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The Daily Tar Heel

NC senate candidates debate over student loans

But Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis gave a less-than-clear answer in response to a question on refinancing during the Oct. 7 televised debate against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

Hagan asked Tillis why he wouldn’t support a refinancing bill that is being discussed in the Senate. It’s designed to allow students to consolidate multiple loans into one and pay them back over a longer period of time at a potentially lower interest rate.

“If we cut the interest rate to zero, many of these students don’t have jobs to pay off their loans,” Tillis said. “Hagan, instead of thinking about things, creating job opportunities that will let them pay off the student loans, just wants to go into this sort of new mentality where all you’re doing is trying to help people pay off debt versus give them the resources to grow and realize their American dream.”

Hagan fired back at Tillis for what she considered his lack of support for the bill.

“This is a commonsense measure that could help thousands of people — 600,000 just in North Carolina,” she said.

In 2011, 59 percent of N.C. college graduates had debt after graduation. The federal student loan default rate is the highest it’s been in 16 years. Student loan debt in America stands at $1.2 trillion, more than almost all other types of debt.

“I would be outraged that someone in the Senate who wants to represent me has so little sympathy,” said Gary Pearce, a left-leaning political analyst. “There is just not an understanding and appreciation of the college system.”

UNC freshman Jonah Mendys said student loans are a big part of every college student’s life.

“We need someone to represent us who understands just how daunting they can be,” he said.

Mitch Kokai, political analyst for the John Locke Foundation, said Tillis’ stance on the loan refinancing proposal has been misconstrued.

“Thom Tillis simply issued a statement saying that a recent bill on student refinance had many glaring issues. This is simply the Hagan campaign trying to find ground to use against Tillis,” he said.

If Tillis unseats Hagan, he will have a say in the issue, Pearce said, because the Senate is likely to discuss the proposal after the election.

“It’s all up to college students and whether they are registered to vote — about who will represent them in their fight against student loans.”

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