Editor’s Note: Sen. Murray submitted this editorial to the Independent in regards to affordable community college initiatives. The views expressed within are those of the senator, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Independent, or its staff.
I recently met with Clark College students to discuss the burden of student debt and how it affects their lives. One story, from a student named Lindsey, really stuck with me. She has attended college on and off for about seven years, but when she lost her job, she had to come up with a way to afford college or take on even more student debt.
The high costs of college and student debt are holding back too many students, like Lindsey.
Last month, I asked students to tell me what they’re going through, because I consider it to be one of my most important jobs as a U.S. Senator to make sure people in Washington state can have their voices heard in our nation’s capital. It’s one part of my effort in Congress to combat rising college costs and make sure students can graduate without the crushing burden of student debt.
Across the country, the yearly costs of attending a community college can easily exceed $10,000, even after financial aid. Overall, 42 million Americans hold more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt.
That’s why I support legislation, like the RED (Reducing Educational Debt) Act, to help students attend community college, tuition-free. I want to make sure more students can take advantage of financial aid — especially need-based aid that helps keep debt down, like Pell Grants. We should also let borrowers refinance their student debt to today’s lower rates. And to pay for these solutions, we should finally close some of the most egregious special interest loopholes that only benefit the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few.
For me, this isn’t just another issue. It’s personal. When I was young, my father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Within a few short years, he could no longer work, and without warning, my family had fallen on hard times. Thankfully, my brothers and sisters and I went to college with help from what are now known as Pell Grants.
Even through those hard times, we never lost hope that, with a good education, we would be able to find our footing and earn our way to a stable middle class life. Today, we can’t turn our backs on the millions of students who need a path forward to afford college and pay back their student debt.
Over the next few months, I want to keep hearing from students at Clark College (murray.senate.gov/collegeaffordability). And I’ll continue to work hard in the Senate to make sure higher education and earning a ticket to the middle class is a reality for more students in Vancouver.