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Legislative Update: Today's Graduates Face New Challenges, Global Competition


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Across the state of Arkansas this month, classes are ending and thousands of young people are embarking on the next great phase in their lives. Graduation season is alive in Arkansas. For many students, it's a day long overdue. For many parents, it's a day arrived much too soon. But, for everyone, graduation is an experience worth relishing and one most certainly worth remembering.

The 21st century, global economy we find ourselves in today is one of the most competitive Americans has ever seen. Our economy is expanding at historic rates and the global economy is now more closely interconnected and interdependent than at any other time in world history. When I was young, we were preparing to compete against other workers from nearby Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana. Now, today's youth will be competing against workers in China, India and Japan.

For America to continue its global dominance, our young people will have to be smarter, more adaptive and more willing to learn than their counterparts overseas. We, the people of Arkansas, are the state's greatest asset and incentive to companies looking to expand or relocate their operations. The more skilled and the more relevant our workforce is to the rapidly changing economy, the more likely Arkansas is to attract businesses, boost commerce and create new jobs. Regardless of the tough economic times in which we find ourselves, we must never abandon our children's education or their futures.

As our students graduate high school and look to the future, they all deserve the opportunity to attend college as affordably as possible. Currently, there is a debate in Congress that jeopardizes this. Without action by Congress before the July 1, 2012 deadline, student loan interest rates will double, increasing from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. This increase would raise the overall cost of education for American students and families when many of them are still struggling as our economy continues to recover.

In 2007, I voted for HR 2669, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which originally cut student loan interest rates in half, and I support maintaining these low interest rates for struggling students trying to realize the American dream of earning a college education. But it must be done responsibly and without partisan games. It is too important an issue to politicize.

It's time for all Members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, to put down their partisan talking points and work together to pass serious legislation that will continue to help America's college students. Our continued economic recovery is directly tied to the education of our children.

As the son of two retired public school educators, I recognize just how important a good education is to a young person. I have personally seen a committed teacher and supportive school change a student's life forever. I firmly believe, and always have, that if we are ever going to truly prepare our young people to compete in this new global economy, then we must ensure they have access to a world class education and I will continue to support fiscally responsible legislation that gives American students the edge and the resources they need to succeed.

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