By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) hosted a roundtable discussion with students and administrators from University of Michigan-Dearborn and Henry Ford College regarding student loans and college affordability.
Dingell is a co-sponsor of the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would save students and families thousands of dollars by allowing federal and private student loan borrowers to refinance their loans at lower rates.
“People can refinance their mortgage and credit cards but there is no reason why they cannot refinance their student loans,” Dingell said.
She spent the morning of April 8 discussing and learning the concerns that come with student debt.
Students in attendance spoke on the challenges they face as undergraduate and graduate students, as well as their ideas for solutions.
“I spend my day thinking about how my loans are gaining interest while I’m still in school,” UM-D undergraduate student Melissa Monier said. “It’s really sad.”
Other students voiced concern over the cost of tuition, fees that come from purchasing books, and room and board.
“I have a pell grant, scholarship and I am a work study student but still have to take out loans every semester,” UM-D undergraduate student Phillip Voydanoff said.
The federal Pell Grant is also something Dingell said she wants to improve. Pell grants are awarded to undergraduate students and last for 12 full-time semesters or six years.
“I want to extend the six-year time limit of the Pell Grants,” Dingell said. “Most students need more time to earn their degree because they work while taking classes.”
There are 40 million Americans who are working to repay $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. In Michigan, 1.5 million residents owe more than $39 billion.
Dingell also asked students for their thoughts on two free years of community college as proposed by President Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address.
All of students agreed that the proposal was a good idea.
“It allows students the time to take classes to help them decide which career path they want to take before transferring to a university,” UM-D undergraduate student Kevin Carney said.
Student loan debt affects students as well as parents and families, Dingell said.
“Some parents have to dip into their life savings or 401k to help their children pay for college and fees,” said Kevin Culler, HFC director of Financial Aid.
Dingell said she will continue her efforts for affordable education and with the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act.
“Getting real life stories helps with getting legislative to pass the act and help families,” Dingell said. “I want to raise people’s awareness on the student loan issue.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)