OpEd

By Sen. Jeanne Shaheen

Students don’t need to hear it from me — they know higher education costs are skyrocketing. And for parents who are putting their kids through college, or for those trying to pay their own way, these costs are putting a strain on budgets. Education costs have increased at four times the rate of inflation from 1985 to 2011, so it is no wonder that students and their families are borrowing to bridge the gap and then finding themselves devastated by debt. Making higher education more affordable should be a non-partisan goal we can all work towards, and a good place to start is by making it easier for students to refinance their college loans.  That’s why I co-sponsored a bill to do just that, but so far, Republicans have refused to let us move forward and give former students a chance.

The value of education — to our students and our country — is clear. It’s one of the best economic investments we can make. Higher education improves job opportunities, fosters the workforce we need to compete in the global economy and invests in the promise of the American Dream that the next generation will do better than the one before.

But increasing costs are making it harder and harder for students to receive a higher education. That’s why giving students the ability to refinance their loans makes sense; if you can refinance your mortgage or your car loan, you ought to be able to refinance a student loan to get a lower interest rate and a lower payment. That’s exactly what my bill would do: allow students with existing loans to refinance at lower rates available to new borrowers. It would put hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year back into the pockets of people investing in their education.  And to pay for it, we would simply ask the wealthiest Americans — those who make more than a million dollars each year — to pay their fair share instead of abusing loopholes that allow them to actually pay taxes at a lower rate than the average American family.

I’m also proposing a plan endorsed by colleges throughout New Hampshire to create an online portal where borrowers can view their total debt from private and public lenders. By providing a one-stop shop to help borrowers manage debt, this plan makes it easier for students and families to see their debt and repayment options and get out from under that debt sooner.

Everyone who wants an education deserves that chance without being crushed by debt. Nationally, total student loan debt tops $1 trillion and a four-year college degree can cost as much as a house. Forty million Americans have student loan debt, and in New Hampshire, 74 percent of our college students hold debt, carrying an average balance of nearly $33,000 per student. Our state is the second highest in the country for the average amount of debt per graduate. 

At colleges and universities across New Hampshire, I’ve met with students and parents who are overwhelmed by the debt they are facing. For some families, the cost of co-financing their children’s education has left them $100,000 in debt, facing years to pay it back.

A few years ago, I met a soldier at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center who had lost part of his leg from an IED explosion in Afghanistan. When I met Calvin, he told me his biggest concern was how he could begin paying off his student loans. That’s not right.

We need to make college more affordable and we need to lower student loan debt. Education ought to help our kids reach as high and accomplish as much as possible, not be a burden they carry for years. We owe it to this generation of students, and future generations, to solve this problem.

Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire’s senior United States Senator.