Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Jim McGovern speaks at forum on college debt and affordability

By Danny Cordova

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(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Congressman Jim McGovern was a featured speaker for a forum on college debt and affordability at the University of Massachusetts Wednesday in the Student Union Ballroom.

The Affordability Crisis of Higher Education forum allowed students and other participants to hear McGovern, who represents Amherst’s district, and other speakers discuss the crisis of higher education accessibility and affordability.

“I am a big believer that universities are incubators for social change,” McGovern said. “All great movements in our country were born in university campuses, whether they were anti-war movements or movement towards protecting our environment, and this issue is no exception.”

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy opened the forum and introduced McGovern.

“The federal government has a huge role to provide low cost and high quality education for students,” Subbaswamy said.

McGovern then took the stage to discuss the importance of conversations and debates about college affordability. He also encouraged college students and staff to take an active role in the discussion and allow their voices and opinions to be heard in the state and federal level.

“More conversations are helpful. We need you, the students, staff, and faculty of colleges and universities, to actively participate in this debate,” McGovern said.

McGovern also discussed the issue of American families being able to send their children to college. He highlighted the importance of an educated workforce in the United States to continue to be an economic superpower in the future.

“The frustrating thing for me is that everyone agrees that we value college education and we want more and more people to get a college education (but) we do very little to make it easier for people,” McGovern said.

As a legislator, McGovern said he encounters and hears stories from students and constituents about how student debt prevents them from attending school because it might be too expensive, or from owning a home once they graduate. Some students wonder if pursuing a higher education is worth having to go through years of paying back student debt.

McGovern said he believes that further investments in student aid must be made, especially in Pell Grants that McGovern believes have not kept up to the rise of college tuition. He said he would also like to focus on opportunities to lower interest rates on student loans.

Maggie Thompson of Higher Ed Not Debt, a campaign dedicated to helping students pay their student loans, and the Center for American Progress, a public policy and research organization, also joined with McGovern to contribution in the discussion.

“When I think about student debt, I think of it as a massive organizing opportunity,” Thompson said. “We think there is such an opportunity, because there are so many of us (accumulating student debt), to build a movement around student debt.”

Thompson said she believes that the discussion on college affordability should be broadened to not only students, but teachers, union groups and realtors as well.

Thompson also said she supports creating public policies that engage and help borrowers to pay back their debt.

“Right now, we don’t have a Congress that is moving these policies, so you all in Massachusetts and other states across the country are where we are going to build this movement,” Thompson said.

Following a musical performance by Ben Grosscup, the discussion of higher education affordability and accessibility was taken to the state level when Representative Paul W. Mark, co-chair of the Legislature’s Student Loan Debt Subcommittee, Luc Schuster from the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, and Thompson spoke about the issue.

“We have a lot of work to do to start the conversation, because people often feel that this (student debt) is their fault. We want to let people know that this is a systematic problem and we have opportunities to build a movement at the state level that is going to affect the federal level on the way we do higher education in this country,” Thompson said.

Workshops were also provided to students about solutions to the issue of higher education affordability. The workshops taught students how to organize for a debt-free higher education, and there was an information session about the Fair Share Tax Amendment, which would raise taxes by four percent on Massachusetts residents with over $1 million dollars in annual income.

The forum was presented by the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts, which is an organization founded in 2007. Its goals include funding public higher education, making higher education affordable and accessible for all students and hiring more teachers and researchers.

Danny Cordova can be reached at [email protected]

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