U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) visited campus Wednesday to speak with members of Central Student Government and other campus leaders about her #InTheRed campaign, which aims to address rising student debt.
Stabenow discussed the Reducing Educational Debt Act, which she and a group of senators will introduce in the Senate within the next several weeks. Stabenow also visited Michigan State University, Western Michigan University and Wayne State University to speak with students about the RED Act this week. Meeting with students and talking about this issue with them, Stabenow said, is important because they are the ones directly affected.
“This is very personal for students,” she said. “Everyone on an individual basis has a story of trying to get the help they need. It’s important to me to understand how they feel and people asking questions helps me make sure we are on the right track.”
Stabenow said since the time she attended college, the percentage of funding provided by the state to the University of Michigan has decreased from 70 to a percentage in the mid-20s. More recently, funding for higher education was cut by 15 percent in 2011. Overall, in recent years state funding for higher education has seen both cute — including a 15 percent one in 2011 — and small increases. In Gov. Rick Snyder’s recently released budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, he recommended a 4.3 percent increase in higher education funding, which would bring the total funding back to pre-2011 levels.
The RED Act incorporates portions of a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D–Mass.) in 2014, which would allow student loan borrowers to refinance high-interest loans and create fixed interest rates for future borrowers, in contrast to the variable rates borrowers face now. U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Dearborn) has also cosponsored a similar bill in Congress that would allow student loan refinancing.
The bill would additionally allow two years of tuition and fees to be waived for community college and technical school and increase the funding for federal Pell Grants. In his State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama called for the former aspect of the current bill.
Stabenow said these three main aspects of the bill are achievable if Congress can come together in a bipartisan effort.
“We basically have three things that we are doing that are very doable if we can get the bipartisan support we need,” she said.
Pamela Fowler, executive director of the office of financial aid at the University who was at the event, said in recent years the University has been increasing financial aid by an average of 12 percent, and students and prospective students need to be more aware of the resources available to them to help alleviate debt.
“Affordability is something I live personally every day,” she said. “How do we let people know that they can afford to come here? Once they see that they can afford to go here then the word will get out.”
Stabenow said outside groups, including the National Association of Realtors, have spoken up about the need to aid the student debt crisis, as it affects the overall economy. She added that providing that assistance depends on the government’s priorities, and higher education strongly influences the economy and should be better supported.
“It’s a question of priorities and how you grow the economy,” she said. “Higher education is an economic driver and we ought to be heavily supporting that at every level.”
Public Policy senior Max Lerner, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats who was also at the event, said he appreciates the support of Stabenow and other Democrats on this issue, as he does not see the same urgency within the Republican Party.
“It’s great to see Democrats and Sen. Stabenow are taking student issues and the college debt crisis very seriously,” he said. “Republicans clearly are not. Snyder is continuing to divest in public education and higher education and it really a shame as Michigan students are literally being priced out of a higher education because of this governor’s policies.”