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Schwartz: Access to Higher Education is a Top Priority for Pennsylvania Middle-Class Families

Press Release

Location: Abington, PA

With the recent news that Pennsylvania ranks 2nd in the nation for student loan debt, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz joined students and faculty at Penn State Abington today to discuss the importance of students and their families having access to vital information about their student loan options.

At the press conference, Laurinda Hellwig, a senior at Penn State Abington, said that as a first generation college student, she didn't have the experience of her parents to help her navigate the student loan process. As the mother of two children and one on the way, Laurinda said student loans have been critical to helping her go back to school and raise her family. Deanna Harris, a first-year student from Philadelphia, also discussed how student loans have helped her and her father, a Marine who recently decided to get his degree, afford a college education.

According to a report by the Institute of College Access and Success, students graduating from Pennsylvania colleges in 2011 left campus with nearly $30,000 in loans -- the second highest average in the nation.

Read the full report here:

One of the biggest challenges facing students and college graduates is not the just the amount they borrow, but who their lender is. Unlike federal student loans, private loans typically have uncapped, variable rates, hefty origination fees, and few consumer protections. What's worse, is that a majority of student loan borrowers who turn to more expensive private student loan options do so without fully exhausting all of the federal student loan options available to them. This means increased costs for most student borrowers.

In August, Schwartz introduced the Know Before You Owe Act, which requires schools to counsel students on the financial aid options available to them and requires private lenders to adopt commonsense steps to protect student borrowers.

"With 70 percent of college graduates in the Commonwealth saddled with student loan debt, it is critical that we empower students and their families with the important information they need to make wise decisions about financing their education," said Schwartz. "We must safeguard our students from risky loans that could have a lasting impact years after they graduate. Access to affordable higher education will prepare our students for a 21st century job market and will ensure America's continued economic strengthen and competitiveness."

"I utilize my federal loans to cover the balance of my tuition and other expenses associated with my college experience, such as the cost of books, transportation, and childcare," said Laurinda Hellwig, Senior at Penn State Abington from Warminster, PA. "So I applaud Rep. Schwartz for taking a leadership role to help students like me."

"The Know Before You Owe Act requires institutions to notify students about their federal financial aid eligibility prior to certifying a private loan, something Penn State instituted on their own two years ago," said Christopher Walters, Associate Director of Enrollment Management and Retention at Penn State Abington. "The bill would require all colleges and universities to do the same, leveling the playing field for students nationwide."

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