BOWIE – U.S Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin are hoping to make students’ lives easier after visiting Bowie State University last week and hearing students’ concerns about student loans and debt. “The cost for the student is going up,” Mikulski said. “The tools to help them are limited. This is why Senator Cardin and […]
BOWIE – U.S Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin are hoping to make students’ lives easier after visiting Bowie State University last week and hearing students’ concerns about student loans and debt.
“The cost for the student is going up,” Mikulski said. “The tools to help them are limited. This is why Senator Cardin and I are here today. To make sure American young people have access to the American dream and have a fair shot for achieving it.”
Mikulski and Cardin said they wanted to hear from students since they are working on drafting legislation that will allow students to refinance college loans.
“You can refinance a yacht, but you can’t refinance a student loan,” Mikulski said. “We want (students) to have a fair shot at lowering their debt.”
Cardin said legislators have an opportunity to help higher education and lower student loans.
“We have a chance to do something about low interest rates and refinancing,” Cardin said. “That can make a huge difference. We can do that now.”
Cardin said he is concerned about the profit the federal government makes off of student loans and is an issue that needs to be further examined.
According to Mikulski, the last time a proposal to refinance student loans came up, there was a filibuster and the legislation failed to pass by two votes. But Mikulski said student testimony will help pass the legislation this time.
“Now with the clamor, the cry of the constituents, phones ringing, and emails saying do something about student debt, we hope that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are hearing what we’re hearing,” Mikulski said. “Help our kids. Help our families be able to have a future. All (they) want is a fair shot.”
Students at the roundtable discussion gave their own recommendations.
Amirah Lockheart, a graduate of Bowie State, said financial aid does not focus on the individual as a whole, but focuses on parent salaries. Some students, she said, have to pick up things financial aid does not cover because of their parents’ salary.
“The money we’re allotted may cover tuition, but for students who live on campus, it’s mandatory to have a meal plan,” Lockheart said. “That’s an additional cost to the family.”
Denzel Prince, another graduate from Bowie State, said he does not have financial aid debt because of his family circumstance, but he knows people who do have debt, which prevents them from furthering their education.
“Being from the inner city, a lot of my peers weren’t able to have that same benefit,” Prince said. “Unfortunately, some of my peers are intimidated and, frankly, just afraid to take the steps into higher education.”
Dorothy Body, the director of Bowie State’s financial aid office, said she would like to see the reinstatement of year-round Pell grants for students, because it will help expedite the graduation process for students. Students would be able to use their aid year round instead of paying out of pocket for summer and winter semester classes.
According to Bowie State University President Mickey Burnim, some students are not able to finish their education within a six year period at the university because they are not able to afford to take classes in a timely fashion.
“It can take more than six years (to graduate) because of the stopping out and people not being able to finish 15 or more credits per semester,” Burnim said. “If you start at 12 because that’s all you can manage while working a part-time job, and something happens you have to drop one of those, you end up with nine credits. It can take a while.”
The students all recommended year-round Pell grants be reinstated along with the ability to refinance loan debt after graduating. They also said they would like for Pell grants to cover more things outside of tuition.
Mikulski said she would like to see other things covered outside of tuition as well. She said things like books, a place to stay and things to eat are needed along with tuition. The problem for students is other amenities outside of tuition are being overlooked and it needs to be fixed.
“Washington is so removed they are sometimes in a bubble. I think they think ‘Oh, we solved the tuition problem. We’ve solved it,’” Mikulski said. “So if we’re going to look at the Pell grant we not only have to increase the money, but we have to increase what the Pell grant covers.”