Flanked by Vermont college students and graduates who are deep in debt, Sen. Bernie Sanders told a news conference on Monday that he will introduce legislation to help students earn college credits in high school in order to cut the cost of earning a college diploma. The senator said he supports a separate bill to lower interest rates on student loans. And, as a member of the Senate education committee, he also is working on ways to bring down college costs.
The average four-year college graduate picking up diplomas this spring at commencement ceremonies across Vermont owes $28,000 in student loans, $1,000 more than the national average. As a result, Sanders said, “too many good students in Vermont and throughout the country are deciding against going to college because they fear they will face a lifetime of paying down student loans.”
Joining the senator at a news conference was Jazmin Spear, a Castleton State College junior, who said she will have accumulated $29,800 in loans by the time she graduates. Liz Beatty-Owens said she’ll leave Johnson State College owing $40,000. Christine Mahoney, a family doctor at the Community Health Centers of Burlington, said she is carrying $370,700 in student loans. And Emily Sutton, an assistant professor at Albany College of Pharmacy in Colchester, said she is still is paying off some $300,000 in loans.
Students and graduates who have to borrow to pay rising tuition costs have found their indebtedness has an impact on their options after college. Student loan debt is making it much harder for young people to get mortgages to buy homes, one reason why home ownership rates for young adults are among the lowest in decades. Young people also are putting off marriage and not having children. The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department have both issued warnings that high levels of student loan debt could retard economic growth by driving down consumer demand.
As one way to address soaring college costs, Sanders’ proposal would expand programs that allow high school juniors and seniors to take college-level classes and earn credit that counts toward both high school and college graduation. Sometimes called “dual enrollment,” the approach reduces the cost and time necessary to complete a college degree. It has been especially effective in increasing college enrollments among low-income students and those who are the first in their families to go to college. The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
“We are living in a highly competitive global economy and if the United States is going to succeed we need to have the best educated workforce in the entire world,” Sanders said. “But the sad truth is we are now competing against other nations around the world that make it much easier for their young people to go to college.”
Sanders’ legislation has been endorsed by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Community Colleges, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the National Association of College Admissions Counselors.
To read a summary of the legislation, click here.