My Turn: The issue of student debt causes a young Republican to lose faith in the party
For the last two years, it has been my mission to recruit millennials into the fold of the Republican Party. Talking to young voters, educating my classmates and motivating them to get involved was an incredibly rewarding experience as chairman of the New Hampshire Federation of College Republicans. However, if these same students and recent graduates desire to have their voices heard and their interests fought for, they would be well-advised to vote Democrat this November.
After many months of reflection, I have come to realize that the Republican Party has failed to see the big picture on issues that matter most to my generation, particularly in regards to the crushing student loan debt that burdens our lives. The dire consequences of this crisis are felt far more personally than most issues today, and as such, I am compelled to advocate for leaders and policies that will address this problem head-on.
As a recent undergraduate student in New Hampshire, I know firsthand just how difficult it is to succeed as a young American, especially when it is estimated that a whopping 74 percent of New Hampshire students – myself included – leave college with an average student loan debt of $33,000 – the second-highest average in the nation.
As a result, we are putting major life decisions on hold, and struggle every day to have faith in the dreams that led us to pursue higher education in the first place. Even for those of us who have found work, our ability to contribute to the economy is crippled, and for many of us, the financial stability of our own families is at risk.
This kind of oppression must not be tolerated. Millennials and middle-class families deserve immediate and effective solutions to this crisis.
The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, is a prime example of how leaders from the Democratic Party are leading the way on this issue. If passed, the bill would allow students and families to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, ultimately saving them thousands of dollars along the way.
Refinancing homes and cars has long been a successful way for middle-class families to improve their economic conditions and alleviate the financial difficulties they face. Granting recent graduates this chance would likewise give young Americans the opportunity they need to thrive.
In fact, more than 125,000 students in New Hampshire alone would be affected by this legislation. With more money in their pockets and more control over their lives, this positive change would help ignite our state’s economy.
Unfortunately for us, however, Republicans in the U.S. Senate recently blocked the Bank on Students bill. Their approach to this issue is one that simply fails to address the immediate and pressing nature of this crisis.
In the past, GOP leaders have advocated for the government to play a lesser role, if any, in regards to higher education, often pointing instead to the problematic rising cost of tuition.
To be sure, the high cost of college has indeed helped to produce the staggering student loan debt we see today.
But when it comes to actually combatting this trend in New Hampshire, Democratic leadership is once again leading the way.
Gov. Maggie Hassan and our Democratic representatives in Concord restored funding to New Hampshire’s higher education system, resulting in the first in-state tuition freeze in 25 years.
In addition, low-income students are now receiving scholarships to attend college.
Just recently, the Community College System of New Hampshire announced that tuition rates at all seven of their colleges would be lowered for this coming school year.
Today, a college education in the Granite State is more affordable and more accessible to all who desire a fair chance to succeed.
Leaders like Shaheen and Hassan continually prove that they are deeply invested in the future of millennials. Their investment in students is ultimately an investment in the future of our state and our country.
Funding public higher education, supporting Pell Grants and advocating for legislation like the Bank on Students bill are just a few of many ways in which their actions have improved the lives of countless young Americans. The debate over student loan debt in this country has made one thing abundantly clear: when millennials speak, Democrats listen. Even as my generation reels from crushing debt, their resolve to find solutions to this crisis only continues to grow.
After all, it has been said that millennials are in fact optimistic and upbeat about their future. Therefore, we owe it to ourselves to support leaders who are dedicated to solving the problems that restrain our true and full potential.
As students begin another school year, it is my hope that young voters across New Hampshire will judge candidates not just for the ads they run or the words they say, but for the actions each candidate has taken to positively and directly impact their lives.
Once they do, they’ll find that supporting Democrats this November is by far the right choice to make.
(Jake Wagner attended St. Anselm College and was chairman of the New Hampshire Federation of College Republicans from 2012 to 2014. He lives in Manchester.)