Brown releases memo on college affordability
U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown released a whitepaper yesterday outlining his ideas on improving higher education, ranging from requiring colleges to keep tuition increases at pace with or lower than the rate of inflation to encouraging more women to enter science, math and engineering fields.
Brown also called for creating options for graduates to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, which was the subject of a bill backed by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen that failed in the U.S. Senate last week. When it comes to higher education policies, in fact, Shaheen and Brown don’t seem to be very far apart. Jim Rubens and Bob Smith, Brown’s Republican primary rivals, have not made policy announcements on higher education and do not include information on the subject on their websites.
New Hampshire students have some of the highest average loan debt in the country, with roughly 74 percent of graduates leaving school with an average debt of roughly $33,000.
Brown’s memo referenced the recently failed student loan bill, sponsored by his 2012 rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“Following the Senate’s failure to agree on legislation that would assist our young people in college and after they graduate, I’m bringing forward a set of proposals that I think can earn the support of people on both sides of the political aisle,” Brown wrote at the top of his memo.
Warren’s bill, which Shaheen co-sponsored, would have allowed qualified graduates paying off loans to refinance their debt at today’s lower interest rates. Republicans blocked the bill from a vote last week. Sen. Kelly Ayotte did not vote.
When asked, Brown’s campaign did not say how Brown would have voted on the legislation.
“Rather than speculate on bills that are going nowhere, Scott Brown has brought forward his own proposals that we think can get support from people on both sides of the aisle,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton said.
In Brown’s memo, he said student loans should be offered at capped market rates.
“In addition, borrowers should have the ability to consolidate and refinance their student loans at market rates to take advantage of today’s low interest rates,” the memo says.
Here are other proposals in Brown’s memo:
∎ Requiring colleges and universities to keep tuition and fee increases at or below the rate of inflation in order to participate in federal student aid programs.
∎ Offering grants through the National Science Foundation to schools that develop programs focused on getting women into the science, technology, engineering and math fields, known as STEM.
∎ Have the government give college applicants information about their financial aid eligibility rather than waiting for schools to determine aid packages after a student is accepted.
∎ Requiring student loan servicers to advise borrowers who qualify about income-based repayment programs.
Shaheen, for her part, has been actively pursuing legislation aimed at helping students better understand and pay back their student loans. In early 2013, she supported a bill that is now law, which lets graduates at certain income levels cap their monthly payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income.
This year, she introduced a bill to include private and public loans in a single online portal to help students better manage their debt. The bill has not made it to the Senate floor. Last week, however, President Obama included a piece of the bill in an executive order related to easing student loan debt. That piece of Shaheen’s bill aimed to spur new methods of outreach and communication between lenders and borrowers to help students pay off their debt. She’s also voted to increase the maximum amount of Pell Grants for students from low-income households.
Shaheen co-chairs the Senate’s STEM Education and Workforce Caucus and has introduced two STEM-related bills, one of which created a grant program for secondary schools that promote STEM education and workforce partnerships.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)