Addressing the Issue of Student Loans and Debt in Massachusetts

 

Legislative Viewpoint

Greenfield Recorder 02/15/2014, Page C07

By State Representative Paul Mark, Second Berkshire District

It is commonly held that pursuing a college education will open the doors of opportunity for the next generation. Students work hard from a young age so that they will be accepted to the college of their dreams and have the chance to study an interesting subject. After graduation, the hope is that this new expertise embodied through a college degree will lead to expanded job opportunities and the chance to lead a productive, successful life.

Unfortunately, more and more of these young, hopeful students are required to take out student loans in ever increasing amounts that will saddle them with debt for years to come. The problem of rising student debt has the potential to cause the next significant economic crisis.

Nearly 20 million Americans will attend college this year, and approximately 60% of those students will borrow to finance the cost of their education. Thirty-seven million Americans currently have an outstanding student loan, and the estimated total student loan debt load in the U.S. is between $900 billion and $1 trillion. These are staggering amounts that will have an impact on each of us either directly or through our children and grandchildren. On a personal level, my wife and I are paying over $750 every month in student loan payments. That is $750 dollars that could be going towards a mortgage, car payments, saving for retirement, or being pumped back into the local economy. Debt loads of this magnitude have an enormous effect on purchasing decisions, job opportunities, and so many other basic life decisionsthat we confront every day.

I am honored to have been chosen to Chair a Subcommittee on Student Loans and Debt in the legislature. Our mission has been to gather information on the student debt problem in Massachusetts and come up with state level solutions to help make financing a college education more affordable. In order to hear from as many interested parties as possible, including students, parents, college administrators, and financial advisors, our committee held seven public hearings throughout Massachusetts, including one at Greenfield Community College. The stories we heard were astounding, the ideas we heard were helpful, and the number of students coming forward to tell their stories added a sense of urgency to the problem.

Now it is time for our committee to take what we have learned and translate these great ideas into workable solutions that will have an impact sooner rather than later. We plan on issuing a report on our findings by late March, and I am hopeful that this will lead to renewed investment through the state budget process and bills that will be filed and passed by the legislature in a timely manner.

As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or suggestions on this or any other state government matter. Check out www.representativemark.com for the complete office hours schedule or call us at (413) 464-5635 to learn more.