Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (IL-05), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and Senator Dick Durbin (IL) held a congressional field forum to explore the impact of the growing student loan debt on families and the economy.
The forum was hosted by Rep. Quigley in the Chicago City Council chambers, where the Illinois lawmakers heard testimony from a diverse panel of higher education experts, consumer protection advocates, and students affected by escalating debt. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also provided perspective on for-profit colleges and the debt issues some of those schools have created for students.
"We have a vital interest in keeping the costs of higher education affordable for anyone who wants to pursue it. Not only is it the right thing to do for students, but this skyrocketing debt is having a significantly negative social and economic impact," said Rep. Quigley. "The sad fact is that while college is supposed to be a route out of poverty and the key to personal success, the opposite is often truer."
Members of Congress listened to students and higher
education experts testify on the issue of student debt.
A June 2012 study from UNC-Greensboro found that "borrowing an additional $10,000 for education decreases the probability of marriage by 11 and 17 percentage points, respectively, for men and women whose age is below 37." A May 2012 study from Rutgers University found that student debt caused 40 percent of graduates to delay a major purchase.
"Student debt has become a life-changing issue, not just for students but also for the parents and grandparents who cosign for loans," said Senator Durbin. "My office often hears from students who have problems with their loans but have no idea where to turn for help. When Congress reconvenes in September, I intend to introduce legislation to create a clearinghouse for student debt issues through the U.S. Department of Education which will facilitate student inquiries and refer them to the appropriate entity. We need to ensure all students have a chance to gain a meaningful education without mortgaging their future."
Rohit Chopra, Student Loan Ombudsman from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, discussed the issues of perils of private loans while Charlie Evans, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provided an overview of financial aid and how the state's largest public university manages the process."Congress must make student loan funding and providing needed relief to students saddled with student loan debt a top priority," said Rep. Schakowsky. "It is vital to our economy that we work to bring down the cost of education to ensure that students are not priced out of attending college or hindered with years of debt after graduation. I am committed to efforts to make sure getting a higher education is affordable for every student."
Two student witnesses also testified to the impact student loan debt has had on their higher education and post-collegiate decisions.
Katie Pantell is a National Merit Scholar attending Loyola University of Chicago on scholarship. Despite financial aid, she is still borrowing money to cover her daily expenses. Ms. Pantell testified that she's worried that when she graduates with $20,000 or more in debt, she won't be able to pursue Teach America or another public service position because of her debt and the accruing interest.
Alex Brooks graduated from ITT Technical Institute in 2006, but when he began looking for jobs, prospective employers told him he did not have the proper certification to do any computer programming, a requirement his school never informed him he would need. Brooks' situation highlights one of the criticisms of for-profit schools, some of whom use misleading recruiting practices that leave students unprepared and in debt.
"The most egregious abuses in the student lending industry are being committed by for-profit colleges, charging students outrageous prices for what too often are useless degrees," Attorney General Madigan said. "We've seen first-hand the damage done to these students who wanted nothing more than to go to school to better themselves only to be burdened with debilitating debt and few job prospects in their chosen field. Left unchecked, I fear these institutions will produce a generation of students saddled with debt and years of financial insecurity."
Congressman Quigley has been actively working to protect the education benefits of service members and veterans, introducing the Military and Veterans Education Protection Act earlier this year. This legislation aims to close a loophole that encourages for-profit colleges to target active duty military and veterans using military education assistance programs. He sits on the Committee on Oversight and Government reform and previously co-authored an opinion piece with Sen. Durbin on the predatory nature of many for-profit colleges.