Americans need student debt relief

What does it say about our nation’s priorities when we make it easier to refinance a car loan than a student loan?

I was the first in my family to attend college, and I needed grants and loans to get through undergraduate and graduate school. It wasn’t easy back then, but it’s harder now. Federal Pell Grants have not kept pace with the cost of college, forcing students to take on more debt as they pursue their dreams. I witnessed this firsthand as chancellor of WSU Spokane, and teaching at Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga.

About 44 million Americans carry nearly $1.5 trillion in student debt -- two-thirds of it is held by women, making it more difficult for them to get ahead. The average student debt in Washington state is $23,000.

Those are intimidating figures, and they serve as a barrier to achieving a higher education degree and the opportunities that come with it. We should be providing more incentives, but House Republican leaders, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, are moving in the opposite direction. For instance, she voted for a House tax bill that would have discouraged the pursuit of higher education.

Led by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, an update of the Higher Education Act is underway, and I support her efforts to include debt relief. Since the last reauthorization, in 2007, the cost of student loan debt has tripled. In the House, I support the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, which would lower the interest rate on federal student loans and allow Americans with multiple loans to consolidate and refinance them at a lower rate.

Along with lower costs and refinancing, we should expand strategic loan forgiveness programs. For example, medical students can have their loans reduced or forgiven if they agree to work in underserved rural areas. We should encourage more of these mutually beneficial arrangements.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are advancing a plan that would “make higher education less affordable, saddle students with greater debt, and push more students into loan default,” according higher education advocates.

For many of the 60,000 people attending colleges, universities and technical schools in the 5th Congressional District, the choice to take on debt was a difficult one.  Student debt can last decades - or even a lifetime - making it hard for young people to start a family or buy their first home. It’s the most difficult debt to discharge.

Business leaders say some jobs are difficult to fill, because the workforce isn’t prepared. At the same time, we make it hard for people to access college or specialized training.

A government that bails out banks, can find ways to help young people held back by debt.

Lisa Brown for Congress
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