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Today students at the Arizona State University (ASU) kicked off the Student Debt Alert campaign to encourage the Commission on the Future of Higher Education to recommend increases in grant funding and solutions to make loan debt more manageable. Activities will include collecting hundreds of public comments to the Commission, holding an in depth campus task force and releasing a national report to show that debt burden is infringing on college graduate career choices.
“Two weeks ago, Congress cut $12 billion dollars from the federal student loan programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy,” Edward Hermes, Student Regent for Arizona Board of Regents said. “This bad decision is only one of several factors that lead us to believe that our country is divesting in a higher education. We need the Commission to counteract those actions and be willing to call for a further investment.”
“As college grows more expensive, we go deeper into debt. Federal loans are becoming prohibitively expensive and burdensome,” pointed out Timothy States, representative for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG) and a senior Justice and Social Inquiry major. “There has got to be a better way to pay for college.” States said that any number of solutions could work including increasing scholarship aid available at the college or increasing Pell grant funding.
States said that 65% of graduates from four year public colleges have roughly $20,000 in debt when they graduate. “The student loan programs are supposed to help students attain a degree, not hinder their participation. This is not the equal access and opportunity that was envisioned by Congress in 1965 with the first Higher Education Act,” States said.
“In Arizona, there are currently 298,736 student borrowers. Additionally, 45% of ASU students graduate with over $17,000 in student loan debt,” stated Corinne Widmer, Undergraduate Student Government president at ASU-Tempe campus. “This burden of debt negatively affects the students’ lives while in college and especially after graduating.”
“High student debt burdens from undergraduate degrees often negatively impacts students' decision to pursue professional and graduate degrees, particularly in fields in the public sector such as nursing and teaching, which do not pay as well as others,” said Alanna Ossa, Vice President of Executive Affairs for the Graduate and Professional Student Association at ASU at Tempe.
The US Department of Education launched a Commission on the Future of Higher Education in September that has been assigned the task of creating a blueprint for higher education for the 21st century. One of the top two questions it has to answer: how do we keep college affordable and accessible? The Commission has had one public hearing already in Seattle where scores of students testified that college debt is becoming too burdensome. The next hearing will be in Boston on March 20th.
Student leaders at ASU at Tempe will be asking the Commission to prioritize an increase in grant aid and a focus on decreasing debt burden in their report on college affordability and quality due in August of this year.
Shon Zelman, Arizona Students Association representative at ASU, pointed out that "because Arizona ranks 49 th in state financial assistance, the students of this state are forced to take on enormous loan debt to pay for college. We need to start investing in the students of this state and begin solving the problem of student debt."
Corinne Widmer, USG president at ASU-Tempe encourages parent and student borrowers, and college bound high school students to send a comment to the Commission themselves by visiting www.StudentDebtAlert.org. There the public can tailor a comment about college affordability directly to the Commission. “Tell them the burden is too much,” she asked.
The campaign, launched last fall, has attracted the participation of 5,000 students and features and on-line Student Debt Yearbook. It is a project of state student associations in Arizona and Minnesota and Arizona PIRG.
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