By LUCAS WILLARD
The Massachusetts legislature has formed a subcommittee to gather data and hear from students and educators across the commonwealth on the real impact of student loan debt.
Democratic State Representative Paul Mark, of the Second Berkshire district, a member of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, is serving as co-chair of the five member subcommittee that is tasked with investigating the rapid rise of student loan debt among current students and recent graduates.
“The goal of this subcommittee in my opinion is to find out if we as a state, one state out of many states, is there a bill we can offer, is there a recommendation we can make, or is there a report we can issue that either is showing what the problem is, why the problem is occouring, or how the problem can be solved,” said Mark.
Representative Mark said that the subcommittee will meet with students, college administrators, independent groups and others across the state, and will kick off a university tour this fall.
Mark said that his own experience with student loan debt motivates him to lead the subcommittee.
“As a graduate of a community college, as a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and as a household where my wife and I pay more than $750 a month in student loan debt, I want our universities and our colleges to be the best, I want people like myself that couldn’t pay for education on their own because they’re not personally wealthy to have the opportunity to go to a college. And at the same time, I realize $750 a month is a mortgage in some places. That’s a rental payment, that’s cars, that’s money that’s not going into the economy,” said Mark.
Ferd Wulkan, who works with PHENOM – the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts – said that in the Bay State students are now graduating with an average debt burden of $27,000. He said that PHENOM will be working to support the subcommittee’s future visits to college campuses.
“We will certainly play a role in turning students out and encouraging students to come out and talk to the subcommittee,” said Wulkan.
Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group warned that student debt not only puts an economic drain on graduating students but also deters potential students from enrolling in higher education.
Cummings also made mention of how the borrowing rate for federal student loans will double on July 1st unless Congress takes action. She spoke in support of Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to tie the student borrowing rate to the same rate provided for banks.
“If Congress doesn’t act to intervene the rates are going to double, they’re going to from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That’s just outrageous,” said Cummings. “But Senator Warren has sort of taken the lead and said ‘wait a second, we are loaning banks money at a rate of .75 percent. Why not make that same investment in our students?'”
MASSPIRG and its counterparts will soon release more specific data on how student loan debt effects the economies of individual states.
Representative Mark said that after the subcommittee completes its investigation, he hopes policy can be drafted that can help contribute to discussion in other states on how to address student loan debt.