College Affordability

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The National Education Association’s “Degrees Not Debt” campaign and Arizona State University Young Democrats will host a State of the Student Debt Crisis event at ASU’s Tempe campus to educate the public on student debt. Degrees Not Debt campaign manager Tim Cywinski will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Student debt has become an increasing concern so much so the national education association's degrees not debt campaign and young Democrats hosted a debt crisis event at ASU's Tempe campus. Here with more is Amber Gould, NEA director and Rebecca Hamilton, president of the student program at ASU. Good to have you both here.

AMBER GOULD: Thanks for having us.

TED SIMONS: What is degrees, not debt?

AMBER GOULD: Well, degrees not debt, is a national campaign that national education association has been pursuing and basically it's to raise awareness on making college affordable for our students.

TED SIMONS: And as far as how many students are impacted by student debt, what are you seeing out there?

AMBER GOULD: Well, I do not know the exact number but I know that right now student debt is at 1.2 trillion, more than the national credit card average. So this is impacting students right now, impacting students who have already graduated and impacting those that are going into college.

TED SIMONS: How is it impacting students at ASU?

REBECCA HAMILTON: I believe it's impacting students at ASU because we all generally have to take out students loans and a lot of us that do full-time internships have to take them out to live because our needs have to be met. That way we can be successful in school.

TED SIMONS: Talk to us about your story. Is this your situation as well?

REBECCA HAMILTON: Yes. I have quite a bit of student loan debt. It will be my shadow for the rest of my life. I have had to take out student loans because financially my parents make too much money and they haven't made that money my whole life and I just was kind of in the unfortunate level where I had to take out a lot, especially going out of state.

TED SIMONS: Impact on the economy of student debt. Obviously young people they have so much debt they can't jump into the economy with both feet, can they?

AMBER GOULD: No, they cannot. I look at it -- I'm a fifth year teacher. It wasn't that long ago I was at ASU myself and I'm looking at my students in my English classroom today, looking at the list that I have on my desk of students that are asking me to write them letters of recommendation for scholarships because they know right now if they don't apply for scholarships or don't apply for financial aid college is not an option for them. They can't afford it. These are high school juniors and seniors looking into this. Then I have empty space on that list because I have students that think that they are not getting into college because they don't think they can afford it. These are kids that they are already done before they have even begun the process. That's not acceptable.

TED SIMONS: What is acceptable in terms of finding a solution to this problem? What would you like to see?

REBECCA HAMILTON: I would like to see students being informed on different ways to get scholarships, get these Pell grants and things like that. Especially even after taking out the loans, students need to start being educated on how to all of the different repayment programs and how to get loans forgiven. Just make it more affordable for everyone.

TED SIMONS: The concept of decreasing some of these loans, refinancing some of the loans, how much of that discussed, how much a possibility?

AMBER GOULD: I think it depends on what our representatives in Washington decide to do. I know there's a lot going on with the flexible Pell grant for 21st century students act where we're looking at making grants available in the summer as well. I know a lot of students at ASU sometimes their classes are not always offered during the fall and spring semesters when the grants are available. So this opens up an opportunity not only for them to take summer courses but maybe to get through college early and go into the work force early and actually contribute to the economy in that way.

TED SIMONS: What about enhancing like federal loan forgiveness, those sorts of ideas? Your thoughts.

AMBER GOULD: Well, I think there are definite programs that would benefit from student loan forgiveness, especially when we look at a field like education. So many educators, they are still paying off student loans year after year. My mom is a teacher. She is still paying off her student loans from when she went to NAU. These are things educators are facing. We're having trouble being able to afford to teach.

TED SIMONS: Some critics say tuition has basically skyrocketed due to increased aid. Is that a viable argument do you think?

AMBER GOULD: Well, from my perspective it's not. When I went into ASU I had scholarships but as the years went on tuition still went up and fees went up and being able to live -- those fees went up. By the time I was done even though I had scholarships I exited with my degree looking at a little over $18,000 in student loans which I'm still paying off today.

TED SIMONS: Others say, a loan is a contract. A contract is a contract. And for those who take out loans, they need to be repaid, forget about some assistance streamlining, forgiveness. How do you respond to that?

REBECCA HAMILTON: I don't really know how to respond to that because it worries me because I'm spending so much to go to school so I can be a teacher and push my kids to solve the problems of tomorrow. How am I supposed get them to go to college if they are not going to be able to afford it? How am I -- how is anyone like in education college for example supposed to get our kids to get out there when they won't be able to afford it.

TED SIMONS: What are you hearing from fellow students? Same boat?

REBECCA HAMILTON: Everyone has student debt.

TED SIMONS: And everyone has student debt sounds like a trillion or so around the country, not just at ASU, it's everywhere.

AMBER GOULD: It's absolutely everywhere. What I read earlier was two out of three students attending college have to take out student loans. I know a lot of those students are coming out of my classrooms and the classrooms in the state. As these current seniors are looking into colleges and scholarships, they are also being prepared to take out loans.

TED SIMONS: As far as the forgiveness aspect, last question, for teachers, not just tenured teachers but all teachers, if there were some sort of program to ease the load if you went into these positions, does that make sense?

AMBER GOULD: I think it absolutely does. I think the more that programs like going into education become more affordable, the more likely it is that we're going to be drawing in the best and brightest. Our best and brightest don't necessarily want to go into a field that they are going to be making peanuts for the rest of their lives. By making this effort I think it will open doors for a lot of people that may not have considered going into the teaching field.

TED SIMONS: Last question for you. Would you have made this decision originally knowing the kind of debt you racked up?

REBECCA HAMILTON: No.

TED SIMONS: You would have changed your decision?

REBECCA HAMILTON: I would have stayed in Texas and state with in-state tuition if I had known I would graduate with this behind me.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Amber Gould: NEA Director; Rebecca Hamilton: President of the ASU Student Program

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