The government's student lending model is built on the idea that everyone should pay the same interest rate. That's true whether the borrower attends Harvard, where the most recent two-year default rate on federal loans was 1.5%, or the University of Phoenix, where the comparable rate was 17.9%.

That mismatch offers a seeming opportunity for banks, since they can offer lower rates to many of the safest borrowers. So far banks haven't done so — likely because of the public-relations hit they would take if they offered students at elite schools a better deal than their counterparts at less selective institutions.

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