Ron and Senator Jeff Merkley met with students last week at the University of Oregon and Southern Oregon University to discuss a multi-pronged approach to tackle the nationwide problem of mounting student debt and rising college costs.
“A lot of students in Oregon and around the country feel that they’re getting hit by a wrecking ball when it comes to paying for an education,” Ron said. “We ought to be doing more to get past the ‘blame game’ and to focus on real solutions, both to contain the escalating cost and to prevent the crushing debt that comes about with increased tuition.”
The Oregon senators heard poignant and painful accounts from students on both campuses worried that debt will hamstring their lives after college.
“It would be nice if college were affordable because then I could plan ahead,” said Lane Community College student Jazzmen Vega-Heath after the Eugene roundtable at the University of Oregon.
And the senators also heard troubling takes about students as young as 13 and 14 years old dropping out of rural Oregon schools in the belief that they would never stand a chance at going on to afford college.
Ron already has introduced a bipartisan bill, the “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which would provide college-bound students powerful new tools for comparing colleges and specific programs of study on measures such as total cost, likelihood of graduating, and potential earnings.
And he will soon introduce the PARTNERSHIPS Act, a bill that Senator Merkley is co-sponsoring that would establish a new incentive program rewarding states that increase their investments in public higher education in exchange for holding down tuition costs.
“I’m constantly hearing the concerns of the students here,” said University of Oregon student Helena Schlegel, “who are struggling to pay the bills - -whether it’s their loans, their tuition, their food, their books or their rent.”
The PARTNERSHIPS Act would also expand and make permanent critical tax incentives aimed at helping students and families afford college, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
“Both the students and the universities that are willing to step up would win,” Ron said.
“The students would win because as we heard, students are just getting clobbered by these costs,” he said. “The colleges have said the states haven’t invested enough in education. Now, those colleges would win because if they held down tuition, the federal government would make additional help available.”
Senator Merkley recently introduced the Access to Fair Financial Options for Repaying Debt (AFFORD) Act, a bill Ron is co-sponsoring that would guarantee all students are able to affordably pay off their student loans by making an income-based repayment option available to all student borrowers.
Students at both Southern Oregon University and the University of Oregon said after hearing the Oregon senators’ legislative proposals that they were encouraged by the spotlight on an issue that’s especially relevant for them.
“I would love nothing more than affordable higher education in the United States,’’ Southern Oregon University student Emily Pfeiffer said after the roundtable on the Ashland campus.