BOWIE, Md. – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-Md.) visited Bowie State University Thursday for a roundtable discussion with BSU President Mickey L. Burnim, students and officials. At the forefront of the conversation were the many challenges Maryland students face in paying for higher education. As prices at public four-year institutions rise at unprecedented rates and U.S. student loan debt balloons to roughly $1 trillion – a sum larger than Americans’ total collective credit card debt – the senators are committed to finding new ways in Washington to make college a more attainable prospect for a greater number of Maryland students. Getting a college degree opens the door to job opportunities, and for the average worker, means $1 million more in earnings over a lifetime compared to those with a high school diploma.
“We need to be doing everything in our power to make education more affordable. The Federal government should not be making a profit off student loans. By allowing students to drown in debt, we risk their future and we are shortchanging the future of our national and regional economies by pricing certain Americans out of the college market,” said Senator Cardin. “All Americans deserve a fair shot at success—particularly our students, who are simply trying to create a better future for themselves. We need a new Higher Education Act that more accurately takes into account the cost to attend college and give students information they need to get the best value.”
“I’m worried about what skyrocketing student debt means for young people and the future of our country,” said Senator Mikulski, a member of the Senate Community College Caucus. “We must reduce interest rates and increase graduation rates. That’s why I’m fighting to pass the Bank on Students Act, which was blocked earlier this year by just two votes and would allow student borrowers to refinance their loans at today’s low rates. And it’s why I have to worked to extend college tuition tax breaks for middle class families three times over the past five years. I will continue to fight so Maryland families have a fair shot at higher education with a government on their side.”
“Senators Mikulski and Cardin’s commitment to addressing the growing concern about student loan debt was very evident in today’s discussion,” said BSU President Burnim. “It’s a problem that directly affects our students, even as we work to remain an affordable option to earn a high quality college education.”
Seven out of ten college seniors who graduated in 2012 graduated with an average of $29,400 in student loan debt, and more than 40 million Americans today owe almost $1.2 trillion in student loans – more than is owed on credit cards. In Maryland, more than half of graduating students are borrowing to pay for their education.
Senators Cardin and Mikulski have joined forces to ensure all students get a fair shot at a quality higher education that does not leave them or their family overburdened in debt. Both senators are cosponsors of the Bank on Student Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2292), which would allow those who currently hold student loan debt to refinance it at lower interest rates.
Senators Cardin and Mikulski also have supported legislation to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to increase the financial information available to students before utilizing student loans. The ultimate goal is to help students and their families to make informed financial decisions. In 2012, they announced a $3 million grant for Bowie State University to help close the achievement gap for first-generation college students, increase enrollment, and begin implementation of a strategic plan to enhance educational offerings.