted the survey results on an obscure department website, and never proactively told borrowers that the results existed. The department said in response that borrowers could find the survey results by searching for them on Google, which it argued helped improve customer service.