Sen. Elizabeth Warren visits UMass to discuss LSL, life science research funding, student loan debt

By Aviva Luttrell

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian
Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

Sen. Elizabeth Warren met with students, faculty and administrators at the University of Massachusetts on Wednesday afternoon to tour the University’s recently constructed Life Science Laboratories and discuss student loan debt and the affordability of higher education.

The visit was part of Warren’s “Priorities for the Future” tour in Massachusetts, which focuses on her plans to make higher education more affordable, to refinance student loan debt, and to double funding for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

During a brief tour of the new research laboratories, Warren met with several professors to discuss current research efforts, including life science and medical research funded by NIH and NSF.

“Our laboratory has actually been funded quite a bit by NIH … for actually looking at ways to evaluate physical activity with wearable sensors,” said Professor of Kinesiology Patty Freedson.

Among Warren’s concerns was the fact that NIH cuts have affected this type of research on campus, and she stressed the importance of continued financial support.

“We’re going to fight for this together,” she said.

Following the tour, Warren met with 11 student leaders in the Integrated Sciences Building for a roundtable discussion on student debt led by UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

“State-supported schools are the opening for everyone,” Warren said. “The principle point is that public universities are there (to be) an affordable alternative for anyone who wants to work hard and get an education.”

Warren said that figuring out how to get adequate financial support for these universities has become one of her main priorities, and pointed to the shift in funding over the past 20 years.

“Just a couple of decades ago, across the country, states paid three out of every four dollars it took to educate the students,” Warren said. “That has now shifted. The state is now paying about 25 percent,” she continued. “That means that the school has to find other ways to make that up, and most of that falls on the student. I worry deeply about that.”

Subbaswamy pointed out that it is now fairly normal for students to take up to six years to complete their degrees. Both he and Warren agreed that, in order to cut costs for students, it must become a priority for universities to ensure that students are able to graduate in a timely manner.

“We really want to turn the clock back in terms of four-year graduations,” Subbaswamy said.

“Federal investment in our schools needs to be aimed toward rewarding the UMass Amherst models and similar models, and not towards supporting schools that are throwing in a lot of money but not producing diplomas that are valuable to their students,” said Warren.

During the discussion, Warren also talked about her efforts to introduce a bill to refinance the nation’s $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, which she said is putting a strain on the economy and preventing young adults from buying homes and starting families.

“If we refinance that debt, these are people who will put that money back into the economy,” she said.

“I will be out here fighting for this this spring,” she continued, and added that student support is crucial to make change happen.

According to Warren, the United States government is currently on target to make $185 billion in profits over the next ten years from the student loan program.

“That’s just fundamentally wrong. College students should not be subsidizing big industry, and that’s what’s happening right now,” she said. “For me, it’s both an economic issue and a moral issue.”

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected]