A panel of lawmakers plans to launch a year-long campaign to come up with ways to help lift crushing debt from Bay State college students.
State Rep. Tom Sannicandro, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, said he hopes the five-member panel will be formalized within the next week and that public hearings will soon be scheduled around the state.
While student debt load has long been a hot topic nationally, Sannicandro said he isn’t sure yet how state lawmakers can fix the problem.
“That’s why we’re doing this,” he said, “I think it’s a big issue – it’s something we’ve been looking at.”
The goal is to get some kind of legislative solution filed in the current session, said Sannicandro, D-Ashland.
Led by Rep. Paul Mark and Sen. Eileen Donoghue, the House and Senate vice chairmen of the higher education committee, the five-member subgroup over the next year will be hearing from current and former students, parents, and other people hit by student debt in various regions of the state, according to Sannicandro.
The Ashland Democrat has also filed a bill this session that would create a separate commission charged with examining student debt that would be comprised of members outside of the Legislature.
In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, national politicians have already forwarded plans to resolve a looming interest rate hike on student loans. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who will be speaking at Framingham State University’s undergraduate commencement this Sunday, last week filed a bill that would drop the student loan rate from the current 3.4 percent to .75 percent for a year – the same rate, she says, that banks pay.
In addition, Republican members of Congress submitted their own bill this month that proposes a more long-term fix of tying student loans to a market-based interest rate, which they argue would be an improvement on the current system that has turned debt into a political “bargaining chip.”
With no action, the interest rate on subsidized Stafford Loans is slated to double to 6.8 percent on July 1. Originally scheduled to happen last summer, the increase was delayed for a year by legislators.
Sannicandro, House chairman of the higher education committee since 2011, sides with Warren on the issue, arguing that lower rates will help more students attend college.
“One of the challenges is to make sure we’re not blocking people from accessing higher education,” he said.
Scott O’Connell can be reached at 508-626-4449 or firstname.lastname@example.org