U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., addressed the rising cost of college tuition during a 30 minute conference call with campus reporters Wednesday.
Hagan’s office organized the call ahead of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing Thursday. The hearing will focus on the importance of investments in higher education.
Hagan, a member of the committee, voted in favor of extending the lower interest rate of 3.4 percent on some federal student loans issued on or after July 1. The extension passed Congress, preventing the rate from doubling to 6.8 percent.
Hagan insisted that as the burden of rising tuition costs increases, college education moves beyond the reach of millions of Americans.
“Our students have more student loan debt than credit card debt in this country,” she said.
She said the value of higher education is evidenced by the statistics, as students who attend college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree earn 85 percent more on average than a student with just a high school diploma.
Students who attend universities also play a key role in the country’s economic future, she said.
“Making college affordable is key to keeping America competitive in the global economy. An investment in college education is an investment in our economy,” she said.
Chelsea Boccardo, student body president at UNC-Greensboro, and José Cruz, vice president of higher education policy and practice for the Education Trust, also spoke on the conference call.
Boccardo highlighted the importance of the multiple federal and state programs that assist with the rising cost of tuition, like UNC-G’s Guarantee Program, which helps highly qualified students whose family income falls below the poverty line attend college with little to no debt upon graduating.
Until recently, North Carolina allocated an increasing amount of funds toward these programs.
But state budget cuts have shifted the burden back to students, as universities increase tuition and fees due to a lack of funding.
Because of rapidly escalating tuition, Cruz said he fears there are a growing number of students unable to attend college.
“It’s scary that we are seeming to get to a point where the youngest generation of Americans will be less educated than their parents,” he said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan have proposed capping the maximum amount of available Pell Grants at $5,550 for recipients. Hagan said she’ll keep talking about investing in education even if Romney and Ryan are elected.
“I’m a big believer in education — I’m looking at what’s good for the citizens of North Carolina and for our nation,” she said.
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