It’s the end of September and the back-to-school rush is settling down. But for many, the financial burden of going back to school is never-ending. It is time to focus on how we are going to ensure every single American can afford a quality education without being set back for life by crippling debt.
Recently, I have taken steps on three major education bills to provide every American access to a quality education, allow graduates to gain economic freedom, and strengthen our education system so it works for all Americans.
An educated, financially independent workforce is the key to a successful economy. If we want a strong, resilient economy, we need to ensure every single Floridian can access a quality education without going into lifelong debt. And we need to ensure those who have gotten their education are able to contribute fully to their local economy after graduation.
It is widely understood that obtaining some college education—at least two years—is the key to the middleclass. But this crucial aspect of the American Dream is out of reach for many. One of the primary causes of college dropout is the financial burden—it’s estimated that over one in three community college students did not have enough money for food, and almost 14 percent are homeless. I’m taking a lead on the America’s College Promise Act of 2019 (ACP) to provide an affordable option for community college so every person, no matter their financial status, has a chance to learn the skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy.
Community college provides an affordable and accessible higher education option for most Americans. The America’s College Promise Act will create partnerships between the federal government and states to make community college affordable for all students—whether they are recent high school graduates or established workers looking to gain the skills to be competitive in the workforce. It also provides two years free at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities (TCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).
Providing an affordable path to higher education is critical. But if we are serious about helping Americans obtain higher education and achieve financial independence, we also need to be helping people who have already gone through the education system and who are now making efforts to repay their loans and repair their credit.
About 43 million Americans currently carry a federal student loan and owe $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt, plus an estimated $119 billion in student loans from private sources not backed by the government. Americans can’t contribute fully to their local economy because a huge chunk of their paychecks every month goes to student loans.
Last week, I took action towards fixing the student loan crisis and introduced the Clean Slate through Consolidation Act and the Clean Slate through Repayment Act, two bills to remove default records from the credit history of federal student loan borrowers who have consolidated their defaulted loan or repaid the loan in full. These bills are simple steps to clear financial stains from a person’s record after they have consolidated or repaid their loan in full.
Higher education shouldn’t throw American families into crippling debt—unfortunately, it does. America has over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, a terrible marker for our economy. Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category in the US. Making higher education affordable needs to be a national priority, but until that happens, we need to help those in student loan debt achieve financial independence. An economy where millions of people carry heavy financial debt is unsustainable and wavering on the edge of collapse. We need to take action to clear student loan defaults before it disrupts our entire economy.
And when it comes to higher education, people of color are disproportionately set up for failure. Black and Hispanic students are much less likely to graduate. And when they do graduate, students of color have the highest default rates compared with their peers. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities (TCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) are essential in ensuring students of color have access to a quality higher education. MSIs serve nearly 6 million undergraduate students, of which approximately two out of three are students of color. Collectively, students at MSIs account for more than one-quarter of all undergraduates. Last week, I’m proud that we passed the FUTURE Act to protect funding for MSIs and help communities of color get ahead and better serve America’s students.
The FUTURE Act is a bipartisan proposal to preserve funding for MSIs. It protects universities like Florida International University (FIU) that give their student body a comfortable place to succeed and receive a quality education. This funding will ensure these colleges and universities can continue to provide affordable education targeted towards minority communities.
Higher education and helping those after graduation needs to be a national priority. The student debt crisis is a major threat to our economy and is holding Americans back from fully participating in the American Dream. But we shouldn’t even be in a student debt crisis. The cost of higher education is outrageous and unattainable for too many families. I will continue to work to ensure education is a possibility for every American, while helping those who have graduated gain financial freedom, because the cost of higher education should not stand in the way of America’s success.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) represents FL-26