January 19, 2016

Reed & Whitehouse Hear from Rhode Island Students and Graduates about How to Make College More Affordable

Senators Call for Action to Reduce Student Loan Debt and Help Families Pay for College

Providence, RI – Yesterday, at Roger Williams University’s campus in Providence, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse sat down with Rhode Island students and graduates to talk about the climbing costs of higher education and how student debt—which has skyrocketed in recent decades—harms too many American families.

“We all understand that education is the engine that pulls this economy forward, fulfills individual aspirations, and what makes America what it is.  We invented public education and led the world in access to higher education for generations.  It’s a great irony that we’re falling behind,” said Senator Reed.  “We must do much more to help our young people afford a college education and provide relief to families currently struggling under the burden of student loan debt.  I will continue fighting to enable borrowers to refinance their high interest rate loans at today’s low rates.  I am also working with my colleagues on better aligning the incentives in higher education so that all stakeholders, including states and colleges and universities, share more of the responsibility for college affordability and student success.  We have a common obligation to ensure that this generation of students has the opportunity to achieve its full potential.”

“We have to find ways to make college more affordable and reduce the stifling burden of student loan debt,” said Senator Whitehouse, who serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “Our college students and graduates are stuck with more than a trillion dollars in loan debt that inflicts tremendous harm on them, their families, and our economy.  I am so grateful to the Rhode Islanders who joined us to talk about their experience and help us find ways to make college more affordable.  In the weeks and months ahead, I hope Republicans in Congress join us to take action and help keep our young people out of the red.”

Over 40 million Americans are currently working to repay $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, including more than 150,000 Rhode Islanders who owe upwards of $3.6 billion, according to figures from the White House.  Students who graduate from four-year colleges and universities in Rhode Island emerge with an average of $31,841 in student loan debt, according to independent nonprofit The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS).  That average debt burden is the fourth highest in the nation.

“College is not affordable, yet it is not optional.  Many low-income, first-generation college students, such as myself, try to invest in themselves and go to college by taking out student loans.  Students mortgage their future, hoping they can create a better life,” said Amanda Rode at the discussion.  Rode, a Warwick native, is a University of Rhode Island senior and President of the URI Student Senate.  “I’m trying hard to be successful after graduation, yet right now I cannot afford my books for next semester.  I’m one of many students for whom this is a reality.”

As a percentage of revenue, tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities have doubled since 1987, while the portion funded by state and local governments has declined by 24 percent.  Since 1986, state funding per student has also slid from $10,726 per student to $8,655 per student.

“When I started freshman year, I was working three jobs.  Juggling all that and trying to get good grades was just the worst,” said Genesis Sanchez, a junior at Rhode Island College and graduate of Juanita Sanchez High School in Providence. “You’re trying to spend 40 hours a week in school, because your teachers think you should dedicate that time to your education, and you’re trying, at the same time, to afford going to school.”

“I literally had to take out a loan to buy books to go to school,” Sanchez added.  “That’s just ridiculous.”

The event’s host, Roger Williams University, has frozen its tuition since 2012 and has been active in pursuing strategies to make college more affordable for low-income students.

“We’re certainly committed at Roger Williams to doing all we can to create affordability for all of our students,” said RWU President Donald J. Farish, who introduced the Senators. “We often think about college affordability through the lens of 18- to 22-year-old students, yet we’re working with high school kids to get them credits before they get to campus. We’re working with adult learners to help them complete degrees and build new skills. Different people want to access higher education at different points in their lives, and in each case, we have to think about affordability – how do we create opportunities for that education to take place? What responsibility do students and families have? What responsibility does the government have? And what responsibility do the institutions have? If we all work together, I think we can do great things.”

More information on these college affordability issues is available here.


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