Students from five universities met with U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D–Mich) yesterday, but nobody had to travel far in order to talk.

Through an online video-chat facilitated by Google+, a handful of University students met in the Central Student Government offices with students from Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University and Michigan State University for a question and answer session with Clarke about a bill he recently introduced on college affordability.

“It’s a great way … to communicate to each other about the importance of the issue of repaying student loan debt,” Clarke said. “That’s going to help borrowers, their families, and also too this bill is going to help out the parents who have taken out loans to help educate their children.”

The bill, called the Student Loan Forgiveness Act, would allow students that fit a set of criteria to opt into a loan repayment plan where they would pay 10 percent of their annual income to pay off student loans, and after 10 years of payments the remainder of the debt would be forgiven.

“The federal debt is important, we need to address that, but let’s address that in a long term responsible way,” Clarke said. “But the real debt that’s really burdening people is the debt that folks have to pay on every month.”

LSA junior Sean Walser, former chair of the CSG External Relations Commission, participated in the video-chat and said the issue of student loans is critical to most University students.

“It’s important to me personally as I’m one of many students here at this University with quite a lot of student debt,” Walser said. “Talking about issues like this are important because that really energizes students to get out there and make a difference.”

LSA junior Aditya Sathi, vice speaker of CSG, also attended the event and lauded the importance of having open dialogues with legislators in order to promote student issues.

“It’s not every day that you get an opportunity to have some face time with a United States congressman,” Sathi said.

Sathi previously worked as an intern in Clarke’s Detroit office through a University class in the fall 2011 semester. Sathi said this bill was not an attempt to drum up support from student voters, but a sincere call for student loan reform.

He added that in the past, Clarke has been open to meeting with students and even gave a speech to the South Asian Awareness Network after the group requested to speak with him.

“It wasn’t a campaign trip,” Sathi said. “He wasn’t going to get any votes out of a majority of these students because they’re not even in his district … he generally just wanted to come speak.”

Sathi said CSG has no formal position on this bill, and he said he is still reviewing it himself. Nonetheless, he said he’s pleased it’s being discussed at all.

“I’m excited that somebody’s trying to do something about student debt,” Sathi said.

Walser, who helped plan a Student Association of Michigan rally against rising tuition in Lansing two weeks ago, said this issue expands beyond the state.

“I think the next step immediately is taking this piece of legislation and breaking it down and reading it and taking it to the Association of Big Ten Students, the Student Association of Michigan,” Walser said. “(It’s important to start) a dialogue about not only this legislation but in general what the federal government can do.”

Walser said regardless of the bill being passed, it’s important to find a solution to rising student debt.

“Addressing these issues (are) important,” Walser said. “Whether we do it with a specific policy or a different kind of policy, I think we definitely need to approach student debt, student loan issues … and college affordability in general.”

Correction appended: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Sean Walser’s position, he is the former chair of the CSG External Relations Commission.

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