Legislature Takes on Student Debt

By Anastasia Wilson


In June, the Massachusetts legislature took a step to investigate student debt by creating a Subcommittee on Student Debt as part of the Joint Committee on Higher Education.

The subcommittee, chaired by Berkshire State Representative Paul Mark, will critically examine rising college costs in the Commonwealth, assess the effects of rising college debt balances, and explore possible policy recommendations.payitforword

Mark told iBerkshires reporter Andy McKeever in June, “The purpose is to find out if there is something to be done on the state level to alleviate the growing problem.”

Rep. Mark has first hand experience in dealing with rising college costs and student debt. He said that he once had to drop out of college due to the costs. The problem has continued to worsen since Mark earned a UMass Amherst Master of Science degree. According to the Project on Student Debt, the recent cohort data for the class of 2011 shows Massachusetts students graduating with an average of $27,181 in student debt.

In an interview with WAMC radio, Representative Mark put the issue into economic perspective. He said, “As a graduate of a community college, as a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and as a household where my wife and I pay more than $750 a month in student loan debt, I want our universities and our colleges to be the best. I want people like myself that couldn’t pay for education on their own because they’re not personally wealthy to have the opportunity to go to a college. And at the same time, I realize $750 a month is a mortgage in some places. That’s a rental payment, that’s cars, that’s money that’s not going into the economy.”

The subcommittee plans to hold hearings around the state this fall, to speak with students, administrators, and other groups across the Commonwealth.

PHENOM will be engaged in the process through research and by encouraging students to speak with the group, expressing their concerns about student debt.

Hopefully this subcommittee, and its subsequent legislative proposals, can become a model for addressing student debt.