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Keeping Student Loans Manageable And College Affordable

August 29, 2013
In The News

This month, I joined President Barack Obama in the Oval Office for a rare event in Washington: a bill signing on a measure that provides real help for the American people. With the stroke of a pen, the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act reduced the interest rates for 11 million undergraduate students for the coming academic year. It would have been tempting for the president and the five members of Congress who joined him to revel in the moment — after all, this Congress has produced meager results for the American people on a whole range of critical issues.

Instead, the president declared correctly that "our work is not done." Indeed, the interest rate reduction — although a relief to students who rely on Stafford Loans — addresses only one aspect of college affordability: managing student loan debt. A much larger job remains to be done to control rising tuition costs and to provide better information for students and families about the life decision that entering post-high school education entails.  Financially, going to college or graduate school is the equivalent of buying a home. The specter of student loan debt can haunt a student for years.

As a member of the House Education Committee, I am deeply involved in higher education issues, and I was pleased to see that President Obama has turned his words in the Oval Office into action. Laying out a reform plan for higher education, as he did in Buffalo, N.Y., he challenged his Department of Education and the Congress to get serious about addressing the root causes of spiraling college costs and the subsequent explosion of student loan debt.

First, the proposals President Obama offered in his Buffalo speech would build on ideas that I have championed in the House to give students and families the information they need to make the right educational and financial decisions. His proposed college rating system would challenge the popular college rankings available to families today, and provide incentives for schools to improve their value for students. There are too few incentives for schools to make their degrees more affordable, and the best leverage the federal government has is to control access to federal loans and grants that help students pay tuition.

The president's proposal to expand the Pay As You Earn program, limiting monthly college loan payments to 10 percent of income to ensure that borrowers can manage their finances, builds on provisions I helped pass as part of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2010 and the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. Lowering monthly payments for graduates struggling with their bills will ease the burden of hefty student loans. Helping graduates stay in good financial standing will benefit our economy and ensure that young families are not consumed with repaying student debt.

Finally, I believe that promoting innovation in higher education is crucial to reining in college costs in the long term. Technological advancements and partnerships between high schools and colleges can allow students to obtain more college credits at a lower cost, reducing the time they spend as full-time college students and reducing debt. Innovations like these are happening in isolated pockets around the country, including here in Connecticut, but it is time to scale them up and expand best practices to give all students the chance to reduce their college costs. Having co-authored a bill that would help to promote opportunities for students to earn dual credits, we can do more to encourage students to continue their education and help to reduce their overall costs.

I am encouraged that efforts to reduce the cost of college and maintain the ladder into the middle class that a higher education can provide are gaining national attention. Good, middle-class jobs in Connecticut and around the country increasingly require a post-high school degree, and it is still the best way for young people to invest their futures. I intend to promote new accountability standards for schools, new uses for technology and better debt management options, so that every student has the opportunity to graduate from college.