January 22, 2014

Daily Hampshire Gazette: In Amherst visit, Sen. Elizabeth Warren cites UMass affordability model

By: Scott Merzbach
January 22, 2014

AMHERST - Continuing efforts she is pursuing in Washington to reduce the financial burden on college students, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren will file a bill to refinance student loan debt.

At a meeting Wednesday afternoon with University of Massachusetts students and Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy at the flagship campus, Warren promised to introduce legislation that would refinance $1.2 trillion in student loan debt.

"Student loan debt is a strong stimulus for the economy if we refinance that debt," Warren said. "For me, it's both an economic and moral issue."

The roundtable with students took place during Warren's first visit to the Amherst campus, part of an initiative titled "Priorities for the Future." While on campus, Warren also took a tour of the Integrated Sciences Building, where professors outlined some of the collaborations that exist between their research and private industry.

Keith Lema, a junior economics and political science major from Easton, said he appreciates that Warren has used her tenure in Washington to focus on college affordability.

"It's really great to know, as someone young and at college, that I have someone in my corner," Lema said.

"She's one of the few providing a voice to this issue," said Leo Sheehan, a senior from Raynham who is pursuing a double major in public health and kinesiology.

In her meeting with students, Warren noted that the interest payments on this debt will account for $185 billon in profit for the federal government over the next 10 years.

"That's just fundamentally wrong," Warren said. "College students should not be subsidizing big industry."

But to accomplish these objectives, Warren said she will need the support of students and many others. A bill she co-sponsored with fellow Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Dick Durbin of Illinos, aimed at controlling the costs of higher education, has already become a fight, she noted.

Subbaswamy assured her that UMass students are ready to support her legislation. "Believe me, these are very activist students," he said.

Warren said colleagues in the Senate will fear the legislation because of a potential loss of revenue. However, she sees this as an economic stimulus that will allow students to more quickly purchase cars and homes when they leave college.

Hannah Locke, a hospital and tourism senior from Hanover, came to UMass, in part, because she will be able to leave with a degree and fewer loans than if she had attended a private school.

"Getting an apartment, getting a car, is a lot more possible for me because I'm not going to be weighed down by that debt," Locke said.

Warren cited the UMass campus as a model for investing in public universities and keeping higher education costs down while getting the right level of accountability. She praised UMass for being in line with the concept of ensuring students are earning bachelor's degrees within four years.

"The greatest thing we can do in terms of controlling costs is to have students graduate in a timely way," Warren said.

Read the full story here.