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Welch Discusses College Affordability At Community College Of Vermont

WAMC/Pat Bradley

College financial aid application deadlines are quickly approaching. As parents and students weigh their options, Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch is working to make higher education more affordable. He was at the Community College of Vermont’s Winooski campus earlier this week to discuss his efforts and resources that could help ease the financial burden of a college education.

Congressman Peter Welch has been advocating on affordable college legislation since he was a legislator in the Vermont statehouse.  In Congress he has sponsored bills that would allow borrowers to refinance federal and private student loans to take advantage of lower interest rates.  He amended legislation to ensure non-profit lenders can continue to provide services such as college counseling and financial aid. He created a task force to identify regulations that contribute to increasing college costs. He continues to working on several initiatives.  “I think America has to  make a much bigger commitment to providing support for students getting a higher education. We also have to work much more aggressively with our college administrators to slow the rate of growth of the cost of tuition. But we’ve made some progress. The financial application form, which used to be a nightmare to fill out, has become much more simplified. That was legislation I introduced a few years ago. We’ve got now something that’s really going to be helpful: income-based repayment. That’s provided a lot of breathing room for some of our young people and older people. The other challenge that I think is really important is we’ve got to get those interest  rates down. This is something that just is an on-going challenge.”

Welch says a huge challenge to passing cost containment initiatives will be the Republican-controlled Congress.  “These higher interest rates where the government is, in fact, making money off of the profit that’s coming out of the pockets of parents and students, that’s going to pay deficit reduction. I don’t think we should be asking the parents and the students to be contributing to the deficit reduction. We ought to be doing that in other ways. So this is the debate that we’re having. My hope is that we can persuade more of our Republican colleagues to move in a different direction and to try to give that lower interest rate benefit to our families that have the ambition to get educated and educate their kids.”

Speaking just weeks after President Obama outlined plans to make community college free for many students, Welch highlighted the Community College of Vermont as a school that keeps costs lower.
He was surrounded by financial aid councilors and students who opted to save money by attending a two-year college. Marc McKivergan is a second year student who says it’s his best option.  “CCV was so instrumental in helping me get an affordable education that won’t have me graduate with a mountain of student debt. I’m so grateful that I saw this as an option. I’ve got to be honest. I was a firm believer of this stigma that community college was where you went if you weren’t accepted anywhere else and if you went there you were no good because you couldn’t get into anywhere else. I was so wrong. And I’m very grateful that I saw this as an option.”

Vermont Student Assistance Corporation President Scott Giles notes that it is grant, scholarship and loan application time —but two million students annually fail to fill out the forms making them eligible for financial aid. He says Congressman Welch has made great strides in two areas.   “There is some broad based interest in trying to look at the interest rates. Peter indicated this past year parents were paying a rate of 7.21 percent. At a time when the federal government is borrowing at 1.75 percent that’s unconscionable. He’s also been working to help state agencies like VSAC offer state loans that would effectively reduce those rates even further. So I think that between the efforts that he’s engaged in Washington to reduce federal loans and the efforts he’s engaged in to reduce the cost of state loans I think that families will see some relief within the next two years.”

Congressman Welch cited data that nationally student debt is estimated to be $1.2 trillion.
99-thousand current and graduated students in Vermont have student loans.

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