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Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, I strongly support this legislation, S. 2343, the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act. I appreciate the leadership particularly of Senator Reed of Rhode Island, who has been so eloquent on this subject. I also would note that Senator Alexander and I have worked together on a host of issues. I think he brings great expertise to this discussion as well.

The bottom line for me is that millions of young people are hurting right now in America. They are up to their eyeballs in debt and they cannot find good-paying jobs.

For example, we have seen in our home State, according to the Oregon Employment Department, that the overall unemployment rate last year was 9.4 percent but was 19 percent for workers age 16 to 24. I also note we have seen that the labor participation for young people has declined as well.

We have an enormous array of challenges in front of us. The reason that this legislation, the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act, is so important is that it allows us to achieve two important objectives. First, it puts us in a position to hold the line on student debt. If you are a sophomore in college, for example, and you have already incurred some debt and you want to finish school, then you want to get a degree in a field where you will get a job that pays a good wage. Without this legislation you are going to incur still more debt.

So this legislation ought to be supported because it holds the line on debt, and by doing so it helps us achieve a very important objective: to increase the opportunity for young people to access higher education across the country. And historically whether it has been through Pell grants or Stafford loans and the like, we've always said to young people, try to get to college. Families sitting around kitchen tables and in their living rooms have said this for years. Work hard in high school and try to get into college. And I have supported, here in the Senate, policies that increase access to a good education. By holding the line on debt, we can take steps to achieve an important part of higher education policy, and that is expanding access to higher education.
The second benefit of this legislation, in my view, is that by holding the line on debt we increase the opportunity for young people to get more value out of their education. The reason I bring this up is because my sense is that future policy in the higher education field is going to be about marrying these two objectives. Let's support this important legislation, S. 2343, to expand access, and use it as a foundation to move on to the next step of education policy, which is to get more value out of the education a young person pursues.

The reason I feel that way is that all over my State I am going to high schools and community colleges and talking with students who are thinking about both of those principles, access and value.

For example, at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton I met a young man who is taking 20 credits at school, working at Arby's full time as a manager, and he is already concerned about the debt he is racking up. He said to me: As I get my education, how will I know that I have laid the groundwork for being able to get a good-paying job? I told him, just as I am suggesting to the Senate today, that I am going to support efforts to expand student aid and make sure we hold down debt for young people. I described what we are dealing with on the floor of the Senate.

I also told him I have introduced a piece of legislation with my colleague on the other side of the aisle, Marco Rubio, called the Student Right To Know Before You Go Act. This bill will make it possible for students all across the country to get information about the expected average annual earnings after graduation, the rates of remedial enrollment for a particular field at a particular college, the average costs both before and after financial aid, and the prospects of a student earning a good wage after achieving a particular degree at a particular school. With this legislation we lay the foundation for what I think will be the education policy of the future.

We will ensure that students have access and ensure that they get more value out of their education and get more value out of the loans and other debt that they have to pay back. And the two go hand in hand. I ran into students who were juniors, for example, at colleges in my State and already owe $60,000. Without this legislation, those juniors are probably going to reup for a loan, and they are going to have to pay more, and that has the effect of reducing access to higher education. Paying more, it seems, is also going to reduce the opportunity for students to buy a bit more value out of their education as we try to get them better information with respect to the value of specific degree programs at specific schools. This type of information is now impossible to find. Suffice it to say, these two judgments, both with respect to the debt and the value of what they have pursued in terms of their college degree, are going to color their decisions for the rest of their lives.

One of the students I met in Oregon recently as I talked about this issue was interested in getting a medical degree. And as we have talked about health care issues--which the President of the Senate and I have both been very interested in over the years--one of the questions he asked me was how was he going to be able to get a medical degree initially and what would happen to him when he got out of medical school with all of this debt hanging over his head. I didn't want to chill his enthusiasm, but we know that if a young person comes out of medical school with an enormous amount of debt, there is a pretty good chance at some point they are going to have to pass some of that debt on to their patients, which means we are going to see medical costs for a lot of people in our country escalate still higher.

So the fact that we have these debts and the fact that it is hard for young people to purchase value in their education is going to have remarkable ripples all through our country for years and years ahead.

I am going to close simply by way of saying this: We have seen young people contribute to our economy. The President of the Senate shares an interest with this Senator in technology. Technology has been a big source of jobs in States such as Minnesota and Oregon. This has been a real economic engine for our country. Think about who brought us Facebook and Google and Twitter and YouTube. A disproportionate amount of the creative talent has been young people.

So we must first take steps to hold the line on debt--and that is to pass Senator Harkin's and Senator Reid's bill--so we don't say to college sophomores and juniors, we don't care if they rack up any more debt when we know how much heartache it is going to bring to them. Then we can move on to the next step, which is empowering students and families to be able to get the maximum amount of value from their education. If we don't take these steps I think we will have let the country down in this area at a crucial time.

We understand that higher education is one of the principal paths, if not the best path, to success for many students. It is not for every student, but certainly for millions. And education has enabled many young people to contribute to technology which has been, as I described, a real spark for our economy.

So I see other colleagues waiting to speak, and I only urge colleagues to pass this legislation, S. 2343, to ensure that we don't heap more debt onto the backs of students in college now and who might be reupping on those loans and wondering if they can afford it. Then as we expand access, let's look at taking additional steps to ensure that our young people get more value for their college education.

Senator Rubio and I have teamed up on a bill that I think addresses that question, the Student Right To Know Before You Go Act. Going to that next step and adding more value to a young person's education when they are armed with the facts requires that we lay the foundation of access to a good education, which I think should be required when so many young people are hurting.

I went through the statistics, and it requires that we pass S. 2343.

I yield the floor.


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