In a question-and-answer session with the University’s chapter of the College Democrats last night at the Michigan League, state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer said he sympathized with students who were overburdened by student loans.

Schauer is trying to unseat first-term U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), who represents the 7th Congressional District. The district is located just west of Ann Arbor and includes parts of western Washtenaw County and the cities of Jackson and Battle Creek.

Schauer, a Democrat from Bedford Township, told the crowd that the federal government should revamp federal aid programs to make college more affordable and attainable.

Unfortunately, Schauer said, college students are paying high tuition rates because the legislature cut higher education funding due to a statewide recession.

With an overall unemployment rate in Michigan at 7.2 percent – about 2 percent higher than the national average – and only 3.4 percent for college graduates, Schauer said investing in higher education is crucial to the state’s economic recovery.

“You are an economic development asset,” said Schauer, adding that he supports revising scholarship programs and increasing direct aid to students.

Speaking before more than 50 people in attendance, Schauer called for the doubling of the number of college graduates in the state. When asked what he would say to graduating seniors who are deciding between finding a job a in Michigan and moving to a state with a healthier economy, Schauer said he hoped that graduates would stay in state, despite the seemingly bleak economy.

“Don’t assume there is no opportunity here,” Schauer said. “Be part of Michigan’s future.”

Michigan is showing economic promise in life sciences, alternative energy research and the movie industry, he said.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a bill Monday that provides significant tax incentives for those in the entertainment industry who bring their projects to Michigan.

In his speech to the partisan audience, Schauer asked the College Democrats in attendance to canvass in his district. The election, he said, will be highly contentious.

In 2006, Walberg won the district with just 50 percent of the vote, defeating the only challenger, Sharon Reiner. Reiner, a Democrat, received 46 percent of the vote.

Renier, organic farmer, is running against Schauer in the primary, but the national Democratic party has thrown its weight against Schauer.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has highlighted the district as a key race in it’s Red-to-Blue campaign, which aims to increase the current Democratic majority in the United States Congress.

College Democrats Chair Nathaniel Eli Coats Styer said the College Democrats are excited to campaign for Schauer and get Walberg out of office.

“Tim Walberg is so conservative – he’s to the right of President Bush,” Styer said. “These kind of policies are hated in America. The DCCC sees a serious opening here to add to the Democratic majority.”

Styer said the group will hold “district invasions” and campaign door-to-door for Schauer, in addition to fundraising and helping with office work.

Styer said the opportunity to work for Schauer’s campaign in the fall has been met with enthusiasm among the organization.

“The excitement, intensity and the ability to affect change is in the 7th congressional district,” he said.

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