Students and Senators Agree on the Debt Problem

small graduation cap and money -- educational cost concept

Two bills with your names on it are being considered right now in Washington DC. They are designed to make higher education more affordable. They are written by Oregon senators and are in committee.

If they make it to the floor expect some lively discussion as we’ve seen on a national scale. This political debate season affordable higher education is getting a fair amount of buzz and ink. It’s been asked about on the presidential debate platform and by President Obama.  It’s been mentioned in most mainstream media coverage as one of the key issues in the upcoming presidential election.

But, it’s nothing new to students. Published reports put the Southern Oregon University class of 2013 graduating with a median debt of roughly twenty thousand dollars. For Oregon schools in general it averages out to about twenty five thousand dollars.

Currently Oregon’s two US senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, are working on legislation that they claim will help relieve the burden many Americans experience when it comes to repaying their student loans. One of the bills is the Access to Fair Financial Options for Repaying Debt or the AFFORD Act. Senator Merkely claims, if passed, it 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.”  The AFFORD act is still being discussed in the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

As part of a set of meetings at colleges and universities across Oregon, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley recently visited SOU’s campus to meet with students and faculty. Both Wyden and Merkley said listening to students’ stories reinforced their prioritization of affordable higher education. Merkley commented that realistically the bills will take some time to pass, however, “Today’s students should be able to refinance their high interest loans to a very low interest rate” if his AFFORD Act is passed.

Emily Pfeiffer, an SOU student who attended the discussion with the senators, says that she feels, “a sense of relief that legislators are addressing the problem of student debt.” Although she appreciates the AFFORD act she wishes it would “acknowledge the root of the problem which is the rising cost of tuition.”

However, Pfeiffer remains hopeful because Senator Ron Wyden is looking to solve the problem of, “students being priced out of higher education.” Wyden hopes part of the solution will be the Partnership Act; this act is set to be introduced to congress soon and co-sponsored by Merkley. According to Wyden’s website the Partnership act “would establish a new incentive program rewarding states that increase their investments in public higher education in exchange for holding down tuition costs.”

Both the senators highlight the importance of students, such as Pfeiffer, being the catalyst for change. They suggested a grassroots approach could be extremely powerful in making higher education more affordable.

Currently there are organizations working to support the push for more affordable education, one of them is the United States Student Association. Pfeiffer, who is the Oregon Student Association representative for the USSA, says, “The ASSOU (Associated Students of Southern Oregon University)senate just endorsed a campaign from the United States Student Association…that works to create free higher Education in the United States within the next 5-10 years.”

It you would like to give input on student tuition and debt here are the contacts for your Congressional and Senate Representatives:

Congressman Greg Walden:

Senator Ron Wyden:

Senator Jeff Merkely: