02.06.18

Higher Education Act: Murray Highlights Need to Address Rising Costs of College and Massive Burden of Student Debt

Far too many students and borrowers cannot afford the costs of college, or struggle with the burden of student debt with no end in sight

 

In hearing, Murray makes the case for helping students afford college at every phase of their education: before they apply, while they’re enrolled, and after they graduate

 

Murray: “The way we finance higher education by asking everyone to take on debt is sending a clear message that college is for the wealthy—not the students who have the most to gain.

 

*WATCH: Senator Murray’s opening statement here*

 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on improving college affordability. As the Senate HELP Committee begins to negotiate a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), Senator Murray expressed the need to address the growing costs of college for students and the massive burden of $1.5 trillion in student debt for 44 million Americans.

 

“Chairman Alexander, I look forward to working together on a comprehensive reauthorization that will address these and many other challenges. I’m sure there will be a number of issues we don’t agree on—but I believe there is one question that should guide our negotiations…The question we have to ask ourselves is—‘Will this reauthorization of the Higher Education Act leave students better off?’ I am confident, if we work together and negotiate in good-faith, we can answer yes.”

 

In order to truly help students overcome the challenges they face in higher education, Senator Murray laid out four important areas that must be addressed in a comprehensive HEA reauthorization. In addition to addressing college affordability, the HEA must increase access for underrepresented students, hold all colleges accountable for student success and outcomes, and address the growing amount of discrimination, harassment, and assault occurring on college campuses. These goals were also expressed in recently-released HEA principles for Senate Democrats in the reauthorization process.

 

Key Excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“With few students able to afford college out of pocket, we now have almost $1.5 trillion in student debt—that’s more than auto loans and credit card debt combined. Since 2007, one year before the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, student debt has tripled—and the number of students with debt has grown from 28 million to 44 million. Here’s how fast our student debt problem is growing: Every second—yes, every second—student debt in this country grows by about $3,000. This is taking a toll on our students. A new study suggest up to 40% of students may eventually default on their loans, and it’s even worse for students of color. When we talk about affordability—we have to look beyond averages. That same study shows African American students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree are five times more likely to default on their loans than their white peers.”

 

“Many students are choosing not to even apply to college—or are being forced to drop out before they can finish their degree. A shocking number of our students are going hungry—or do not have a safe place to sleep at night. Student debt stops people from buying houses, starting families, opening their own businesses, and continuing their education. And for some—the crushing burden of student debt never ends. The way we finance higher education by asking everyone to take on debt is sending a clear message that college is for the wealthy—not the students who have the most to gain. We can, and must, work to keep college within reach for all students.”

 

Full text below of Sen Murray’s speech, as prepared for delivery:

 

“Thank you Chairman Alexander.

 

“Before I begin, I want to say—I’m pleased we are having ongoing conversations about the concerns with the Department of Education’s implementation of our Every Student Succeeds Act, and I am confident we can work together to resolve the issues with our last education law—before we begin negotiating this one.

 

“Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

 

“I look forward to your thoughts on what colleges, states, and the federal government should be doing to lower the price of college for students nationwide.

 

“As we wrap up our first round of hearings on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, these conversations have made it very clear we must address all of the challenges students face.

 

“Not just making college more affordable—but we must also increase access to higher education for underrepresented students, hold colleges accountable for student outcomes and success, and ensure every student is able to learn in a safe environment.

 

“Last week, the Democratic caucus released a set of principles going into each of these priorities in depth.

 

“We believe a comprehensive reauthorization must include meaningful reform in each of these areas.

 

“It’s the only way to truly help students overcome the many barriers in higher education.

 

“Now, I’m very pleased we are finally discussing an issue hurting so many people across the country—the continuous growth of college costs, with no end in sight.

 

“With few students able to afford college out of pocket, we now have almost $1.5 trillion in student debt—that’s more than auto loans and credit card debt combined.

 

“Since 2007, one year before the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, student debt has tripled—and the number of students with debt has grown from 28 million to 44 million.

 

“Here’s how fast our student debt problem is growing:

 

“Every second—yes, every second—student debt in this country grows by about $3,000.

 

“This is taking a toll on our students.

 

“A new study suggest up to 40% of students may eventually default on their loans, and it’s even worse for students of color.

 

“When we talk about affordability—we have to look beyond averages.

 

“That same study shows African American students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree are five times more likely to default on their loans than their white peers.

 

“There are so many reasons why college has gotten so expensive—and I will get into those—but the results remain the same.

 

“Many students are choosing not to even apply to college—or are being forced to drop out before they can finish their degree.

 

“A shocking number of our students are going hungry—or do not have a safe place to sleep at night.

 

“Student debt stops people from buying houses, starting families, opening their own businesses, and continuing their education.

 

“And for some—the crushing burden of student debt never ends.

 

“The way we finance higher education by asking everyone to take on debt is sending a clear message that college is for the wealthy—not the students who have the most to gain.

 

“We can, and must, work to keep college within reach for all students. 

 

“Now—I want to briefly touch on some of the reasons why college has gotten so expensive.

 

“First—colleges aren’t doing enough to consider the burden of debt students have to take out, and the challenges they’ll face in landing a good-paying job.

 

“Second—states are investing less and less into higher education.

 

“This is not only bad for our students, but it’s bad for states—who are rely on higher education to fuel their workforce and their economies.

 

“And third—federal student aid doesn’t go as far it used to.

 

“Pell Grants allowed me and my siblings to go to college…

 

“But today’s students will tell you Pell Grants are not nearly enough to cover the total price they have to pay.

 

“Since I graduated—tuition where I went to college has increased an astounding 338%, when adjusted for inflation.

 

“Chairman Alexander, you and I agreed the reauthorization of HEA needs to be student-focused…

 

“So with that in mind, I hope we can discuss college affordability at all stages of students’ education.

 

“Before students enroll—we need to make sure federal investments are going farther for students.

 

“And students need to be able to cover the full costs of college, including food, housing, textbooks, child care, and transportation—not just tuition and fees.

 

“Once students are enrolled—we must make sure the price of college does not increase unexpectedly during their education.

 

“And after students graduate—we must help the millions of student loan borrowers manage the burden of their debt.

 

“Borrowers should be able to refinance their student loans and have affordable monthly loan payments.

 

“And there should be a light at the end of the tunnel for borrowers, including loan forgiveness, a cap in the number of years students have to pay back their loans, and full relief for those cheated by their colleges.

 

“Chairman Alexander—I look forward to working together on a comprehensive reauthorization that will address these and many other challenges.

 

“I’m sure there will be a number of issues we don’t agree on—but I believe there is one question that should guide our negotiations.

 

“It’s not—“Are we easing regulations to give colleges and student loan companies carte blanche?”

 

“It’s not—“Are we reducing the role of the federal government in education?”

 

“The question we have to ask ourselves is—“Will this reauthorization of the Higher Education Act leave students better off?”

 

“I am confident, if we work together and negotiate in good-faith, we can answer yes.

 

“Thank you.”

 

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