CRANFORD –Students from Union County Community College’s Cranford Campus packed the student commons on Friday as U.S. Senator Bob Menendez held a round table discussion on an issue that disproportionately impacts people in their age group: affordable college and student loan debt.
The discussion also featured state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20), Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22), college administrators and current and former New Jersey college students impacted by debt. Menendez is an original co-sponsor of the Senate’s In the Red Act, which aims to provide a number of college affordability solutions to help young people graduate without being saddled by debt for much of their lives.
“The stories I heard in New Jersey today underscore the extent of our college debt crisis in this country, and show how the burden of student loans are weighing too heavily on far too many, “ said Menendez of the testimonials heard at the round table.
According to Menendez, ensuring that future generations are increasingly educated is a top priority because it will help secure America’s economic future.
“We are being challenged globally,” Menendez said. “For us to be a continuing economic leader, for people to see their wages rise… we need to have the most highly-educated generation.”
On Friday, Menendez pushed for attendees to reach out to their congresspeople to advocate for the act.
“We must act in congress to ease this burden because an entire generation should not be stuck in the red; they should instead be innovating and contributing to our economy,” Menendez said. “Let’s support past, current and future students in America by piling on the tools they need to succeed instead of piling on mountains of debt. I ask you all to reach out to your member of congress because not everyone agrees with us, not even in our own delegation. We need to generate a lot of heat.”
The Senate’s In the Red Act includes the following solutions to help curb student debt: (1) The America’s College Promise Act creates a grant program that provides a three-to-one federal-to-state match which will waive community college tuition for eligible students and helps cut two year tuition costs for those attending institutions that tend to serve low-income students; (2) The Pell Grant Cost of Tuition Adjustment Act would set rules in place for the maximum Pell Grant award to adjust with rising tuition costs and inflation; and (3) The Band on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would allow students to refinance loans at lower interest rates.
“That is what our in the red program is all about,” Menendez said. “It is about getting out of the red. We want it to explode with opportunity for the individual, for our communities, for the nation to be a continued economic leader.”
College affordability has been at the center of the national dialogue recently due to the ongoing presidential race. While Menendez has stayed mum on presidential politics so far, the college affordability plan he is pushing with the In the Red Act is more in line with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s college affordability plan than Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ plan. Clinton’s plan, like the In the Red Plan, aims to help students graduate debt-free and prioritizes aid based on need. Sanders’ plan aims to make all public colleges and universities free.