WASHINGTON — Tensions flared over college affordability at a Senate hearing Tuesday, with some lawmakers calling for more regulation on the issue.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee’s priority should be to help the 40 million students with loans find a way to repay their debt. Collectively that debt amounts to more than $1.4 trillion.
“Anyone who denies we have a college affordability and debt crisis problem in this country has their head pretty deep in the sand,” said Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Warren added that the American higher education system cannot be improved on without further investment and support from the Senate and the House of Representatives.
During the annual conference for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which was held last week, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said “there isn’t any more money out there to spend” on students and higher education. Foxx serves as the chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Referencing Foxx’s remarks, Warren attacked Republicans at the hearing, saying they emphasized tax cuts and helping the rich over students’ needs.
“Congressional Republicans could find $1.5 trillion to give to rich people and corporations, but suddenly there is no money left to invest in people who are trying to get a college education,” Warren said.
The committee is examining proposals as part of efforts to renew the Higher Education Act, which has been in place since 1965. In previous hearings, senators have called for the simplification of the federal financial aid system and the need for academic institutions to foster more innovation and become more accessible to underrepresented students.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Congress spends too much time regulating colleges on issues like accreditation, without taking into account students’ biggest burden on their post-secondary education, which is often the expensive price tag. Murphy said the energy Congress puts into their proposals “doesn’t translate to a cheaper product.”
According to StartClass, an education data website, the accumulated student debt nationwide increases $2,726.27 every second.
In his opening remarks, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the committee, said lawmakers should redirect the government’s $28 billion in grants and $92 billion in loans more effectively across low-income students.
Montgomery College President Dr. DeRionne Pollard said solutions toward affordability should be tailored to each individual applying to college, as income and spending varies across different families in the U.S.
“Poverty, not the lack of personal effort, is the biggest barrier to their degrees,” Pollard said.