Last Friday, Sep. 5, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) spoke to students about college debt.
The event, hosted by GMU Democrats, was an open Q&A session where students were in charge of the conversation.
On the last stop of his “Tackling Student Debt Tour,” Warner spent the majority of time answering questions from members of the audience in the packed HUB ballroom. Sophomore Taylor Pigram, the vice president of GMU Democrats, kicked off the evening by describing her experience with college loans.
“Before I [decided] on what college I would attend, I always knew I was going to be in debt,” Pigram said. “I assumed somewhere the government would find some money for me to attend college, but lo and behold my mother was taking out over $13,000 in student loans.”
After Pigram emphasized the necessity of obtaining higher education “just to be competitive in the rocky job market we’ve been forced to find work in,” Warner described his solutions to ease the burden of college payments.
Warner’s Dynamic Student Loan Repayment Act, which he drafted with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, outlines an income-based repayment plan, which would offer greater flexibility with payments. Other solutions presented by Warner were permitting students to refinance loans, employers to designate $5,000 of pre-tax salary for payments and a website dedicated to transparency of a college’s average student debt, which Warner dubbed “Know Before You Go.”
“I think we’re going to have to try a variety of tools to fix this problem,” Warner said in a later phone call. “There’s no silver bullet here, no one single solution.”
Students also shared personal stories. Audience members expressed concerns regarding university funding, unpaid internships and ways the federal government profits off of loans, among other inquiries.
“Whether it’s student debt or aid to higher education, if young people voted in their numbers, these wouldn’t be the first things to be cut,” Warner said. “You have to have your voices heard.”
Not all questions pertained specifically to Warner’s solutions for managing college debt. Some students asked how the DREAM act would help undocumented students pay for college.
“We will not be able to receive aid,” one audience member said. “For example, I can’t fill out a FAFSA. I can’t get loans. I can’t get grants. I can’t do any of that.”
“It’s one more reason why we need comprehensive immigration reform,” Warner said. “You fall in that category, [but] you didn’t make that choice; your parents or your family did, so why should you be penalized on that?”
Warner ended the night on a positive note, trying to instill optimism in those burdened by college debt.
“If you want your voices heard you have got to be part of this process,” Warner said. “You deserve better. We ought to guarantee everyone no matter where you came from, what you look like, what you believe, in a fair shot. I’m going back to work tomorrow to fight for these things. We will get there. I would never bet against the kind of creative energy in America, for that matter, the creative energy in this room.”