Sen. Debbie Stabenow announces program to relieve student debt
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) announced an initiative aimed at reducing the cost of going to college and making student loan debt more manageable during a media conference call on Tuesday morning.
Titled #InTheRed, the effort has a three-fold plan to tackle the student debt issue.
The first measure aims to refinance student loans down to the lowest rate from the previous academic year, the second part includes increasing Pell Grants, adding in cost of living as a major factor in financial calculations for the grants and the final component will utilize a partnership between state and federal government to provide two free years of community college education to students who qualify.
Speaking alongside Stabenow was a political science and public policy senior Tina Reyes, whose own issues with student debt serve as a living testament to the millennial struggle with exorbitant college debt.
The daughter of working class parents - her father is a carpenter and her mother works in retail - Reyes was unable to save up for college, and so relies entirely on federal and private loans to pay her tuition.
"Paying off student loans has been a huge concern for me, because they're creeping up on me and I don't know where I'm (going to) be in four months," Reyes said.
During the conversation, Reyes mentioned that before interest rates kick in she has around $100,000 in student debt.
Reyes expressed continued anxiety over how her student debt will impact her career future. Thoughts of moving back home with her parents after graduation seem very likely and she's recently had to make a decision to take an unpaid internship over a paying job, in part because of her concern over the competitiveness in her desired occupation.
"I stepped away from a job that wasn't in my career field, a paying position. It was either I get stuck in a field, it was a job to me and I felt like it was unfair for me to stay there and continue do a job only because I get a paycheck at the end of the week.
"Or I go into an unpaid internship which I know will be stressful and a lot of work but is what I'm passionate about, you know the whole point of me going to college was to land in a career field that I love," she said.
Like so many other students faced with mounting debt, Reyes believes the #InTheRed campaign will make it more affordable and equitable for students to get a higher education, a necessity in a job market where a college degree is almost a requirement for most fields.
Throughout the call, Stabenow reiterated the need to make affordable education a high priority, particularly in a time when funding for public education has steadily decreased over the years.
"We've seen cuts in programs to support students, we've seen things like Pell Grants put in place to help low income students not keep pace with inflation, we've seen student loans that have been tied to interest rates that may be good for the gov. but not for the student, so there' a number of things [why loans are so expensive] and I think it fundamentally goes back to whether or not we are serious about making this a priority," Stabenow said.
According to Stabenow, the bill is a top priority for the Michigan Senate Democrats and mentioned that President Obama will most likely bring it up during his State of the Union Address. She expects to release the specifics of the bill over the next couple of weeks with the hope that it will receive Senate hearings and eventually go to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chaired by Lamar Alexander (R-TN).