Op-Ed From Senator Murray on Student Debt

I recently heard from a Seattle University student named Cory. He’s a history major and wants to be a teacher one day. But on his way to meeting those goals, he knows he’ll have to continue paying off his student debt for many years to come. And Cory said that’s a tough topic for him and many of his friends. In fact, he’s talked to some students who say they might have to drop out of college because the cost is simply too high.

Students across our state and right here in this community are investing in themselves and their education. But the high costs of college and student debt are holding them back.
Last month I asked students to tell me what they’re going through because I consider it to be one of my most important jobs as a Senator to make sure Washington state families have a seat at the table and a voice in our nation’s capital. And sharing stories from students and families is one part of my larger effort in Congress to combat rising college costs and make sure students can graduate without the crushing burden of student debt.

Across the country the yearly costs of tuition, room, and board at a public, four-year institution is five and a half times what it was in the early 1980s. Overall, nearly 42 million Americans hold more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. In fact, every second, student debt in our country grows by nearly $3,000.

There are many reasons why college has gotten more and more expensive. But the result has been the same. It has strained the budgets of middle-class families across the country. In some cases, it forces many students to drop out before they earn their degree. I heard from one UW student in Bothell named Aretha who said she’s taken on nearly $65,000 in student loans to pay for college. She’s worried that when she graduates, she won’t be able to get a job in the field she’s passionate about because her income wouldn’t make a dent in paying back that debt.
Here’s what I’m working on in Congress to help students like Aretha and Cory. I want to make sure colleges and universities bring down the cost of college. One way to do that would be by holding schools accountable for ensuring students and taxpayers get a good return on their investment in higher education.

I also support legislation to gives students the chance to attend community college, tuition free. And I want to make sure more students can take advantage of financial aid, especially need-based aid that helps keep debt down, like Pell Grants, so they can better afford college.
We should let borrowers refinance their student debt to today’s lower rates. Right now, you can reduce your car and home loan payments through refinancing. You should be able to do the same with your student loans.

And to pay for these solutions, we should finally close some of the most egregious special interest loopholes that right now, only benefit the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few.

These solutions should be a national priority. When more students are able to further their education, it doesn’t just help them. A highly educated workforce helps our economy grow from the middle out, not the top down. And it strengthens the workforce we’ll need to compete and lead the world in the 21st century economy.

For me, this isn’t just another issue. It’s personal. When I was young, my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Within a few short years, he could no longer work, and without warning, my family had fallen on hard times. Thankfully, my brothers and sisters and I went to college with help from what are now known as Pell Grants. And my mom was able to get the skills she needed to get a better paying job through a worker training program at Lake Washington Vocational School.

Even through those hard times, we never lost hope that with a good education, we would be able to find our footing and earn our way to a stable middle class life. This country never turned its back on us. And today, we can’t turn our backs on the millions of families, just like mine, who need a path forward to pay back their student debt.

Over the next few months, I want to keep hearing from students in Seattle (murray.senate.gov/collegeaffordability). And I’ll continue to work hard in the U.S. Senate to make sure higher education and earning a ticket to the middle class is a reality for more students in Seattle and across Washington state.

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