Tackling the Student Debt Crisis

By Natalie Higgins, PHENOM Executive Director

Excerpted from 2015 Spring Newsletter


On April 2, 2015, UMass Boston hosted a forum on “Tackling the Student Debt Crisis,” with Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings. It was one in a series of forums held by the Middle Class Prosperity Project launched by Sen. Warren and Rep. Cummings. PHENOM has supported the Senator’s fight against the student debt crisis and held a rally in September 2014 in downtown Boston in support of Senator Warren’s Student Loan Refinance Bill.

The forum consisted of two panels, the first filled with people struggling with student loan debt and the second with experts on the student loan debt crisis. A number of themes emerged.

First, public higher education, which used to be the “affordable and accessible” option, continues to lose that status as state and federal funding is cut.

Second, as students take on mountains of debt, they are forced to drop out, reconsider their career paths, or put off graduate school, because of the burden student loans are putting on them and their families.

Third, the current system of student loan servicing is not working, and often borrowers do not know about assistance programs available to them.

One million more borrowers fell behind on their student loan payments and student loan debt has risen to $1.3 trillion since 2014 when Senator Warren first introduced the Student Loan Refinancing legislation.

Representative Cummings, a long-serving member of the U.S. House from Maryland’s 7th district, lamented that too many students and their families face a scary decision, when they’re forced to mortgage their future to get a college education.

This is even more problematic when you consider that the value of a college education is higher than ever—students with a college degree earn 98% more than those who do not. This is not the time to cut state and federal funding for public higher ed. As Sen. Warren said, we need to “bring back an America that believes in public higher education!”

The FY16 Republican Budget cuts PELL Grants and guts programs like Pay As You Earn (PAYE). This is a real issue for Massachusetts residents, where more than 980,000 people owe more than $24 billion in student debt. This has a direct impact on borrowers’ mental health, job choices, and ability to participate in the economy.

PHENOM is ready to work with students, legislators, families and educators to take action to let Congress know that investment in public higher education is fundamental to success of our communities and our economy.

The forum addressed important issues, but interest rates on student loans are just one problem. More importantly, reducing the cost of public higher education lessens the need to take out loans in the first place.