U.S. Education Secretary speaks at the annual Federal Student Aid conference being held at the Georgia World Congress Center. HYOSUB SHIN/STAFF

DeVos: Student loan debt becoming a “crisis”

The federal government's top education official warned an audience in Atlanta Tuesday of a "crisis" of rising college student loan debt and defaults on student loans.

"We have a crisis in higher education," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said at the start of the annual Federal Student Aid (FSA) training conference, held at the Georgia World Congress Center. 

DeVos cited statistics that show the FSA holds about $1.5 trillion in student loans, triple the amount from 2007. She also told the audience that 43 percent of student loans are considered "at risk."

DeVos said a national conversation is needed about college. She said there's been too much of an emphasis on students completing a four-year college degree. Educators, she said, should talk more with students about which educational pathways are best and the federal government must be a more responsible lender.

The U.S. Department of Education has been in ongoing legal battles concerning student loan forgiveness rules implemented during the Obama administration. A federal judge recently ruled the department must follow the Obama administration guidelines, which allow students to have their federal student loans forgiven if a school employed illegal or deceptive practices to encourage the students to borrow debt to attend the school. DeVos has proposed a new formula, calling the Obama-era rules confusing to schools and students and costly to the department.

About 6,000 people are expected to attend the four-day conference.

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