Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday urged the Senate to overhaul student lending, asserting that the banking industry has had “a free ride from taxpayers for too long” and that executives with lending giant Sallie Mae have enriched themselves as borrowers rack up college debt, reports the Washington Post.

“Working Americans pay while bankers get rich,” Duncan said in a prepared statement. “Sallie Mae executives have paid themselves hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade while teachers, nurses, and scientists — the backbone of the new economy — face crushing debt because of runaway college tuition costs.”

Duncan’s unusually pointed critique marked an escalation in the student loan debate as the Obama administration seeks to end a program that uses private lenders as middlemen for federally backed loans. The tone of the comments echoed President Obama’s recent populist rhetoric about the need to expand regulation of Wall Street…

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staff and wire services reports